Annette Bening - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: American. Born: Topeka, Kansas, 29 May 1958. Education: Attended Mesa College; San Francisco State University, degree in theatre; studied at American Conservatory Theatre. Family: married Steven White (divorced); married Warren Beatty (actor), 1992; four children (with Beatty). Career: Worked as cook on a charter boat; actress with Colorado Shakespeare Festival, 1980, American Conservatory Theatre, 1983–85, and Denver Center Theatre Company, 1985–86. Awards: National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress, for The Grifters , 1990; London Critics Circle ALFS Award for Actress of the Year, 1999, San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Actress, 1999, British Academy Award (BAFTA) for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, 2000, and Screen Actors Guild Awards for a Female Actor in a Leading Role and Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Theatrical Motion Picture, 2000, for American Beauty ; ShoWest Female Star of the Year, 2000. Agent: Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.

Films as Actress:


Manhunt for Claude Dallas (London—for TV) (as Ann Tillman)


Hostage ( Against Her Will ) (Levin—for TV) (as Jill); The Great Outdoors (Deutch) (as Kate)


Valmont (Forman) (as Merteuil)


The Grifters (Frears) (as Myra Langtry); Postcards from the Edge (Nichols) (as Evelyn Ames)


Bugsy (Levinson) (as Virginia Hill); Regarding Henry (Nichols) (as Sarah); Guilty by Suspicion (Winkler) (as Ruth Merrill)


Love Affair (Caron) (as Terry McKay)


The American President (Reiner) (as Sydney Ellen Wade); Richard III (Loncraine) (as Queen Elizabeth)


Mars Attacks! (Burton) (as Barbara Land)


The Siege (Zwick) (as Elise Kraft/Sharon Bridger)


Forever Hollywood (Glassman and McCarthy) (as herself); American Beauty (Mendes) (as Carolyn Burnham); In Dreams (Jordan) (as Claire Cooper)


What Planet Are You From? (Nichols) (as Susan)


By BENING: articles—

"Pregnant Pause," interview in Time Out (London), no. 1099, 11 September 1991.

On BENING: articles—

Canby, Vincent, "An Unholy Trinity That Is Up to No Good," in New York Times , 5 December 1990.

Coburn, Marcia Froelke, "Up Close and Impersonal With Annette Bening," in Rolling Stone , 16 May 1991.

Grove, Lloyd, "Warren Beatty and the End of an Era," in Washington Post , 17 July 1991.

Dowd, Maureen, "Bugsy in Love, on Stage and Off," in New York Times , 8 December 1991.

Schickel, Richard, "A Killer Goes to Hollywood," in Time , 9 December 1991.

Maslin, Janet, "Sure, He Had His Faults, but the Man Had Vision," in New York Times , 13 December 1991.

James, Caryn, "'Bugsy' Muscles In on Hollywood Glamour," in New York Times , 22 December 1991.

Ryan, James, "Brainy Siren, Now A Mom," in New York Times , 12 November 1995.

Maslin, Janet, "A Chief Executive in Love in the White House," in New York Times , 17 November 1995.

Maslin, Janet, "Dad's Dead, and He's Still a Funny Guy," in New York Times , 15 September 1999.

* * *

Referred to as "the thinking man's sex symbol," Annette Bening has firmly established herself as one of Hollywood's most talented and most professional actresses. In such roles as Myra Langtry in The Grifters , Virginia Hill in Bugsy , Sydney Wade in The American President and Carolyn Burnham in American Beauty (four very different roles), she has repeatedly played strong intelligent women who just happen to be beautiful. But perhaps the role that has made her most familiar to the American public is as the girlfriend-then-wife of Hollywood's most famous former lothario, Warren Beatty, with whom she has had four children.

After her film debut as Dan Aykroyd's sex-starved wife in the forgettable The Great Outdoors ("I tried to pick my projects more carefully after that," she says), Bening auditioned for a role as a courtesan in director Stephen Frears's film version of Choderlos de Laclos's 1782 novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Bening didn't get the role in Frears's Dangerous Liaisons , which starred Glenn Close, John Malkovich, and Michelle Pfeiffer, and which went on to garner an Oscar nomination for Best Film of 1988 and a Best Actress nomination for Close's portrayal of the wicked manipulative Marquise de Merteuil. But Bening played the same role in 1989's Valmont , director Milos Forman's version of the same story. While interesting, Forman's film and Bening's performance suffered in comparison, and audiences already knew the story from the previous film, so Valmont fared poorly.

Ironically, Frears was so impressed by Bening's performance in Valmont that he hired her to play one of the leads in his next film, 1990's The Grifters —the role that marked the turning point in Bening's film career. This contemporary film noir classic contains

Annette Bening in American Beauty
Annette Bening in American Beauty
three outstanding performances: Anjelica Huston plays Lily Dillon, a hard-as-nails con artist with platinum blond hair who works for a big-time bookie placing huge last-minute bets at racetracks to change the odds. John Cusack plays Roy Dillon, the son Lily hasn't seen in eight years, who has the innocent face to occasionally get away with penny-ante swindles but lacks the killer instinct for anything more. And Bening plays Myra Langtry, a gold digger with a killer smile, spiky hair, and leopard-skin miniskirts, who uses her body as a Gold Card when she's short of cash, and who is hoping to use Roy to get back into the big time. All three are smart enough to get money from people using their brains rather than brawn, and stupid enough to think there won't be any consequences. Lily and Myra meet in Roy's hospital room after he is beaten because of one of his scams and, as this odd triangle of amoral grifters spins out of control to the film's grim end, all three performances remain absolutely riveting. The New York Times said Bening "is absolutely right as a bright-eyed, giggly, amoral young woman who has possibly never had a generous or spontaneous thought in her life. [She] has something of the angelic looks of Michelle Pfeiffer and the comic style and lowdown sexiness of Kathleen Turner. It is a terrific combination." Bening was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar and was named Best Supporting Actress by the National Board of Review.

Bening made three films in 1991, the well-acted-but-familiar Guilty by Suspicion , the hard-to-believe Regarding Henry , and the film that would forever change her personal life, the superb Bugsy . Bugsy tells the story of Benjamin Siegel, the 1940s gangster who invented modern-day Las Vegas beginning with one casino, the Flamingo—which was also the nickname of his long-legged girlfriend, Virginia Hill. Producer Beatty wanted Bening as his leading lady after seeing her in The Grifters , saying "What drew me to her onscreen was her energetic intelligence and refusal to rely on her good looks." The resultant film is as much a love story as it is a gangster film, with beautifully delivered dialogue and a palpable chemistry between the two leads. Bening's performance is complex: sexy and smart, tough and vulnerable, in love yet double-crossing, an independent kept woman.

The Washington Post called Beatty's decision to have children with and marry Bening "the watershed moment in the history of American civilization." Bening's decision to bear children at the height of her career, at an age when most actresses are in their prime, forced her to turn down a number of roles that otherwise would have been hers, including Catwoman in Batman Returns and the female leads in Disclosure and What Dreams May Come. According to Bening, "Being a good parent doesn't just happen. I really enjoy taking my daughter to school, getting to know the teachers. If I was doing a movie I couldn't do that."

Between children Bening played several roles, most notably in The American President and American Beauty. In the former she plays environmental lobbyist Sydney Wade, who is wooed by widower President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas). Here Bening plays an old-fashioned romantic lead, one without a sinister side, and she shows a light comic touch delivering Aaron Sorkin's zinger-filled dialogue. Director Rob Reiner said of the role, "She had to be formidable. She had to project a sense of intelligence, sex appeal, so he would be attracted to her fairly quickly."

In American Beauty , Bening plays Carolyn Burnham, married to Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), who is going through the midlife crisis to end all midlife crises. The material may be familiar; it is the specificity of the characters, as written and as performed, that raises this film to award-worthy levels. Carolyn is a real estate agent who undergoes life changes in reaction to her husband's, including an energetic affair with a rival real estate agent. As The New York Times said, "Ms. Bening is scathingly funny, and also quite graceful, as a walking monument to despicable values." As her film career continues to evolve, it is easy to understand what attracts movie audiences to this outstanding actress.

—Bob Sullivan

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