Why Annette Bening is flying high as a bad girl Liver bird

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    Annette Bening stated a well-known fact: ‘Men have been mistreating women, on and off screen, for a very long time.’

    The actress, a former governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, shook her head and noted that Gloria Grahame, the one-time femme fatale she portrays in Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool (in one of the year’s best performances), did a string of post-war pictures where, time and again, she was beaten up on screen.

    Bening observed that if you were the ‘bad girl’ in a film, as Grahame often was, ‘it was nothing for a man to turn around and slap you, or beat you up. It happened to Gloria in a number of films — but only if she was the bad girl. Not if you were the good girl,’ she said, with a shiver.

    Annette Bening (pictured) stated a well-known fact: ¿Men have been mistreating women, on and off screen, for a very long time¿

    Annette Bening (pictured) stated a well-known fact: ‘Men have been mistreating women, on and off screen, for a very long time’

    ‘It’s really chilling; and that’s how those women were regarded and treated. Gloria wasn’t bad in life. Although I think she was a handful; no question. And she was attracted to men who were complicated.’

    Grahame was the girl who couldn’t say No in the film version of Oklahoma! And though she made other silver screen classics such as The Bad And The Beautiful and Human Desire she was, as Bening put it, somewhere below the top rung of actresses of that era.

    After a while, she had a tough time finding work, although whether that was entirely down to her personal life, and the scandals that she’d been through, is a moot point.

    ‘She’d had a really rough life — a scandalous, tempestuous life,’ Bening said, when we were discussing what took the heat out of Grahame’s career. ‘She had four children. Four marriages. She married her stepson and had children with him!

    The actress, a former governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, shook her head and noted that Gloria Grahame, the one-time femme fatale she portrays in Film Stars Don¿t Die In Liverpool (in one of the year¿s best performances), did a string of post-war pictures where, time and again, she was beaten up on screen

    The actress, a former governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, shook her head and noted that Gloria Grahame, the one-time femme fatale she portrays in Film Stars Don¿t Die In Liverpool (in one of the year¿s best performances), did a string of post-war pictures where, time and again, she was beaten up on screen

    The actress, a former governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, shook her head and noted that Gloria Grahame, the one-time femme fatale she portrays in Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool (in one of the year’s best performances), did a string of post-war pictures where, time and again, she was beaten up on screen

    Bening on the Jonathan Ross show

    Bening on the Jonathan Ross show

    Bening on the Jonathan Ross show

    ‘But she continued acting — she was a good actress — but it wasn’t in front of a camera very often.’

    When film work dried up in the US, her agents found her stage work over here.

    ‘She lived somewhere in our consciousness, because she was a movie star — but she was a B movie star. She considered herself a step below. But producers in England thought it would be great to hire the girl who couldn’t say No,’ Annette noted.

    Which brings us to how Gloria met actor Peter Turner and ended up staying in the spare room of his parents’ home…in Liverpool.

    Barbara Broccoli, the producer behind the Bond films, knew Grahame and Turner and often saw them socially. Twenty years ago, she talked to Bening about the love affair between the young actor and the faded Hollywood star.

    ‘She knew them when they were together, and it’s clear that they loved each other,’ Bening said.

    Turner had written a memoir about the couple’s romance. ‘Maybe many of us have had that relationship when we were younger that consumed us in a way that we didn’t quite understand,’ Annette said. ‘He loved her. She was treated well by a really good guy and that was not usual for her.’

    Pictured: Bening on This Morning on Thursday.

    Pictured: Bening on This Morning on Thursday.

    Pictured: Bening on This Morning on Thursday.

    Bening (pictured at the Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool premiere) said when she started her career, she wanted ¿to work my whole life, through the different stages, and not to stay young ¿ because you can¿t anyway ¿ but to try and portray the ages that I am.¿

    Bening (pictured at the Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool premiere) said when she started her career, she wanted ¿to work my whole life, through the different stages, and not to stay young ¿ because you can¿t anyway ¿ but to try and portray the ages that I am.¿

    Bening (pictured at the Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool premiere) said when she started her career, she wanted ‘to work my whole life, through the different stages, and not to stay young — because you can’t anyway — but to try and portray the ages that I am.’

    She speculated that Grahame was attracted not just to Turner’s normalcy (after years spent in the film world) but also to his family in Liverpool. ‘Her parents were both English, and they ended up in America. Her mother taught acting, and she definitely pushed Gloria into acting.’

    So two decades after Broccoli first broached the subject of making a film about Gloria and Peter, the producer held what’s called a ‘chemistry’ reading with Bening and Jamie Bell at her home in Los Angeles.

    The two hit it off (though Bell later told me he felt extremely nervous meeting Bening: a four-time Oscar nominee and, with husband Warren Beatty, Hollywood royalty).

    As much as Film Stars… is a love story, it’s also a commentary on how age affects actresses (although I liked Broccoli’s comment to me that ‘women are beautiful at all ages’).

    Bening said when she started her career, she wanted ‘to work my whole life, through the different stages, and not to stay young — because you can’t anyway — but to try and portray the ages that I am.’

    She was 30 when she made her first movie. ‘I remember reading that it was over for actresses then at 35. And I was 30!’

    She agreed that it’s easier for older men than it is for older women to succeed in Hollywood. ‘There is that double standard, but I think for men it can be quite tricky as well.

    ‘I don’t worry about it so much — as long as I’m able to work. I’ve gotten so lucky, and if I couldn’t do it anymore I’ve got four kids, and a husband. I could even do a play here in London now that the kids are older,’ she said, with a smile, when we spoke at the Corinthia Hotel in Whitehall.

    Bening’s first major film role was as a sultry con artist in The Grifters, directed by Stephen Frears and distributed Miramax…Harvey Weinstein’s company at the time=.

    ‘He never touched me,’ she said. ‘I’m glad Harvey’s behaviour has been exposed. I’m glad it’s all out, and that the women are being supported, and being brave.’

    She added that she hoped that ‘some learning about a sense of self, and that no job is worth it — especially for women’ will come out of the mess; pointing out that in Hollywood and other industries, men are victimised, too.

    ‘I want there to be a point where women are able to say: “Sorry, that’s inappropriate — I’m leaving the room.” And mean it. You have the right to say that.

    ‘Sometimes it’s intimidating, especially if you need a job and you’re young. But you say NO and you don’t go in the room.’

    Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool goes on UK release on November 17. 

    Patricia Clarkson is blessed with a voice that she can use to great effect: for seduction, or as a weapon

    Patricia Clarkson is blessed with a voice that she can use to great effect: for seduction, or as a weapon

    Patricia Clarkson is blessed with a voice that she can use to great effect: for seduction, or as a weapon

    How Patty cowed her co-stars 

    Patricia Clarkson is blessed with a voice that she can use to great effect: for seduction, or as a weapon.

    In the delicious political satire The Party, Clarkson — playing April, a take-no-prisoners literary agent — was given permission by director Sally Potter to lock and load her words.

    And then fire them, at point blank range, at the other characters, played by Kristin Scott Thomas (as a newly promoted Shadow Cabinet minister), Bruno Ganz (April’s partner), Timothy Spall (Scott Thomas’s professor husband), Emily Mortimer and Cherry Jones (as an expectant academic couple) and Cillian Murphy (a deranged banker).

    ‘Sally said the words have to come fast and furious, and they have to hit the bullseye,’ said Clarkson (pictured).

    She was speaking from New Orleans, her home town, where she’s playing a veteran detective in Out Of Blue, director Carol Morley’s adaptation of Martin Amis’s novel Night Train.

    ‘April’s had lovers and partners, and commands the moral high ground because she never succumbed to any of the norms of life — marriage and children.

    ‘And no matter your sexual preferences, she can’t bear you being married or having children.’

    Clarkson (a short list of her pictures include Far From Heaven, The Station Agent, Shutter Island and the Netflix drama House Of Cards) calls April a ‘once-in-a-lifetime character’, and felt flattered when Potter offered her the role.

    But she found it a challenge being so cruel to people that she liked in real life — even if it was just for the cameras.

    ‘I had to show up every day, knowing I was going to eviscerate people. I turned up on the set, every day for two weeks, and berated my favourite actors.

    ‘I always had to apologise after,’ she joked.

    She would go back to her dressing room, ‘undress and take off April’, then head back to the hotel and have a glass of rosé with Cherry Jones.

    Clarkson already knew Jones and Mortimer. ‘All us girls hung out one afternoon and larks were had,’ she said.

    The sublime film was shot in London and it’s that rare beast: a politically themed movie that’s also fun to watch.

    The Party was screened at the BFI London Film Festival, and is in cinemas from today.

    Sheila Hancock will star in the stage version of Hal Ashby's movie Harold And Maude

    Sheila Hancock will star in the stage version of Hal Ashby's movie Harold And Maude

    Sheila Hancock will star in the stage version of Hal Ashby’s movie Harold And Maude

    Watch out for… 

    Sheila Hancock, who will star in the stage version of Hal Ashby’s movie Harold And Maude, about a suicidal rich kid (well, he’s 19 pushing 20) who hooks up with septuagenarian sometime car thief and tree hugger who, at 79 ¾, is a cheerleader for life, as I recall the critic Pauline Kael describing her.

    It worked on celluloid with Ruth Gordon as Maude and Bud Cort as Harold.

    I saw a musical version in New York, which was unspeakable. 

    But I imagine a ‘straight’ version would work better, especially one featuring the quick-witted Ms Hancock.

    Thom Southerland, who directed Hancock in Grey Gardens, will reunite with his star and direct the production at the Charing Cross Theatre, where previews begin on February 19.

    Bartlett Sher, who will bring his Lincoln Centre production of The King And I to the London Palladium for a 14 to 15-week run next June.

    As I mentioned a few months back, it will star Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe (left), who were superb when the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical played in New York two years ago.

    The producer Howard Panter wants to take The King And I to Japan, Korea, Australia and elsewhere after its UK run.

    Sher will direct a revival of My Fair Lady at the Lincoln Centre first, early next year.

    And later he and dramatist J.T. Rogers plan to make a cinema version of their acclaimed play Oslo, which started at the National Theatre last month and is now playing at the Harold Pinter. The film plans explain why there won’t be an NT Live screening of Oslo.

    Bartlett Sher, who will bring his Lincoln Centre production of The King And I to the London Palladium for a 14 to 15-week run next June

    Bartlett Sher, who will bring his Lincoln Centre production of The King And I to the London Palladium for a 14 to 15-week run next June

    Bartlett Sher, who will bring his Lincoln Centre production of The King And I to the London Palladium for a 14 to 15-week run next June

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