The Stunning Transformation Of Annette Bening

Throughout her four decades in show business, Annette Bening has made a name for herself by starring in notable films, such as "Being Julia," "Nyad," "American Beauty," "The American President," and many more. The actor started off in theater, where she first found her passion for the art of acting. Since then, she has been nominated for several Oscars and experimented with different movie genres — all while maintaining a strong marriage and raising children.

But in spite of all her successes, Bening has remained grounded throughout the years. "Before I ever did movies, I was a professional actress and I loved it just as much," she told Vanity Fair in November 2023. "And I know what my life was like before being in movies and working in movies," she added. I was just as happy. I was working just as hard. I cared just as much, and it was just a play that very few people were going to see, but it still mattered the same."

While Bening did indeed make a life-changing transition from theater to film, she is still known for trying new roles and experiences.

Annette Bening was born in a middle class family in Kansas

While Annette Bening has worked and resided in large cities for many years, she's originally from the Midwest. Bening was born Ann Francine Bening, the youngest of four siblings, in Topeka, Kansas, in May 1958. Both of her parents were religious and politically conservative.  Her father, Arnett Grant Bening, worked as a salesperson, and her mother, Shirley Bening, was a singer in their local church.

Still, Annette may not necessarily consider herself a Kansasian, as she and her family moved to southern California when she was a child due to her father's job. In San Diego, Annette attended Patrick Henry High School. She graduated with her high school diploma in only three years. Before she got into acting, Annette worked various jobs in the San Diego area, including as a server, babysitter, and secretary for her father's insurance sales company. In 2005, Annette told SFSU Magazine that she didn't outright pursue acting. "I didn't choose it. It chose me," she said.

Her passion for acting started in high school plays and college theater

As a child, Annette Bening starred in numerous school plays, such as "The Sound of Music." She also gained inspiration from field trips and professional plays in the San Diego area. "I loved the feeling of being alive in the room with the actors speaking and seeing the sweat on their faces," she told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2020. "I remember the sound of their voices, the whole ambiance."

After graduating high school, Bening went to college to further her theatrical studies. First, she attended San Diego Mesa College, where she studied drama. Bening also landed a job in her desired field, which was a dancing gig at San Diego's famous Old Globe Theatre (now better known as The Old Globe), and subsequently other roles in various plays at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. 

While she was admittedly off to a strong start in San Diego, Bening later transferred to San Francisco State University for more opportunities. "I had heard that State had a big, active drama department," she told SFSU Magazine. "So I had great, smart, wise and seasoned people to learn from. I feel grateful that I had a chance to learn from veteran professionals." Before she graduated in 1980 (all honors!), Bening starred in several plays at SFSU. 

Annette Bening married a fellow theater actor in 1984

Annette Bening has garnered a lot of attention for her long marriage to Warren Beatty. While the couple has been together for more than 30 years, Bening was married once before, though it was short-lived. In 1984, she married actor J. Steven White, whom she met during her work with the American Conservatory Theatre, according to SFSU Magazine. After their nuptials, they moved to Colorado. Here, White was in charge of the Denver Center Theatre, while Bening worked with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, among other theater jobs. 

The couple separated in 1986, during which time Bening moved to New York City to pursue other roles in theater. As of this writing, White is a faculty member at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts, and he's been heavily involved with the New York Shakespeare Festival as well as various Broadway productions, according to his NYU bio.

Annette Bening was nominated for a Tony Award in 1987

Annette Bening continued her work in theater throughout the 1980s and made her Broadway debut in 1986. Her talent paid off in 1987 when she was nominated for her first Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play. She earned the nomination for her leading role in "Coastal Disturbances." Bening played Holly Dancer, a photographer who ends up in a love triangle, in a summertime story. In a positive review, The New York Times described "Coastal Disturbances" as "a modern play about love that is, for once, actually about love — as opposed to sexual, social or marital politics."

While Mary Alice ultimately beat Bening and the other nominees in the category, Bening's work in "Coastal Disturbances" and her subsequent Tony nomination likely garnered her attention for the next step in her acting career: feature films. Bening started off in made-for-TV movies, but it didn't take her long to land roles in mainstream theatrical features. 

In 1991, she was also nominated for an Academy Award for her first big film role

Annette Bening may have only landed small roles on the screen when she first transitioned from theater, but many of these projects featured big stars of the day. She made her official film debut in 1988's "The Great Outdoors," which starred comedians John Candy and Dan Aykroyd. Her big break, however, came in 1990 when she starred in "The Grifters." 

Bening caught a lot of attention from the public as well as others in Hollywood for her role as Myra Langtry in the popular crime thriller. In fact, her role landed her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 1991. Whoopi Goldberg ended up winning the award for her supporting role in the movie "Ghost"; however, this would certainly not be the last time Bening was nominated for an Academy Award.

Annette Bening started a family in 1992

The early '90s were a transformative time period in Annette Bening's personal life. She met Warren Beatty, the love of her life, in 1990, and the pair starred in the 1991 crime drama, "Bugsy." Bening and Beatty have been together ever since. They welcomed their first child together in January 1992. As People detailed, Bening and Beatty wed shortly after on March 3 and attended the Academy Awards as an official married couple just a few weeks later. Since then, they've welcomed three more children together.

The marriage itself came as a surprise to Beatty fans, as the actor previously built a reputation of being a playboy. In some ways, Beatty was surprised at how quickly he fell for Bening, too. "It took about 10 minutes [to fall in love with her]," he told the New York Post in 2014. "Maybe five." Bening is also frequently asked about her marriage to Beatty — particularly about their more than 21-year age gap — and the secrets to making their partnership last so long compared with other celebrity couples. "I did not start a relationship with him on the basis it was going to end quickly," she told Express in 2011. "It was started because I fell in love with him. ... I appreciated the reasons for the surprise at our marriage because he had been on his own for so long. But I felt at peace with everything right from the start."

In 1999, Annette Bening starred in a critically acclaimed film

By the late '90s, Annette Bening seemed to have everything going for her, both personally and professionally. However, 1999 proved to be an especially big year for her career, thanks to the critically acclaimed film, "American Beauty." In it, Bening played Carolyn Burnham, a perfectionist and materialistic suburban mom and real estate agent. In this satirical drama, Kevin Spacey plays her husband, Lester, who's going through a midlife crisis. "Though nobody ever promised us a rose garden, 'American Beauty' bears blossoms along with its thorns," the Washington Post declared after the movie's release. "And though we can't smell their perfume, the film is utterly intoxicating." Nearly 25 years later, the film still boasts an 87% Rotten Tomatoes rating, too.

"American Beauty" also landed Bening her first Best Actress Oscar nomination in 1999 (she has since been nominated for the Academy's Best Actress award three other times). Bening looks back fondly on the film, even declaring one of the bedroom scenes with fellow actor Peter Gallagher as the best time she's had on a movie set. "I was laughing so hard I thought I was going to die," she recalled to Deadline in a 2024 interview. She also told the publication that "I will sell this house today" is her most quoted line, thanks to Carolyn Burnham.

Annette Bening balanced raising a family while growing her career

Annette Bening and Warren Beatty share four children together: Stephen, Benjamin, Isabel, and Ella. In 2004, Bening found herself wanting to spend more time with them. "I couldn't go from picture to picture," she told People at the time. "I'm too interested in the other things in life, like being with my kids and being with my husband." Bening told the publication that as her children to older, she would take them on set with her during her filming. In 2011, Bening told Express, "I was 32 when I had my first child yet I was the first woman among my acting class to have one. A lot of them waited or never had a child. Acting can be so very self-obsessed it can dominate a life." 

After a brief break from her career to focus on her family, Annette Bening continued to get roles in critically acclaimed films. Some notable examples include 2006's "Running with Scissors," 2009's "Mother and Child," and 2010's "The Kids Are All Right." Shortly after the premiere of "Running with Scissors," Bening was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I love my work, I love my craft so much and I feel it's a journey I'm still very much in the midst of," she said at the time, as reported by Hello! magazine. In fact, part of Bening's journey included another Broadway production, "All My Sons" – her first stage appearance since starring in "Coastal Disturbances" some 30 years earlier. 

In 2018, she spoke out against cosmetic surgery

In addition to being a devoted mother, wife, and actor, Annette Bening has also chosen to age naturally. This isn't an easy feat in an industry where youth is often prized, and many actors – especially women – get fewer parts as they get older. Bening, however, has broken this mold. Part of this has to do with her approach to her career, and life more generally.

In a 2018 interview with NPR, Bening acknowledged that her decision to avoid plastic surgery was simply "a personal choice." She added, "I don't consider it virtuous — it's just me. Maybe it's because I also started in the theater, and when I started, [I] formulated my own aspirations as an actress. One of them was to continue acting all my life. And ... I wanted to try to portray the age that I was and not get stuck in any given period of life."

The actor later discussed her experiences with ageism in the industry, telling The Guardian, "I remember, maybe when I was 35, people talking about how I was ageing. Even in your 30s, there were those articles. Now, when I hear people worrying about it at 50, I think: what?"

She became more involved in political and social activism in 2020

While some actors have been upfront about their political beliefs throughout their careers, Annette Bening remained mostly quiet on this front until recent years. Part of her more recent activism was sparked by her concerns about transphobia, as her firstborn child, Stephen Ira, identifies as trans.

In a 2020 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Bening revealed she was happy with the results of the presidential election, as well as the increased voter turnout. "So many people around the country worked so hard to get out the vote. ... The LGBTQ community all over the country really got activated. If there's one thing that Trump did, he activated a lot of people." 

Since then, Bening has also been a strong advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. "Most of my career, I've been a pretty private person ... but over the last several years, I've changed my mind," she said at a GLSEN event in October 2023, as quoted by The Hollywood Reporter. "I have felt the responsibility to speak out and to speak up as transphobia has invaded our government at the local, state and federal levels. It is hurtful. It is shameful." During the event, Bening was also presented with an Advocate Award for her activism.

In 2023, Annette Bening starred in another Oscar-nominated role

Annette Bening took on an entirely different career challenge with 2023's "Nyad." The film is based on the true story of Diane Nyad, a professional swimmer who swam an estimated 100 miles between Cuba and Florida in 2013. Not only was she 64 years old at the time, but she managed to swim this distance in shark-filled waters, according to NPR.

To prepare for her role as Nyad in the Netflix film, Bening often spent eight hours a day swimming. "I actually came to the conclusion recently that I'm a better swimmer now than even when I made the movie because I just kept swimming," Bening said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "I love it so much." However, Bening was previously no stranger to water. Having grown up near the Pacific Ocean in San Diego, Bening later worked with a fishing charter company and already had a love for scuba diving. 

Aside from enjoying the experience of portraying long-distance swimmer Nyad on the big screen, Bening also picked up her fifth Oscar nomination for playing the lead role. She was nominated for Best Actress in 2024, though Emma Stone ended up winning for her lead role in "Poor Things." Previously, when asked by Rolling Stone how Bening might feel if she finally won an Oscar, she told the publication, "Well, I would think it would feel really great but I certainly know what it's like not to win. I've been there and I've done that, and that's also not so bad."

She won the Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year award in 2024

Annette Bening has only continued to prove she's a serious and versatile actor and, as of this writing, she's showing no signs of slowing down. In March 2024, she can be seen starring in the Peacock series, "Apples Never Fall." Additionally, the actor was able to add another type of award to her resume — Harvard's "Hasty Pudding of the Year" award.

In January, Bening received the honor from Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Theatricals. The awards ceremony included her riding in a parade and receiving a coveted "pudding pot" trophy. "We're absolutely thrilled to honor Annette Bening in this milestone 175th anniversary year for the Hasty Pudding," the organization's president, Josh R. Hillers, said as reported by The Harvard Crimson. "Hot off her Oscars nomination for Best Actress, we're excited to present her with the most prestigious award in the entertainment industry."

The often rowdy event also includes a roast of the recipient. Taking the remarks in stride, Bening also had some of her own jokes up her sleeve. "I did it all myself with no one's help," she said after receiving her pudding pot. According to the Associated Press, she also thanked her kindergarten teacher.