She plays a mother of a more complicated sort in 'Mother and Child' as Karen, a woman who gave her baby up for adoption at 14 years old. In this exclusive interview with Moviefone, Bening shares how 'Mother and Child' personally affected her and reminded her of her own teenage years, the nerves she felt the first time she stepped onto a movie set, and how the mania of the paparazzi dissipated when she began a family with Beatty. Annette Bening is perhaps the most celebrated celebrity mom in Hollywood -- having raised four children with Mr. Hollywood himself, Warren Beatty. Bening, however, takes motherhood in stride, preferring to be recognized as doing the best she can to teach her children well.
She plays a mother of a more complicated sort in 'Mother and Child' as Karen, a woman who gave her baby up for adoption at 14 years old. In this exclusive interview with Moviefone, Bening shares how 'Mother and Child' personally affected her and reminded her of her own teenage years, the nerves she felt the first time she stepped onto a movie set, and how the mania of the paparazzi dissipated when she began a family with Beatty.
In the film 'Mother and Child' we see your character at 14 giving up her baby for adoption. Did this resonate for you personally?
One of the things I thought about [the character] Karen a lot were my own years in high school, girls that I knew that got pregnant and a number of people around me that this happened to. I think of a particular girl who disappeared. She was a really vivacious girl and I had known her since she was very little and all of a sudden she was just gone. Nobody ever talked about [teen pregnancy] openly but suddenly somebody would be gone, and the rumor went around that she got pregnant and her father sent her away. By the time I was in high school, Roe v. Wade had passed, so that was also happening; girls were getting pregnant and getting abortions -- and that happened in my school too.
How did you see this affect the young girls when you were in high school?
This happened to a lot of kids and it was profoundly traumatic. Some of these girls were able to pick up and get on with their lives, but really what happened was these 14 year-old girls had a 10-minute episode with a boy, making this mistake, and then the first glimmer of maybe missing your period and what was it like for these girls having to admit they were pregnant and the shame and the embarrassment for the family ... A lot of them were told, "This is fine. You just give up the baby and then go back to high school." Of course it wasn't fine, especially the time when they have to sign the papers to give up their baby [for adoption]. The mothers tried to be incredibly supportive but didn't want anyone to know about it and wanted it to be a secret. It was incredibly complicated then and still is today.
As a celebrity mom, are you more idealized?
We still want to idealize moms, and sometimes we want to idealize actresses who are moms, too. I know that's something I've experienced, but we're all just doing the best we can and we're all trying to raise our kids and talk to them about everything that needs to be discussed. You want to give them limits and also be their allies, so for everybody it's always a bit of a mess and chaotic.
When you first got married to Warren Beatty, did the paparazzi hound you?
My husband and I, when we were first together and I was pregnant, we would get followed around every once in a while; but now it's on such a level and [depends on] how much people are cultivating it. Because some people are cultivating it, they're encouraging it, so there's that -- but it is incredibly intrusive at the same time. We're not getting chased around so it's easier, but most of the time if I'm gonna be photographed I know it, so it's not a shocking traumatic thing. I guess for people who get followed around all the time it must be a nightmare. We had a bit of that but we weren't scandalous for very long. Very quickly we had a kid and now it was just like, "Oh, they're married and have a kid. Oh well!"
What attracted you to make the film?
When I read the script, it almost read like a novella. The first time is always so important because you only get that once, not knowing where it's going to go or what's going to happen. [Director] Rodrigo Garcia found a way to weave together these very intricate stories and get to a point of resolution for everybody in a way that feels really surprising but also true to me. I loved the fact that my character was so wrong and that she didn't get it right. In a way I relish that acting problem, to not push people away, and I do worry about it because I want people to be involved and not dislike the character. Yet as storytellers we're not just telling you fairy tales; we're trying to tell you the truth and how people really are in life. If you met this woman you might not like her, and that happens. There are reasons people are like that, which I felt was true for her, and that was in the writing.
How does Rodrigo Garcia's style of directing compare with other directors you've worked with?
When I started movies I was fortunate because I worked with very good people and [liked] how little the director said. Maybe it was because I was from plays where people were much more verbose. A lot of directors in my experience are very receptive. They see what you do first, and then they want to find a place to put the camera and they tweak you here and there. Rodrigo says very little and you sort of plunge in and do what your instinct tells you, and sometimes he'll say something if you need a little feedback.
Having begun in the theater, were you nervous making that transition into film?
My first handful of pictures were with Mike Nichols, and I remember being really nervous showing up on the set, and Harrison Ford was the star of the movie ['Regarding Henry']. I'd made a few movies by then but I still felt like a beginner, and they were talking about how nervous they were. And I thought, "You're nervous?! You can't be nervous. I'm the one that's nervous. I deserve to be nervous. You are who you are." But of course you realize that as time goes on that's the state of it. The tension I feel is the moment they say, "Action!" Movies are like lightning in a bottle, and you always want to find when you possibly can catch a surprising moment.
Did you set out to become a movie star?
I wanted to be a classical actress. I plodded along. I went to junior college in San Francisco, I was in a Repertory Company. My hero was Eva Le Gallienne who was a great theater actress at the turn of the century who created her own company and she wrote these hilarious autobiographies at the time. I didn't picture myself as a movie actress. I began to think about it around college. I remember thinking, "Well somebody has to be in them," so maybe I could do that eventually. It's all been a surprise. I didn't do a movie until I was almost 30. I'm grateful for that because it gave me a chance to be an adult in the world and do work in the regional theater that very few people cared about. I loved it and I wanted to do that stuff.
What do you want audiences to come away with when they see 'Mother and Child'?
I do want to try to get people to have that moment where you're outside of yourself and you're wrapped up in something else, and maybe get entertained along the way a little bit. We are in the business of intimacy in a weird way, especially movies, and this movie that Rodrigo made is so intimate. You're involved inside moments of people's lives that only movies can kind of do. I love that about the movies.