Annette Bening on Starting Her Career Relatively Late and How It Influenced Her Acting Process


Actress Annette Bening

“It took me a long time to feel comfortable working in movies. I felt kind of like I was a stage actress pretending I was a movie actress” – Annette Bening

One might think that four-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening has learned everything she could about acting on screen after so much success in Hollywood.  At the very least one might think that she approaches each role with the confidence that she can perform it. It’s worth remembering that Bening’s first role didn’t come until she was nearly 30. In an interview with Vulture, Bening spoke about how starting her career relatively late compared to her peers affected her confidence — and how it influenced her acting process.

When asked “Do you think now you’re more confident as an actor than you were in the past?” Bening responds:

That’s so sweet. I love that question. I don’t know if it’s like this in your business, but with different projects you learn something new. In my business it’s absolutely the case. It’s like you go into another little universe each time, because it’s a different group of people, the subject matter is different, the time you’re working in, the themes you’re working on. It’s always a little microcosm of a world that you’re entering into.

When I started films, I had already worked in the theater a lot. I was almost 30. It took me a long time to feel comfortable working in movies. I felt kind of like I was a stage actress pretending I was a movie actress. Now I don’t feel that way. I really relish it. I went to acting school — like community college, state college, conservatory — and I needed to do all of that. But it takes a long time to forget everything that you’ve learned. I think it’s a kind of creative-process principle, whatever creative process it is: You have to learn to draw before you can become an abstract painter, so in my work, it takes a long time to be able to feel free, you know? Because you are constrained. You’re not actually free. The camera’s in a certain place, there are hundreds of people around you waiting for you to do your take. There’s all kinds of things that conspire to make it not spontaneous in the moment, so to find a way to surprise your scene partner, for them to surprise you, for something to just happen and to not worry about that — because that takes freedom — because there’s something in the psyche that says, “If you don’t know what you’re gonna do you could be embarrassed, you could do something really phony, you could do something …” But to just say, “I don’t care. I’m just gonna see what happens in this scene.

Not only in terms of joyousness and extraversion, but the opposite as well, if you’re trying to do something that’s very quiet and very internal, and perhaps on the darker side or the sadder side, same thing — can you find a freedom in that, where you don’t even know quite what you might do? That is what learning is for me.

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