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Annette Bening

Annette Bening


Steely tough but alluringly vulnerable--her screen persona had us at The Grifters. Now she's Augusten Burroughs's deliciously mad bisexual mom in Running With Scissors.

Deirdre Burroughs in Running With Scissors had to have been a really shattering kind of character to play. How did you go about loving this woman? "Shattering" is a good word. I didn't find it hard to fall in love with her--she's just so human to me, and I find that touching about her. She's also ill, so a lot of it is just someone who's struggling with a physiological problem in her brain. I also just think she's so funny and so smart and ambitious. She's such a full, complicated human being--that is such a pleasure to try to realize.

Did you talk to Augusten himself much about his mom and what she was like? I did. I don't consider this a portrait of her; I really don't. I consider this my interpretation of [writer-director] Ryan [Murphy]'s interpretation of Augusten's interpretation. You know what I'm saying?

I love it--it's like a game of telephone! Well, it's true. I really don't see myself as his [real-life] mother. I see myself as a character that we all kind of created. I did talk to Augusten--he's completely fascinating. He's a really interesting man, he's incredibly bright, and incredibly verbal. He has an impeccable memory. I think the reason [his memoir] became the thing that it did was because there's something very primal and very universal in a human being's desire to deal with the past and get on with it and tell the truth. The fact that he was able to find irony and wit in the midst of all this incredibly painful stuff is quite extraordinary.

Let me ask you: How could you keep a straight face when Brian Cox [playing Dierdre's eccentric psychiatrist, who adopts teenage Augusten] said "masturbatory"? Oh! [Laughs] It was impossible! We were screaming--we were screaming with laughter. Screaming. [Anne laughs] I know! I don't know how I did. I think it was actually the best acting moment in the entire film: me not screaming with laughter when he said that. Especially the way he says it.

I have to ask you: Dierdre has two female lovers in the film, both played by amazing young actresses. So who's hotter: Kristin Chenoweth or Gabrielle Union? Oh, my God--how could I possibly choose? That's the hardest question I've ever been asked! I don't know. They're both so amazing. Kristin [is] truly a phenomenon, and then Gabrielle Union is so wonderful in the picture too. She's very skilled: She came in, she had it together, she knew what she was doing. I was really impressed. She makes such a strong presence in the movie.

You were born in Kansas. What was it like for you going off to college in San Francisco? I was born in Kansas. We moved to San Diego when I was 7. But going to San Francisco was definitely like the big city to me. I moved there in 1978, and it was an extraordinary place, because AIDS hadn't hit and everybody went there to come out. It was really, I have to say, an extraordinary moment when the gay bars were absolutely incredible. There was this atmosphere of incredible tolerance, and it didn't matter who you were or what your orientation was, you could be there and you could be open and free. The change that took place in the city [because of AIDS] was gut-wrenching. I remember going back and sitting at a cafe that I'd been at a million times, and there was a front-page article in the San Francisco Chronicle with the pictures of all the men from the Gay Men's Chorus who had died. The city was profoundly changed. It will never be like that again, like it was [in the late 1970s and early '80s]. But it was a very exciting place to be, especially because I was in the theater.

You studied at the American Conservatory Theater there. Was it very formal? The man that founded [ACT], who was the artistic director, was named Bill Ball, and he was gay and very forward-thinking and very brilliant and very nutty and very inspiring himself. So yeah, I got classical training and it was a classical repertory theater. It wasn't like we were running around doing naked exercises or something--you know, like naked theater exercises, I mean. [Anne chuckles] But yeah, there was an openness and a questioning and a real creative atmosphere there.

My gay male coworkers wanted me to ask about Being Julia, since they really saw themselves in the stage actress you play in the film, who has to outsmart a devious younger lover. Well, Somerset Maugham, who wrote the novel that the screenplay is based on, was gay--an amazing writer to begin with. I don't want to make this too simple, but people often felt that many of his protagonists were acting out his own issues. He was very bitter about the theater [at the time he wrote the novel]--he'd really had it. [It's] like Running With Scissors--both of the screenwriters of those [films] were more sympathetic toward [the character I play] than the original book.

One last thing: You were so gracious on the red carpet at this year's Emmys when Nancy O'Dell said, "Are you gonna put your Emmy next to your Oscar?" They just wanted to give you props for not biting her or slapping her! You know what? I quite frankly wasn't quite sure what she meant when she said it. Because I thought, Wait a minute--is that what she's saying? And so I was kind of thrown. It wasn't until later that I asked Warren, "Wait a minute, did she say what I thought she said?" There wasn't, of course, the time to [say that]. I didn't feel that it was the proper moment to say that, so I just looked at her! [Laughs]

Well, now I'm sure your whole gay fan base is pulling for you to win already. The press has created some kind of rivalry between you and Hilary Swank [who twice beat Bening for the Best Actress Oscar]. Oh, yeah. That's just a weird coincidence.

Are you guys just gonna costar in something and just confound them all? That would be great! She's a very good actress--I would do it in a minute.

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