Annette Bening
Four-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening Credit: Patrick Fouque/Paris Match 

How does a four-time Oscar nominee of a certain age shape up for her first role in a superhero movie? A personal trainer, a punishing diet, cosmetic surgery? Not if she’s Annette Bening.

“There’s a team of people to help you eliminate the lumps and bumps,” reveals Bening, the 62-year-old star of The Grifters, American Beauty and The Kids Are All Right, who finally entered the Marvel universe in last year’s billion-dollar-grossing Captain Marvel as an extraterrestrial cyborg in human form called (wait for it) Mar-Vell. “That’s all they do!” 

Bening is speaking over Zoom from her home in Los Angeles, yet even on my small screen, I see her eyes widen. “Those costumes, they’re not even fabrics, they’re like tyres that they turn into costume pieces. You just basically stand there like a mannequin and they push everything in, flatten that, make this bigger and that smaller and… poof!” She laughs. “Then you come on to the set.”

三级成人视频The last time we’d spoken, in July 2018, Bening had been standing on the shingle of Seaford Head Nature Reserve in Sussex, with her 30-year-old co-star Josh O’Connor (since seen playing Prince Charles in The Crown). It was day three of the modest, 28-day shoot for Hope Gap, an intense chamber piece (out this month) in which Bening stars as Grace, a middle-aged Englishwoman whose husband walks out after 29 years of marriage. O’Connor, 30, plays Jamie, their only child.

三级成人视频I watched Bening, who looked grief-stricken and spoke with an impeccable English accent, tell Jamie that his father’s abandonment of the family had left her feeling that she would commit suicide, if only her Catholic faith didn’t prevent it. The Marvel Universe felt a very long way away.

Hope Gap is written and directed by William Nicholson, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Shadowlands and Gladiator, who adapted the story from his own autobiographical stage play, The Retreat from Moscow (1999). It is only the second film that Nicholson, 72, has directed and, he tells me, Bening was initially concerned that he might not be up to the task. Before committing to the film, she agreed to meet him halfway – she flew from Los Angeles, he from London, and they rendezvoused in New York. “That was very good, very un-grand of Annette,” says Nicholson.

三级成人视频But even after he set her mind at rest, Bening tells me now, she had another concern. “I was worried that there were too many words. I thought: there’s no way I can make this work, even if moment-to-moment one accepts what’s happening. I thought it was just too much to say,” she explains.

You could forgive Nicholson for being inordinately attached to his dialogue, not least because some of it was first handed to him verbatim more than half a lifetime ago. Hope Gap is his own life story: Grace is effectively his mother; the conversation I saw being acted on the beach “actually happened” to him as a 29-year-old. “My mother told me she wanted to die,” he tells me. “I said to her: ‘Please don’t, because you’re the one going ahead for me.’ So this is very close to me.”

With Josh O'Connor in her new film Hope Gap Credit: Robert Viglasky

三级成人视频For Bening, the role could hardly be further from her own experience as a wife and mother: she’s been with Warren Beatty since they met on the set of 1991’s Bugsy; they’ve been married for 28 years and they have four adult children. Her own parents, now 94 and 91, also remain happily married. “But that’s the job, right?” she says now. “To use your imagination and leap out of your own experiences as best you can. I loved the writing about this adult child… and how divorce affects adult children. I thought that was really compelling.”

Besides, she adds, she can “certainly imagine” feeling the intensity of the mother-son bond depicted in the film. “Being a mother was always something that I very much wanted to do,” she says. “If I only had one child, we would also be as close as I think Grace and Jamie were. I know [Nicholson] was very, very close to his mother and felt responsible in some ways for the entire cataclysmic event when his dad left.”

三级成人视频The Bening-Beattys are a close – and carefully closed-off – clan. Bening has had three decades’ practice at gracefully deflecting queries about her husband, the one-time playboy whose biographer claimed he’d slept with 12,775 women in his lifetime (a figure he dismissed in a 2016 interview with The Daily Telegraph as baloney). Bening was directed by Beatty, now 83, in Rules Don’t Apply (2016), an experience she describes as “completely delightful, as I knew it would be. He’s a great audience, and a lot of the really good directors, that’s one of the things they had. 

三级成人视频“Mike Nichols was like that,” she adds, referring to the director she worked with three times, starting with Postcards from the Edge in 1990. “They just love actors and respect them. My husband certainly does. He let me improvise. And is there anything more fun?”

'I had never seen a more relaxed, confident actor': with Kevin Spacey in American Beauty Credit: Lorey Sebastian

At the time of our interview, another of her previous directors has been in the news. To mark the 10th anniversary of The Kids Are All Right, in which Bening and Julianne Moore played a lesbian couple (and which earned Bening her fourth Oscar nomination), Moore and the filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko were asked by Variety magazine about the casting of two straight actors to play a queer couple.

三级成人视频“I don’t know that we would do that today,” replied Moore. “I don’t know that we would be comfortable.” The director was less willing to accede to 2020 sensibilities. “I tend to err on the side of, ‘it’s make believe,’” said Chodolenko. “And it’s [at] the discretion of the director who’s the most compelling for that job.”

I ask Bening how she feels now. “I think if I was approached to play a gay person again, I would probably approach it in the same way and think about it in the same way,” she says. “Although now that so many more [actors] are able to be out, I think the choices are so much more open. I saw Lisa’s response to that, I thought it was… interesting,” she adds pointedly. “She’s also trying to get a movie made, and it is a business that we’re in.”

Bening and Beatty’s eldest son, Stephen Ira, a poetry editor and performer, is transgender. I ask whether that has changed her views on her casting choices. “It has expanded my world view in that way, and certainly in the world of trans actors. The important thing that I’ve really begun to understand about that issue is that sometimes people see trans people as [putting on] a sort of performance. That’s why it’s OK for cis people to play trans people. But in fact that’s a mistake, it’s a misunderstanding,” she says.

The Kids Are All Right is not the only film in Bening’s glittering and diverse CV to have come in for a spot of historical revisionism. On its release in 1999, American Beauty, the first film from theatre director Sam Mendes, was a sensation, earning five Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Kevin Spacey) as well as a Best Actress nomination for Bening. But its subsequent reputation has become somewhat tarnished, both on account of one of its central storylines – a middle-aged man’s infatuation with his teenage daughter’s friend – and by the off-screen allegations of sexual misconduct since made against Spacey (which Spacey has denied).

Un-grand mother: Bening with husband Warren Beatty and their children Kathlyn (now Stephen), Benjamin and Isabel in 2007 Credit: Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic

“As far as Kevin goes, he was a colleague and friend of mine,” says Bening, evenly. In fact, she reveals, they first met when he auditioned for the part opposite her in her second film, Valmont (1989), that ultimately went to Colin Firth. “Kevin and I were coupled,” she says of the audition process, “and I remember very strongly being struck by his confidence.”  At this Bening puffs out her chest, all sexual machismo. “I had never seen a more relaxed, confident actor. “I loved working with him on American Beauty, so I’m really sad and disturbed by what has happened,” she continues. “It’s really awful.”

三级成人视频When I ask when she last spoke to Spacey, she says he came to see her on stage in LA in 2014. “Then I saw him in New York, that was probably the last time, when I was doing a play,” she adds. “But it’s been many years, long before all this happened.”

三级成人视频For Nicholson, landing Bening was essential in helping him raise the £4.5 million budget for his deeply personal, but hardly commercial, project. (By comparison, Captain Marvel cost a reported £115 million.)  But equally important to him was the fact that, says Nicholson, Bening “kind of looks like my mother, and she has the same sort of manner about her.

三级成人视频“I had to have somebody who didn’t mind looking like s---. Because when things go bad for Grace, she collapses physically in the film. And Annette had to be OK with that, and not want to look like a glamorous granny. She can do that. She’s extremely un-vain. Which sounds obvious. But it’s certainly not true of all actors.”

For her part, Bening was ultimately delighted by the chance to play a middle-aged woman who felt real, and relatable – if not always likeable. “Bill Nicholson did not want to idealise his mother,” she says. “She is a human being with frailties. She was defiant and in some ways a difficult woman. God, it’s good to see that in the writing. And to have these kinds of women now being portrayed on screen, who aren’t just stereotypes of the ‘left woman’.” 

On my screen, Bening breaks into another wide smile. “Well,” she says, “I’m grateful that I got to do it.”

Hope Gap will be in cinemas from Aug 28