By Anne Brodie
Two Hollywood powerhouses partner up for Netflix’ triumphant biopic on world long-distance swim record smasher Diana Nyad. Annette Bening is the hard-headed athlete who conquered the “Mount Everest of swims” at age 60, finishing the 161 km journey from Cuba to Florida in 55 hours. Jodie Foster plays Nyad’s one-time lover turned coach and protector Bonnie Stoll, who manages to withstand Nyad’s blunt demands as she makes the swim. What She Said’ Anne Brodie attended a global news conference with the pair.
Jodie Foster on getting to know Diana and Bonnie. – I love both of them and thought they were such characters. So that was my first connection really was knowing them personally and then of course Bonnie who’s such a character and so eccentric and I adore her. So that was the whole reason I was there but then the most important part was Annette Benning.
Annette Bening – No! They told me they were going to ask Jodie to do it and I said, she’ll never do it. Like she should play Diana. And of course, she came over to my house. She like gave me a little once over. Just like checking me out. We knew each other, we’d met but we didn’t know each and we just clicked I think pretty well. My whole objective was to get her to do it because I knew that she’s always the smartest person in the room which is not an easy thing to be in life and has more experience than anyone and she’s a very very fine director. So I knew that I was getting this incredible package, so I did I tried to be as agreeable and as charming as possible. What makes the movie is Jodie and what she does, and who she is as Bonnie. Bonnie is an incredible woman and the way that Jodie studied her and followed her just kind of got inside of her skin. I’m really, really grateful to Jodie because she also took care of me when we were shooting.
JF – Well, they are a package, and I think that’s so lovely about the film. The thing that really drove me to it was this idea of a sixty-year-old woman who didn’t end up having kids. They were lovers early on, but friends forever.
AB – Friends are everything. These two women couldn’t have done without each other on both sides, they completed each other. I thought that was really beautiful. It’s important to see this. I know a lot of women that I feel this incredible friendship. Jodie and I have become friends. I mean it’s how we keep going in life, our friends. Yes, we have our partners, we have our kids, we have our loved ones, but there’s something about the friendship that is so powerful and it’s so much a part of the story and it’s not always easy to dramatise. So within the context of the swim, it’s the perfect way to dramatise why people need each other, why we need each other, and what it is we do for each other.
JF – I was so curious to know, how does somebody become an athlete and what do they give up in their life. What do they sacrifice in order to be excellent?
Foster is usually the lead, solitary, in her films but is an equal partner in Nyad.
That was really new for me. For whatever reason I haven’t done a lot of movies I was with another person and two people doing something, what a revelation it was! Just so lovely, so pleasant, and also just to be able to support somebody that I admire so much, the way Bonnie really admires Diana and I really admire Annette because she’s much nicer than I am. She’s in that water and she’d be freezing or, it’d be 8 hours later and I’m like are you okay? So I did have to intervene a few times to be the bad guy.
Bening on building a friendship for and for after a project.
It was very natural to me. I knew Jodie professionally. I had seen her work. So there’s something about talent. It’s undeniable and working with talented people is energy. There’s just an extraordinary energy. Certainly, Diana and Bonnie have incredible energy but so does Jodie and there’s a professionalism that comes with that. There’s something incredibly satisfying about being around somebody who’s just working, knows how to work, knows how to show up, knows how not to be a problem, not have an ego issue, but just like wants the best. And so much of acting – what I was taught and really believe is just listening and reacting and being present with the person that you’re with. That’s the joy of it. That’s the kick. That’s the, that’s the, you know, the adrenaline. So when you have someone like Jodie to work with, then you really don’t have to work. You just, you just respond to what you’re seeing. So that is a great gift. And in terms of the friendship that just happened very organically. We both have dogs. Dogs that are obnoxious and fabulous and I don’t know, it just happened organically based on who can win in Scrabble and ping pong.
JF – You know, being in the water constantly. To watch her come out of that water. That was just so moving to me and I didn’t realize that that was going to happen in the moment.
AB – One thing about Diana is that you know she can rub people the wrong way sometimes. Diana is a generous person who is a little bit unaware of how she impacts the rest of the world. Showing off that generosity but also not shying away from the fact that you know she can make some things difficult for other people Yeah, I love her. I find her absolutely touching and I did get to know her quite well and I adore her. But what’s wonderful about acting and one thing I really love is that when you’re playing someone, you are their advocate. We played around a little bit with the facts of how she presented herself. She’s an enormously charming person. She just takes over a room. She’s just charismatic. But yeah, she’s strong and she’s, how could you swim for 50 hours nonstop without being strong? She does have a very strong will, but I found her inner softness, and she has an incredible intellect. And so I love all of that about her. And, you know, people have their responses. They can have whatever responses they have. The whole point is in storytelling now or one of the points, not the whole point, but one of the things that we have gained in storytelling as women is that we don’t have to play stereotypes anymore. We don’t have to play this idea of a woman or this idea of a mother. Or a woman in her sixties or a grandmother or a woman in her twenties is like that’s all let’s get rid of that let’s talk about specific people and she’s an amazing woman as is Bonnie, their characters.
JF – Oh gosh, I loved the time I spent with Bonnie. The thing about her is that she can’t sit still for a second. So I think it was probably torture for her because I’m very mono-focused so I can spend 6 to 7 hours talking to one person. She can’t even spend 6 min. So most of the time that I got to know her was playing cards. We play cards a lot and I’m really bad at math so she has to help. Because I’m not very good with 8 plus 6. They’re big into games. Yeah, there’s something about her. How much she loves Diana and how much love she has in her heart. And she’s just a really loving person, but she also has ADT. You can’t stay in one place forever and there’s a lot of mumbling.
AB – It means a lot to me that she trusted me with the character. Yes, we’re obviously celebrating Diane and Bonnie in this film and what she did but it’s hard when there’s a story being made about your life. Who wants their flaws to be dramatized in a story? That’s tricky. So, she was generous in that way.
Nyad is on Netlfix now