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On My Screen: Annette Bening On ‘Nyad’s Challenges, ‘American Beauty’ Memories & The Best Advice She Ever Received

Annette Bening still likes to swim, despite the brutal eight hours a day she spent in the water for her Netflix film Nyad. Bening stars as Diana Nyad, who, at 64, became the first person ever to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. Bening trained for a year to perfect her stroke, and got to know Nyad herself, with Jodie Foster alongside her, starring as Nyad’s real-life friend and coach, Bonnie Stoll. “I swim all the time, it’s become part of my staying sane,” Bening says now, adding that she learned from Nyad that pushing oneself beyond what you thought you could do is “a way to know yourself, and that’s a way to expand your own idea about yourself in the world, and also increase your joy, and increase your appreciation.” Here, Bening looks back over some favorite moments in her career, from The Grifters, to American Beauty and beyond.

Annette Bening interviee
The Grifters

My First Film Lesson

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It was on my third movie, The Grifters. We were doing a scene outside, and I’m teetering along on these high heels. Stephen Frears said to me, “I want you to stop, then look, then start walking.” So, we did it again, and I didn’t do it, this technical thing he asked me to do. And he came up to me after the take, and he said, “Hey, you didn’t do it.” And I said, “Oh, I forgot.” And he said, “You’re paid to remember.” He was entirely justified. So that was one little thing.

The Best Advice I Ever Received

Don’t worry, be happy. It’s a Hindu thing. It’s an ancient thing. It’s a little simplistic, but there’s something to it. My dad just died four months ago, and he was 97. He was a very ‘power of positive thinking’ kind of guy and he had a lot of aphorisms, but one of the things he would say was, “You don’t change people,” and that’s actually really, really deep and smart.

The Part That I Always Wanted

I would’ve liked to have played Nora in A Doll’s House. I studied it a lot, and I did some of the play. We worked on it for some project stuff in my acting school. I think Ibsen is such a brilliant writer for everybody, but certainly for women, and that he really did change everything. He changed the way women were seen. I’d like to play Yelena — too late now — in Uncle Vanya. Are there any that I really want to play that I haven’t, that I still could play? I don’t know, maybe [Hamlet’s mother] Gertrude.

My Toughest Role

Certainly Nyad was up there. I’ve done a lot of things that were really tough for me. That’s a wonderful thing to be able to say. Challenging is such an important thing, whatever we do, that’s how we grow. Those things are also very gratifying when you try to go out on a limb and do something really different. That’s why when I read Nyad, I just grabbed it and then I had to figure out, “Oh, sh*t, now I’ve actually got to do all this swimming.”

<em>Love Actually</em>
Love Actually

The Films That Make Me Cry

I love to cry, and I love to cry when I’m watching a movie. Recently, over the holidays, we watched Love Actually. We had a bunch of us all together. And then we also watched It’s a Wonderful Life, which we’ve done at holidays often. We did it as a family and it was a group sob. We were all crying. What a wonderful feeling that is, I love it.

Annette Bening interview
American Beauty

The Most Fun I’ve Had On Set

When we made American Beauty, I had a scene in the bedroom with Peter Gallagher, who’s the king of real estate. I was laughing so hard I thought I was going to die. And he was also laughing. You can’t really see our faces, so it didn’t really matter because it’s sort of from behind. And the fact that made it even funnier was they put up a big sheet, for the light, and the crew were also hiding behind it. Peter is also a very funny person in life. He’s really handsome and really funny, which is such a great combo. I just saw him the other night in New York and we were laughing about that.

The Character That’s Most Like Me

I think about 20th Century Women, I think about Nyad, I think about The Kids Are All Right. I think about The Grifters. That’s me. Yeah, I would say I’m in all of them for sure. it’s a curious thing, the skill, the practice, because in a way, you’re escaping yourself, and then in a way, you’re in the most contact with yourself at the same time. That’s all acting is. It’s what you’ve been through and what you can imagine.

My Most Quoted Role

Certainly, “I will sell this house today,” is one of them from American Beauty. A lot of people, like general public kind of people, talk to me about The American President. I would say probably those two. But, “I will sell this house today,” for sure.

Annette Bening interview
The Great British Baking Show

My Guilty Pleasure

Well, it’s not a guilty pleasure, I don’t feel guilty about watching, but The Great British Baking Show. I love it, it’s so fun. It’s also because they’re so kind to the people and they don’t humiliate them. Because I can’t bear the [shows] where they humiliate people. I bake a bit here and there and I enjoy it. I find it really therapeutic.

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Read the digital edition of Deadline’s Oscar Preview issue here.

Who Would Play Me In My Biopic

How old am I at the time of the biopic? I would say Kate Winslet. She can play me from 20 to 80, even though I’m not 80 yet. She can do anything. I am such a fan of hers. I mean, there’s a lot of people I love to watch, but I’ve got to say she’s right up there at the top. I think she’s just phenomenal.

My Karaoke Playlist

God, I don’t do karaoke. I am so not good at karaoke, and I think the reason I feel that is because I always think I’m going to be better than I am, and then once I start, I’m like, “Oh.” I mean, I used to lip-sync along to albums for sure, when I was a kid. I would lip-sync to The Sound of Music because I had the album and I was obsessed with it.

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