Walking into a room with Jodie Foster and Annette Bening is intimidating to say the least, especially when you have to awkwardly climb onto an extra tall and delicate folding chair in front of them. But both acting icons wore warm smiles during their recent press day for “Nyad,” the Netflix biopic they star in that depicts the Herculean Cuba-to-Key West swim of lesbian legend Diana Nyad at age 64. Bening perfectly captures the prickly, damaged protagonist, while Foster gives life to Nyad’s exhausted former lover and best friend and coach, Bonnie Stoll.
Bening and Foster received Golden Globe nominations this week for their portrayals; both are expected to receive the same honor from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that hands out Oscars.
Back to that room at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. While both Bening and Foster seemed friendly and game from the onset, they both visibly lit up when the publicist announced a journalist from The Advocate was about to interview them. While there are several themes explored in “Nyad,” one which stood out was a refusal to accept perceived limitations of age or gender. Did taking on such a physically and emotionally demanding role make Bening question what she could accomplish after nearly 40 years in Hollywood?
“For me, it’s less about accomplishing things on the outside but more on the inner world. I love the craft and the craft as a vehicle for my own growth and learning,” says Bening, who’s been wed to Warren Beatty since 1992 and is a mother to four, including her trans son, Stephen.
“I really had to look at myself in a way I never have before. It’s quite personal. It does have to do with being at peace with myself. Keeping focused on what is really essential and important in my life and finding that inner freedom, whether that’s in work and in relationships and daily life and moment to moment.”
I next relayed a story to Foster about people heaping praise on her performance and expressing joy at seeing her face back on a movie screen. It’s Hollywood lore now that Foster declined to return to her most famous role, FBI agent Clarice Starling, in a sequel to “The Silence of the Lambs” (Ridley Scott’s “Hannibal” was better than the book, but still a good decision on the Yale graduate’s part). Even before Foster had two Oscars in hand (one for “The Silence of the Lambs,” the other for playing a resilient rape survivor in “The Accused”), Foster chose her jobs deliberately. Why did she sign on for a supporting role in “Nyad”?
“I knew Bonnie and Diana socially, Christmas parties kind of thing, and I just love them. I love them together. I love them separately,” Foster says. “It’s a great partnership, a great long 40-year friendship and there is something about how different they are and how eccentric they are. Diana is incredibly charming; she’s always the center of attention. She’s read every book, memorized every fact. She’s an extraordinary person and Bonnie is her minder in many ways; stays behind and is a calming presence and there’s something about that dynamic that I found so beautiful.”
Before the interview, I researched both women’s filmographies and realized Bening has played actors many times (“Being Julia,” “Bugsy,” “Postcards From the Edge,” etc.). Nyad, such a natural performer that she easily segued to a TV broadcasting career after breaking swimming records in her 20s, seemed like one of the hams that Bening is so good at portraying.
“I just loved (the script) immediately and I just got right into her and I loved how full of contradictions she is as a person,” Bening says. “Those are the great characters, the ones who have this and that at the same time. How is that possible? It’s because we all have that. We all have the strong side and the weak side. We have our confidence and our fear and insecurity…
(Nyad is) “also very eloquent in her book that we based the movie on. She’s very good with words and describes this experience she had in the most eloquent way and it does become a metaphor for life,” Bening says. “You’re in this solo trip and you’re out in the middle of it all and you’re alone, but what you eventually learn is you’re not alone, but you’re alone, but you’re not alone and you can’t really survive without those deep connections with other people, which I feel in my life so I thought that was very beautiful in the story.”
Now it was time to ask a “gay” question. Foster is no shrinking violet, but she is also very private about her marriage to director and photographer Alexandra Hedison. To me, one of the most singular aspects of “Nyad” is its complex depiction of a platonic lesbian friendship. When I asked about that dynamic, Foster appeared to relish answering.
“I think there’s something incredibly beautiful about two women of a certain age who, for whatever reason, didn’t have children, didn’t end up in love partnerships, for whatever reason,” Foster says. “Diana is obsessive and on her path and Bonnie is solitary and eccentric and they are more each other’s family than anybody ever could be. Maybe that’s because of the culture they came from, the things they had to fight, the choices they had to make then that maybe people don’t have to make now. I think all that richness of history and culture is all woven in there without you really realizing it, but that is an absolute true thing, the depth of their friendship is like no love anyone has ever seen.”
This article originally appeared on Advocate.com, and is shared here as part of an LGBTQ+ community exchange between Q Voice News and Equal Pride.