Acclaimed for her work on screen and in the theater, actress Annette Bening is starring in Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child, in which she plays a woman haunted by the daughter she gave up for adoption at the age of 14.
Working as a physical therapist in a rehabilitation clinic and looking after her elderly mother with whom she barely speaks has impacted Karen’s (Bening) ability to have normal human relationships. She’s uncomfortable around just about everybody, and is demanding and unsociable at home and at work, as she keeps up a silent monologue to her absent daughter (Naomi Watts) through journal entries and letters never to be sent.
During an interview at the film’s press day, Annette Bening talked about approaching the paradox of a character who is both reaching out and shutting down, at the same time, finding interesting roles in Hollywood and the importance of social and political activities in her life. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: Your character is constantly evolving throughout the movie. Is that one of the things that attracted you to the film?
Annette: Yes. What happens in the movie is also very unexpected to me, in the way that Rodrigo constructed this mosaic of people, and then there’s this narrative. In some ways, you unconsciously think you know where it’s going to go, but then the story takes these turns that you don’t necessarily expect. She comes to a place where she can accept people and, if somebody’s interested, she can actually acknowledge it.
In my view, part of it is what happens to her, and part of it is that she takes the reins of her own life, a little bit. I just felt that she was such a real and normal person to me, and was somebody that maybe I had seen at the grocery store or the library or at work. I always wonder about people’s history and their lives, especially people that are a little bit more distant, who obviously have had some kind of a thing and you know there’s some reason why they’re not able to connect. It’s not because they don’t want to. They don’t have the ability. But, I love where she gets to, in a place of peace. I don’t think I could have done the beginning, if I had not known that she was going to find that.
How did you approach the paradox of this character, reaching out and shutting down, at the same time?
Annette: What a good question. That paradox is in the writing, and that immediately attracted me. Trying to find that is a bit nervous making as well because you see it and you see the potential that’s there, and then you go, “Well, I hope I can find that.” I loved that about her, and I loved how prickly she is, at the beginning. If I didn’t know where it was going, some of the painful sequences probably would have been unbearable. But, when it’s on the page and you know that it’s there, then you’re just basically trying to follow what’s there.
Does it help that you see where she comes from and how she became that way?
Annette: I think so. And, I think that the scars make sense. I believed her. I believed that, given what she’d been through, it affected her in the way that it did. Obviously, everybody would go through that in a specific way, so not everybody would be traumatized, in that particular way. I knew girls who went through similar experiences to Karen.
And then, once we were doing the film, I got further and further into first-person narratives and people talking about what it was like to not only become pregnant, but going through it at 14 or 15, and being sent away and feeling so ashamed, and then going through child birth alone because a lot of them didn’t have their family with them, and then being expected to go back into life.
That’s the other part that’s just almost inconceivable. It’s like, “Okay now, we’re going to just take the baby and it’s going to be fine. You can go back to school.” To think that these kids go through that is terrible. I felt that was all very much there and realized in what Rodrigo wrote.
To play this role, did you talk to a lot of people who had had children at a young age?
Annette: I talked to a few, but I was thinking of it more as a middle-aged person who’s now dealing with it. That’s who she is, when we meet her, so I felt it was really important for me, just for myself, to understand what the whole experience was, from the time that it happened.
I really had very close experiences with girls who went through similar things. I remember one girl – and I became preoccupied thinking about her – who I’d known since we were very little, and we ended up going all through school together. She was a gorgeous girl who was really vivacious. What I remember is wondering what happened to her. You were never really told explicitly what happened, but suddenly she was gone and there were rumors, and then you didn’t see her. Well, she was sent away because she got pregnant.
And then, by the time I was in high school, Roe v. Wade had passed, so that was also beginning to happen. Girls would accidentally get pregnant and then they would get abortions. That was also going on. The legacy of that is what I had to try to understand, as best I could. That got me into the present of the film, which is about somebody who’d been through that and, in some ways, been paralyzed by it. For most people, it left a dent, a bruise or a scar. It was hard to get over.
How difficult is it to find good roles in Hollywood nowadays?
Annette: Well, I’ve been lucky. I have a family, so I don’t work all the time. I try to be selective. I’ve been very fortunate. Because of the work that I do, I can stop and start, which I love. Being able to do this picture was such a gift. I can’t complain. And, I do plays too, so I try to find other things. I am lucky because I can step in and do something, and then I can go away, not think about it and do other stuff.
Are there any political or social activities you’re involved with right now?
Annette: Not really. I’m always raising money. In the last year, because of the recession, there’s something called The Actor’s Fund that I’ve been raising money for. They’re a really good group. They are really important in helping people, in show business. In our business, it’s tough right now. A lot of people are out of work, so I’ve been raising money for The Actor’s Fund, in L.A. and in New York, ‘cause they do help everybody. They help the grips, the stage hands, producers, composers, choreographers, singers, dancers, actors and all that stuff. So, I’ve been doing that.
But, in terms of politics, I haven’t been doing anything. I read Game Change. If you want to relive the campaign, that book is unbelievable. It’s great. It’s the book of that campaign. It brought all the memories back of everything with Clinton and Obama, and Sarah Palin and McCain, and choosing her, and John Edwards. It was an interesting book.