US actress Annette Bening is heading the jury at this year's Venice Film Festival. The down-to-earth star with plenty of life experience has what it takes, writes DW's Jochen Kürten.
She's been nominated for an Oscar four times, but hasn't yet taken a trophy home with her. However, according to what she's told the media, she doesn't dwell much on that. Annette Bening comes across as a confident actress who's sure of who she is as a woman in the film industry.
With only one of the 21 films on the playbill directed by a woman, Bening was asked by press at the start of the Venice Film Festival what she thought about the dearth of female representation.
While Bening said she hadn't counted female participation before coming - saying she was simply "thrilled to be asked to be here" - she did add that there was a lot of sexism in the industry. "But I think things are changing. The more that we, as women, can make films that speak to everyone, we can be regarded as filmmakers."
Bening doesn't seek the limelight
Born in 1958 in Topeka, Kansas, Bening isn't your typical Hollywood diva. She doesn't make the headlines every week or parade her personal life on social media.
Nevertheless, Bening has managed to achieve steady success over the decades. She's earned the privilege of being able to choose her roles carefully, only takes on the projects that interest her, and hasn't had any major flops.
Perhaps it was the degree of solidity that she brings to the table, paired with her relaxed charisma, that convinced the organizers of the Venice Film Festival to name her jury chairwoman. The annual cinema extravaganza runs this year in the romantic city of canals from August 30 to September 9.
Read more: What to expect at the Venice Film Festival
Bening first learned her trade in the theater. She found success as a young stage actress in San Francisco and New York and garnered a Tony Award nomination.
She was cautious about moving into film, appearing in the 1987 TV series "Miami Vice" and taking on a number of small parts in feature films. It was in 1988 that Bening had her big cinema breakthrough as Madame de Merteuil in "Valmont," a historical drama based on an 18th-century French novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.
Success and true love in the 90s
It didn't take long for Bening to claim her first Oscar nomination, for her performance as a gangster bride in Stephen Frears' 1990 neo-noir crime drama "The Grifters."
The following year, she appeared alongside Hollywood heartthrob Warren Beatty in "Bugsy" - an encounter that would have consequences. They became a couple and married in 1992, giving the tabloids plenty of material to work with: Known as a ladies' man, Beatty was also 21 years older.
At some point, the tabloids got over the glamorous marriage - most likely because Beatty and Bening failed to produce any scandals. Instead, they seemed to lead a normal, happy life and had four children - which is one reason why Bening became more selective in the roles she took on.
Ahead of the start of the festival in Venice, she told reporters in response to questions about sexism in the film industry, "As women, we have to be very sharp and shrewd and creative about what we choose to make."
Dashed Oscar hopes
One of those was "American Beauty" in 1999, in which she co-starred with Kevin Spacey as his white-bread wife. Her performance brought her another Oscar nomination. In 2004, Bening impressed again as a popular theater actress in "Being Julia," and was once more recognized with an Academy Award nomination.
But for Bening, neither the third nor the fourth time turned out to be the charm. Her fourth nomination came in 2010 for "The Kids Are All Right." And many expected her to be nominated yet again for last year's "20th Century Women" (though she did obtain a Golden Globe nomination).
"20th Century Women," by Mike Mills, was a gentle yet penetrating portrait of a single mom in California in the late 1970s, and really showed the extent of Bening's acting talent. Her performance was calm and sensitive, while also offering an incredible intense portrayal of a middle-aged woman who balances her independence with her role as a mother in challenging surroundings.
Aging with dignity on camera
Asked whether she would invest in plastic surgery as she got older, Annette Bening replied that she didn't want to look the same for her whole life. She doesn't hide the traces the years have left - which contributes to her authenticity and grace as an actress.
That's one reason why her most recent performances as mothers have been particularly convincing. And she has plenty of life experience to draw on, since she leads a vibrant life outside of Hollywood.
This life experience will certainly be useful as Annette Bening and the rest of the Venice Film Festival jury are required to make some tough decisions: They'll be choosing the films that will be awarded with the Silver and Golden Lions on September 9.