Annette Bening: Donald Trump would benefit from watching some movies
Annette Bening puts in a stellar performance in new drama 20th Century Women. She tells Susan Griffin why the movie struck such a personal chord, and what advice she has for the new US president
IN HER new film 20th Century Women, four-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening plays Dorothea, a single mum in 1970s California. It's a time of cultural revolution and rebellion, and Dorothea is doing her best to embrace the change that's happening – both in the wider world and at home – as her teenage son grows up.
"One moment you think she's kind of hip and cool and accessible, and at other times she's very abrupt," says the actress (58), who considers herself "pretty open" with her own children.
"We all get on very well," says Bening, who has four children, aged from 16 to 25, with her husband of almost 25 years, Warren Beatty.
"[There's] a lot of love but still there's always a reaching, and a curiosity and a longing to know each other better. There are things I haven't told them and I think that about my parents – they're 87 and 90. I want to go home and sit down with my mum and dad and say, 'Now, what might I like to know about you that you've never shared with me?'"
Bening believes it's "a mutual curiosity" between generations, but wonders how open any parent really wants to be with their offspring.
"I think we sometimes want to protect our image of us for our children. We want to be seen in a certain way by our kids. Of course, that's hopeless anyway, because they, more than anyone, see you for who you really are."
In the film, written and directed by Mike Mills, Dorothea enlists the help of two younger women to help navigate her son's passage to adulthood. There's her lodger, the punk artist Abbie (Greta Gerwig), and the provocative teenage neighbour Julie (Elle Fanning). All the while, Dorothea grows increasingly close to her other boarder, ex-hippy handyman William (Billy Crudup).
The actress says she has "really fond memories" of 1979, the year in which the film is set.
"I grew up in San Diego – which is south of Santa Barbara, where the film is set, and even more conservative – a military town during the Vietnam war. But I was a beach kid and worked on a boat, of all places. I loved being in southern California," she recalls.
Asked what advice she'd offer her 21-year-old self, she pauses, before revealing she wouldn't want to.
"All the lessons I've learned, I've had to learn through life experiences, which I guess is true of all of us," observes Bening, who studied drama at San Francisco before moving to New York and making a name for herself on stage.
"I mean, I don't want my children to go through anything difficult. I don't want them to have any pain or to suffer, and of course that's absurd, because we all have to and it's in these circumstances, as we all know, that's where the growth is."
The recipient of Academy Award nominations for The Grifters, American Beauty, Being Julia and The Kids Are All right, many thought Bening would receive her fifth for 20th Century Women.
"I have gotten plenty of recognition this year – I'm very, very grateful for that. I will take what's given to me with appreciation," she says.
A member of the Academy Awards' Board Of Governors, Bening says the diversity in this year's nominations "is great", but notes that "the important thing is to celebrate excellence, whether or not it is commercially popular".
As for her thoughts on the new US president, Bening grins and says: "I have so much to say about Donald Trump at this point that I hardly know where to start. One thing I can say is I think it would be wonderful if the president invited the film-makers to the White House and let them show him their movies, because we all need culture in order to open our minds," she offers.
"Film can take us all over the world. It can take us from the past and into the future and that's why it's magic. That's why I love movies, why I love going to movies, I love having my heart opened, and if there's anything that might benefit him [Trump], it's to have his heart opened."
:: 20th Century Women is released on Friday February 10