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 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.
Bening, Annette 1958–
BENING, Annette 1958–
Born May 29, 1958, in Topeka, KS; daughter of Grant (an insurance salesman) and Shirley Bening; married Steven White (an acting teacher and actor), 1984 (divorced, 1991); married Warren Beatty (an actor), March 12, 1992; children: (second marriage) Kathlyn Elizabeth, Benjamin, Isabel Ira Ashley, Ella Corinne. Education: San Francisco State University, B.A., theatre; attended Mesa College; studied acting at American Conservatory Theatre. Avocational Interests: SCUBA diving.
Agent—Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Publicist—PYR PR, 139 S. Beverly Dr., Suite 230, Beverly Hills, CA 90212; Nancy Seltzer & Associates, 6220 Del Valle Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90048.
Actress. Performed with Colorado Shakespeare Festival, 1980, American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco, CA, 1983–85, and Denver Center Theatre Company, 1985–86. Also worked as cook on a charter boat and as a secretary for her father.
Antoinette Perry Award nomination, 1986, Clarence Derwin Award, 1987, and Theatre World Award, 1987, all for Coastal Disturbances; Academy Award nomination, best supporting actress, 1990, National Society of Film Critics Award, best supporting actress, 1991, Film Award nomination, best actress in a supporting role, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, 1992, all for The Grifters; ALFS Award, newcomer of the year, London Critics Circle Film Awards, 1992, for The Grifters, Guilty by Suspicion, Regarding Henry, Valmont, and Postcards form the Edge; Golden Globe Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a motion picture—drama, 1992, for Bugsy; Golden Globe Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a motion picture—comedy/musical, American Comedy Award nomination, funniest actress in a motion picture (leading role), 1996, both for The American President; Peter J. Owens Award, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1997; Film Excellence Award, Boston Film Festival, 1999; Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination, favorite actress—suspense, 1999, for The Siege; San Diego Film Critics Society Award, best actress, 1999, Academy Award nomination, best actress in a leading role, Film Award, best performance by an actress in a leading role, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Golden Globe Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a motion picture—drama, Chicago Film Critics Association Award nomination, best actress, Screen Actors Guild Awards, outstanding performance by a female actor in a leading role and outstanding performance by a cast in a theatrical motion picture (with others), Online Film Critics Society Award nomination, best actress, ALFS Award, actress of the year, Sierra Award nomination, best actress, Las Vegas Film Critics Society, Golden Satellite Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a motion picture—drama, Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination, favorite actress—drama, American Comedy Award, funniest actress in a motion picture (leading role), 2000, all for American Beauty; ShoWest Award, female star of the year, ShoWest Convention, 2000; Desert Palm Achievement Award, Palm Springs International Film Festival, 2000; Bronze Wrangler (with others), outstanding theatrical motion picture, Western Heritage Awards, Golden Satellite Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a supporting role—drama, 2004, both for Open Range; Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award, San Sebastian International Film Festival, 2004; Actress of the Year, Hollywood Film Festival, 2004; NBR Award, best actress, National Board of Review, BSFC Award, best actress—2nd place, Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, SEFCA Award, best actress, Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards, 2004, Academy Award nomination, best performance by an actress in a leading role, Golden Globe Award, best performance by an actress in a motion picture—musical or comedy, Golden Satellite Award, best actress in a motion picture, comedy or musical, Golden Kinnaree Award, best actress, Bangkok International Film Festival, Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, outstanding performance by a female actor in a leading role, BFCA Award nomination, best actress, Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, 2005, all for Being Julia.
Holly Dancer, Coastal Disturbances, Second Stage, New York City, 1986, then (Broadway debut) Circle in the Square, 1987.
Zookeeper, Spoils of War, Second Stage, 1988.
Title role, Hedda Gabler, Geffen Playhouse, Los Angeles, 1998–99.
The World of Nick Adams (staged reading), Kodak Theatre, Hollywood, CA, 2002.
Fallen Angels, Shubert Theatre, New York City, 2003.
Also appeared as Juliet, Romeo and Juliet; Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco, CA; Emily, Our Town; Eliza Doolittle, Pygmalion; Tatania, A Midsummer Night's Dream; showgirl, The Sleeping Prince; Helena, All's Well; Blanche, King John; Anya, The Cherry Orchard; and the Virgin Mary, The Christmas Miracles; dancer, The Green Show, Old Globe Theatre, San Diego, CA.
Kate Craig, The Great Outdoors, Universal, 1988.
Marquise DeMerteuil, Valmont, Orion, 1989.
Myra Langtry, The Grifters, Miramax/Cineplex Odeon, 1990.
Evelyn Ames, Postcards from the Edge, Columbia, 1990.
Ruth Merrill, Guilty by Suspicion (also known as La liste noire), Warner Bros., 1991.
Sarah Turner, Regarding Henry, Paramount, 1991.
Virginia Hill, Bugsy, TriStar, 1991.
Terry McKay, Love Affair, Warner Bros., 1994.
Sidney Ellen Wade, The American President, Columbia, 1995.
Queen Elizabeth, Richard III, Metro–Goldwyn–Mayer/United Artists, 1995.
Barbara Land, Mars Attacks!, Warner Bros., 1996.
Sharon Bridger/Elise Kraft, The Siege, Twentieth Century–Fox, 1998.
Claire Cooper, In Dreams, DreamWorks, 1999.
Carolyn Burnham, American Beauty, DreamWorks, 1999.
(Uncredited) Herself, The Book That Wrote Itself, Brentwood Home Video, 1999.
Herself, Forever Hollywood (documentary), 1999.
Susan Anderson, What Planet Are You From?, Columbia/Sony Pictures, 2000.
Herself, American Beauty: Look Closer (documentary short film), DreamWorks, 2000.
Sue Barlow, Open Range, Buena Vista, 2003.
Julia Lambert, Being Julia, Sony Pictures Classics, 2004.
Herself, Beyond the "Open Range" (documentary), Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2004.
Television Appearances; Series:
Voice of Abigail Adams, Liberty's Kids: Est. 1776, PBS, 2002.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Ann Tillman, Manhunt for Claude Dallas, CBS, 1986.
Jill, Hostage (also known as Against Her Will), CBS, 1988.
Jean Harris, Mrs. Harris, HBO, 2005.
Television Appearances; Pilots:
Appeared in It Had to Be You, ABC.
Television Appearances; Specials:
"Milos Forman: Portrait," American Masters, PBS, 1989.
An American Reunion: The 52nd Presidential Inaugural Gala, CBS, 1993.
Herself, All–Star 25th Birthday: Stars and Street Forever! (also known as Sesame Street's All–Star 25th Birthday: Stars and Streets Forever!), ABC, 1994.
Barbara Walters Special, ABC, 1996.
Herself, The Kennedy Center Honors: A Celebration of the Performing Arts, CBS, 2001.
(Uncredited) Herself, Shirtless: Hollywood's Sexiest Men (documentary), AMC, 2002.
Herself, A&E Biography: Kevin Costner (documentary), Arts and Entertainment, 2003.
Television Appearances; Awards Presentations:
Herself, 41st Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1987.
(Uncredited) Herself, The 63rd Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1991.
Presenter, 64th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1992.
49th Annual Golden Globe Awards, TBS, 1992.
Presenter, 67th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1995.
Presenter, 52nd Annual Tony Awards, CBS, 1998.
Presenter, 56th Annual Golden Globe Awards, NBC, 1999.
Presenter, 71st Annual Academy Awards Presentation, ABC, 1999.
(Uncredited) Herself, The 72nd Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 2000.
Presenter, The 73rd Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 2000.
The Orange British Academy Film Awards, 2001.
The 7th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, TNT, 2001.
Presenter, The 59th Annual Golden Globe Awards, NBC, 2002.
Presenter, the 60th Annual Golden Globe Awards, NBC, 2003.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Vicky, "Red Tape," Miami Vice, NBC, 1987.
Vicky, "Knock, Knock, Who's There?," Miami Vice, NBC, 1987.
Karen Leland, "One on One," Wiseguy, CBS, 1987.
Herself, The Howard Stern Show, syndicated, 1992.
Herself, "The Test Dream," The Sopranos, HBO, 2004.
Herself, Late Show with David Letterman, CBS, 2004.
Live with Regis and Kelly, syndicated, 2004.
Herself, Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show, syndicated, 2004.
Herself, Breakfast with the Arts, Arts and Entertainment, 2004.
Herself, Richard and Judy, Channel 4, 2004.
Herself, Film '72, BBC, 2004.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Volume 3: Actors and Actresses, 4th edition, St. James Press, 2000.
Entertainment Weekly, October 22, 2004, p. 64.
Interview, November, 1989.
New York, January 14, 1991.
Parade, October 3, 2004, p. 20.
People, November 1, 1999, p. 83; April 24, 2000, p. 82.
Premiere, July, 1991.
Rolling Stone, May 16, 1991.
Vanity Fair, September, 1994.
Variety, January 10, 2000, p. 74.