Look at what Annette Bening has been doing for the past three decades. She’s easily moved back and forth from drama (“The Grifters”) to comedy (“Mars Attacks!”), to dramatic comedy (“Being Julia”), back to drama (“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool”) and even to science-fiction (“Captain Marvel”).
But meeting her in person, there’s no thinking about any of the characters she’s played. There’s only her, and upon saying hello, you know immediately that she’s bright, she’s got a sense of humor, and she does not suffer fools gladly. So, she was the perfect choice to take on the role of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who shares the same qualities.
The film centers on the powerful Feinstein appointing Senate staffer Dan Jones (Adam Driver) to head up a committee that would look into look into torture practices used by the CIA in the days, months, and years following 9/11. Though the film’s focus is on Jones, Feinstein’s presence is always there, and Bening successfully disappears into the role. She spoke about it at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Q: How did you get involved with the film and why did you want to do it?
A: (Writer-director) Scott (Z. Burns) sent it to me and, right away, I thought it was an excellent story and an important story to tell. And a privilege to do. Often, as actors, we’re asked to take political positions on things, and just shine a spotlight on certain issues. Sometimes I choose to do that, and sometimes I don’t. But this is the best thing we can do as actors. I feel fortunate enough to be a part of something like this that really does have something to say. It’s a very important piece of our history as Americans, and we need to be reminded of it.
Q: What was your plan for playing Sen. Feinstein just right?
A: I moved to San Francisco in 1978, and that was the year of the assassinations in City Hall where Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were murdered. She was on the board of supervisors at that time and she automatically became mayor. So, I’ve been familiar with her for a long time, and I really wanted to play her. But the events and the facts in the movie are really what’s important, so I wanted to do enough (in my portrayal) that viewers accepted it was her, but no more. So, I watched her and listened to her a lot, and I would trust Scott to help me, to let me know if it was the right direction. But the fact that she is a measured woman is part of the story, and it’s part of who she authentically is. I was really proud to play her, and I have a lot of respect for her, but that’s not really what the movie’s about. It’s not about these people, it’s about the facts, themselves.
Q: Those facts turn into a complicated story of people trying to find the truth, all while the government and the CIA seem to be working against them. Were you aware of what was going on and who was involved at the time?
A: It was a group of people that eventually wrote the (torture) report - Dan being the primary writer - and a group of people that eventually got it out. But individuals do matter. And it was the force of character, of one person who decides - as Dan did - to not be buried by the five zillion pages of documents that the CIA dumped. That was part of their strategy. They figured some people would get bored. And some people did have to quit, some for very good reasons. But Dan’s force of character made a difference, and that is an encouraging thing to see. Because right now, in so many places, we feel like we need that, we need individuals who are willing to step up and say, “Sorry, this isn’t acceptable.”
Q: Did making the film enlighten you, and change your mind about what had gone down?
A: One of the important things to emphasize is that there were many people in the CIA who refused to cooperate with this program. They either asked to be transferred out or they just refused. I think that’s a really important thing to remember. I hope that message gets through to the public about this film, that it’s not in any way an attack on the CIA. It’s an attack on what happened to a group of people who were under enormous pressure, because of 9/11, to do something. One of the things I was surprised by was how eloquent Dianne Feinstein was. She basically said that the strength of our system is measured by how we respond when we make mistakes. So here we are, we are acknowledging something that happened. We’re saying to the world that we did a wrong thing and that we are now rectifying it, and they did.
“The Report” opens on Nov. 15.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.