Although some of her recognition may stem from her 1992 marriage to Warren Beatty, Annette Bening has established herself as an actress capable of far more than domesticating one of Hollywood's most notorious playboys. After winning raves for her role in 1990's The Grifters, Bening turned in a series of strong performances in films ranging from The American President to Richard III to American Beauty.
Born in Topeka, Kansas, on May 29, 1958, Bening moved with her family to San Diego, California when she was very young. It was there that she began to pursue her career, first as a dancer in various productions at a local college. Eventually graduating from San Francisco University (an education she paid for by working as a cook on a charter boat), Bening acted with San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre before moving to New York to further her stage experience. Her career in New York had its auspicious moments, such as winning a Tony Award nomination and a Clarence Derwent Award for Outstanding Debut Performance for her performance in Coastal Disturbances, but Bening endured a five-year struggle before breaking into film.
She made her debut as Dan Aykroyd's irritable wife in The Great Outdoors in 1988; more substantial work followed in the form of Milos Forman's Valmont, a 1989 adaptation of Chodleros de Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses that featured Bening as the scheming, manipulative Marquise de Merteuil. The film suffered in comparison to Stephen Frears's Dangerous Liaisons, which had been released the previous year; fortunately, the same couldn't be said of Bening's next major effort, 1990's The Grifters.
Frears's gripping, stylish adaptation of Jim Thompson's novel of the same name, The Grifters met with almost unanimous critical acclaim, much of which was aimed at the performances of Anjelica Huston, John Cusack, and Bening as the film's protagonists. Bening won special praise for her portrayal of an ill-fated con artist, accruing Best Supporting Actress nominations from the Academy, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the British Academy.
Her performance also won the attention of Warren Beatty, who was so impressed with her work that he cast her as his love interest in his 1991 Bugsy. Although the film proved a relative disappointment, it did result in both a Golden Globe nomination for Bening and a 1992 marriage for her and Beatty. The two could be seen collaborating again onscreen two years later in Love Affair, a remake of the 1957 An Affair to Remember. Unfortunately, the film fared poorly, both at the box office and at the hands of disapproving critics. Bening had more luck with her subsequent role as Michael Douglas' presidential love interest in Rob Reiner's The American President (1995), and then went on to explore politics of a different sort with Richard Loncraine's 1996 adaptation of Richard III. Her starring turn as the embattled Queen Elizabeth drew praise, and the attention she garnered for her performance helped to lighten the load of antipathy directed toward Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!, the actress' other film that year.
Following lead roles in 1998's underperforming The Siege and 1999's ill-fated In Dreams, Bening could be seen in American Beauty (also 1999) as Kevin Spacey's status-obsessed, control-freak wife. As part of the film's superb ensemble cast, which also featured Chris Cooper, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, and Mena Suvari, the actress won praise for her work, and the added distinction of being part of what many hailed as one of the best films of the year. Her first Best Actress Oscar nomination followed, although Bening's near-lock on the award was stolen away from her by Hilary Swank, a newcomer almost as auspicious as she once was.
Adding insult to injury, Bening lost the Oscar at the same time she could be seen in theaters alongside Garry Shandling in the much-derided sci-fi comedy What Planet Are You From? Perhaps as a result of this -- or due to her decision to spend more time with her four children -- the actress chose her parts very carefully in the coming years. She re-emerged in a leading role in 2003 opposite Kevin Costner in the sleeper-hit western Open Range, and followed that comeback with a triumphant diva turn as the title character in Being Julia, an adaptation of M. Somerset Maugham's back-stabbing, backstage comic melodrama Theater. Though little-seen, the film garnered immense praise for Bening -- including a Best Actress nod from the National Board of Review -- and an eventual Best Actress Oscar nomination. However, in a moment of Hollywood irony that echoed both her character's situation in Being Julia and the fate of the 2000 awards ceremony, Bening was denied the award in favor of Hilary Swank's tour-de-force as a doomed boxer in Oscar favorite Million Dollar Baby.
She was the mother in the cinematic adaptation of Running With Scissors, and had a major part in the big-budget misfire remake of The Women. In 2010 she won the SAG award for best actress and was nominated for the Oscar in that same category for her work as a lesbian mother of two who finds out her partner is cheating on her in the comedy The Kids Are All Right.