Date of Birth: May 29, 1958
Place of Birth: Topeka, Kan., USA
Sign: Sun in Gemini, Moon in Libra
Relations: Husband: Warren Beatty; children: Kathlyn Elizabeth Bening Beatty, Benjamin Beatty, Isabel Ira Ashley Beatty, and Ella Corinne
Education: Attended San Diego Mesa College and San Francisco State University
IN THE FALL of 1959, Annette Bening Bening was an innocent 1-year-old, living in Topeka, Kan., with her father, Grant, an insurance salesman; her mother, Shirley, a singer with the church choir; and three older siblings. She would only have been subconsciously aware of 22-year-old Warren Beatty, who appeared weekly as a rich clotheshorse on TV's The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. (Bet Bening now thanks her lucky stars that Beatty left that indelible subliminal impression instead of Bob "Maynard G. Krebs" Denver). The young Bening may have been oblivious to boys, famous or not, but in 1999, she told The Calgary Sun, "I've wanted to be an actor since I was a child. I loved acting from the moment I started and I still love it."
The Bening clan decided to forsake Kansas' amber waves of grain for the sun of San Diego when Annette was 7. She called the city home for more than a decade, matriculating from Patrick Henry High School and then heading to San Diego Mesa College, where (oh, surprise), she majored in acting. After nabbing a few classical roles and dancing gigs locally, Bening relocated to San Francisco, where she completed her college degree at San Francisco State University and joined the American Conservatory Theater. And as Warren Beatty continued to cut a wide swath through the Hollywood dating scene, Bening met and married theater director Steven White in 1984. The marriage turned out to be more of a long-term separation: The two parted ways in 1986 and finally divorced in 1991.
Now, as much fun as the Bay Area can be, most young thespians can't resist the lights of the Great White Way, and Bening was no exception. She headed to New York City and promptly won rave reviews, the 1986 Clarence Derwent Award for most outstanding debut performance, and a 1987 Tony nomination for her performance in Coastal Disturbances, which also starred a pre-Wings Timothy Daly.
Having conquered the Big Apple, Bening returned to California, where she made an inauspicious film debut in 1988's The Great Outdoors, starring as an uptight suburban wife opposite John Candy and Dan Akroyd. Her next outing was as the scheming Marquise de Merteuil in Milos Forman's Valmont (1989), an adaptation of the French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. A year earlier, director Stephen Frears had cast Glenn Close as the Marquise in his own (more successful) cinematic rendition, Dangerous Liaisons. However, in the process of comparing the two portrayers of the unscrupulous manipulatrix, Frears was motivated to offer Bening a part in his next project — a flick that would prove to be her big break.
The Grifters, Frears' 1990 nouveau film noir, featured Bening as Myra Langtry, one of the most cold-hearted (and best-named) screen vixens since the '40s. The Academy honored Bening, her co-star Angelica Huston, and Frears with respective Best Supporting Actress, Best Actress, and Best Director Oscar nominations, although each had to recite the "It was an honor to just be nominated" loser mantra to Leeza Gibbons after the show.
Bening was adequately consoled by a Best Supporting Actress award from the prestigious National Society of Film Critics. Fresh off 1990's Dick Tracy and an über-hyped affair with Tracy co-star Madonna, one Mr. Warren Beatty took a shine to Bening (oft-touted the "thinking man's sex symbol") and began to woo her for a role in his new film, Bugsy. One thing led to another, and the wooing spilled over into the pair's personal life — this time, Beatty had met his match.
"It took me all of 30 seconds to fall in love with Annette," Beatty told the Sun. "To this day, I don't know why Annette over the other women I've known, but I knew instantly she was special." (For the record, Beatty's romantic rival for Bening's affections at the time was — ready? — Ed Begley Jr.)
For the remainder of 1991, Bening was busy filming Regarding Henry with Harrison Ford and Guilty by Suspicion with Robert De Niro, and then went into semi-retirement to prepare for the role of a lifetime. In January 1992, Bening gave birth to Beatty's first child, a daughter named Kathlyn. The couple married that year and added son Benjamin to the family in August 1994.
While maintaining the household, Bening passed on a handful of parts in big-budget offerings like Disclosure, Batman Returns, and Sommersby. Love makes people do strange things, which can be the only explanation for why Bening chose to rev her career back up by starring opposite Beatty in a dismal 1994 remake of the weepy Love Affair, which was released in 1939 and remade in 1957 as the consummate chick-flick An Affair to Remember.
Subsequent choices demonstrated Bening's range as an actress, from Queen Elizabeth in the bleak Richard III, to a romantic turn in Rob Reiner's The American President, to a comic role in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! She took a break to add daughter Isabel to the Beatty brood in 1997 and then immersed herself in back-to-back films: 1998's The Siege and 1999's In Dreams.
The diversity of Bening's filmography perhaps prepared her for 1999's dark dramedy American Beauty, but her own life experiences also informed her Oscar-nominated performance as manic suburban working mom Carolyn Burnham. "I intrinsically was drawn to Carolyn," Bening says. "I understood her emotionally. I grew up in the suburbs, and these women were all around me. I was a baby sitter and I was in the houses of these women while they were having their breakdowns, their divorces, their secrets."
Many critics and fans expected to hear Bening's name announced March 26 as the winner in the Best Actress race, but she lost the coveted Oscar statuette to Hilary Swank; her other half was honored at the ceremony that night with the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.
In the spring of 1999, mucho-maternal Bening returned to the stage, portraying Hedda Gabler, a very discontented wife and mother-to-be. She sympathizes with playwright Henrik Ibsen's anti-heroine, though: "All of us … can relate to her predicament, whether you're happily married or happily have children, which I am," Bening told the Detroit Free Press in March 1999. "I can still understand the problems and the inherent contradictions in the effort to take care of yourself as a human being and also be this nurturing figure." Bening seems to have resolved the two feelings much more successfully than the suicidal Hedda. "I feel less conflicted about leaving home these days," she's said. "Even if I can't be there every second, my kids are doing great. I'm a good parent, and I think the fact [that] I love my work and that I work very hard at it is a great gift to give [them]."
She'll have the chance to continue the balancing act, with a new baby daughter, Ella Corinne, to care for and several possible follow-on roles to her most recent outing, playing the love interest of an alien to breed with an Earth woman in director Mike Nichols' comedy What Planet Are You From?
2000 What Planet Are You From?
1999 American Beauty
1999 In Dreams
1999 Forever Hollywood
1998 The Siege
1995 The American President
1996 Richard III
1994 Love Affair
1991 Guilty by Suspicion
1991 Regarding Henry
1990 The Grifters
1988 The Great Outdoors
1987 Miami Vice
1986 Manhunt for Claude Dallas
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)