Annette Bening shines in 20th Century Women, a comedy drama about a single mother in the 70s raising her son to be a feminist. Directed and written by Mike Mills, based in part on his life, the film also stars Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann and Billy Crudup. Bening, 59, lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 25 years, Warren Beatty. They have four children.
You play a mother who relates to her child through music. From how you relate to your mother as a daughter and as a mother yourself, how have you bridged your relationships through music?
Well, it’s interesting you ask that. My mother, who is now 87, was raised in Iowa and was a voice major in college because she has this incredible voice. Beautiful, beautiful voice and she was always in choral groups as we were growing up. So, all my life she was singing. She still is and now at this stage of her life she is very often asked to sing at the funerals of her friends and of her colleagues. She’s a very, very, very good singer with great heart so that was a big part of being a kid in my house was my mom singing and so she gave us that gift. At family reunions, on one side of my family there was always somebody playing the piano and somebody playing the violin and somebody was singing. And with my children, I think like a lot of parents, feel like they kind of turn you onto the contemporary music although my kids also really like Broadway show tunes. So that we share and that satellite radio station, the Broadway station is just what you want to hear and then other times you have to pull over to the side of the road and like have a sob (laughs). So yeah, my kids have turned me onto music and it is a great way to connect to your kids.
And your parents have been married a long time and met on a blind date?
Yes. And they’ve been married 66 years. It’s fantastic.
The film is called 20th Century Women. Do you think the future looks good for women?
I do. I do. I guess I would say that given where we’ve been and patriarchal structures as they’re beginning to change, I do think that’s a good thing. When you look at the second wave feminism in the film compared to where we are now, it’s fascinating. I don’t think it’s moving in one direction but certainly more women are in positions of power in the western world than have ever been – than has ever been the case before, although of course they represent a wide political spectrum. So yes, I’m an optimist anyway in life. Deep in me I feel a sense of optimism about where things are moving but it’s a slow curve.
What is a 21st century woman?
How would I characterise women that live right now? Well, I think that there’s a lot of pressure on women in many ways. Look at what’s happening in the political world. I think that says a lot about where women are.
As a parent do you have regrets about how your raised your children? Something you did or maybe something you didn’t do?
I guess that’s probably a little more personal than I would really honestly want to share but I don’t think my experience is that different than most people. I have good relationships with my kids and I love them, of course. And the way our children see us is like no-one else. That’s intriguing to me that idea, that conceit, how we are seen by our children. At some point or another that they really see us and know us.
You turned down Catwoman, a role that went to Michelle Pfeiffer, and Disclosure, which Demi Moore took after you refused. Any regrets?
I would have loved to have played Catwoman but I got pregnant so when you come down to those kinds of choices, they don’t even come close (laughs) and I had my first baby. With Disclosure, I don’t remember why. I think that was a scheduling thing or I would have done it, I think. I don’t remember exactly what happened, I remember it was right after the earthquake. Usually when I’ve turned things down it was because of the kids. But I don’t walk around thinking, ‘Oh, I wish I’d done that.’ It’s good to have time off. It’s really good to be away.