Annette Bening on Oscars, Nyad, and Her Greatest Fears: “I Just Keep Going”

Vanity Fair: I wanted to start by asking you about the last scene in Nyad, because it illustrates the accomplishment of your performance. You look completely drained there, as Diana actually was when she completed the swim. Where were you, physically and mentally, when you filmed that?

Annette Bening: It was towards the end of the shoot. In moments like that, I’m not really thinking; I’m in some other kind of mode of wanting to just intuitively respond to the moment, having thought about it a lot. It was very emotional to get there, and I wanted to try to find that moment fully—seeing everybody there and knowing what it really did mean for Diana and what she had been through physically. It was just all of that conscious thought and study, for months and months—or how long, a year?—and then in the moment, it is not really thinking, it’s feeling.

You trained for a full year and came into Nyad as a novice swimmer. Given the amount you actually do on camera, did you ever doubt that you could do it—or that it was worth such intensive effort?

I had a couple of moments, like a real pause. “Can I pull this off?” I’m 60-whatever it was; I’m 65 now, so whenever I started. Part of it was my coach Rada [Owen], because she did make me believe I could. I just kept going for it and just kept thinking, we’ll figure it out. We’ll make it work somehow.I didn’t exactly know that I would end up doing everything that I did, which was fine, or loving it as much as I did while we were shooting. I also thought, how many times have you seen that in a movie, where you think, “Oh, that’s not really that person.” You suspend your disbelief and you say, “Okay, well, of course, that can’t be so-and-so jumping out of an airplane because that wouldn’t make sense.” But this time I really did feel like, “No, I’ve got to do this.”

In those moments that you’re describing where you were like, “I don’t know if I can do this,” what was pushing you forward?

I love a great challenge. Part of it is fear, and part of it is like, “Okay, so I just kind of have no choice.” Obviously, I did have a choice. [Laughs] But I felt in my heart I had no choice. It’s an endeavor. It’s a challenge. And that feels good, giving that to yourself. I think a lot of us want to be in that territory and want to continue to be. So in a way, I was thrilled by it. In our profession, we’re always pretending to be violinists, or guitar players; it’s part of the job, but it’s definitely a mind game where you have to convince yourself you can do something, and you don’t know until you try it, and you would never know unless you tried it. We didn’t know. I certainly don’t know, but I just keep going.

Would you say that mind game has gotten easier or harder for you, deeper into your career?


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