A 'Mother' With Scars, And The Man Who Made Her

Annette Bening i i

hide captionAnnette Bening has received three Oscar nominations for her roles in Being Julia, American Beauty and The Grifters.

Ralph Nelson/Sony Pictures Classics
Annette Bening

Annette Bening has received three Oscar nominations for her roles in Being Julia, American Beauty and The Grifters.

Ralph Nelson/Sony Pictures Classics

Getting pregnant at 14 and giving up your baby at your mother's insistence can do a lot of damage.

Just ask Karen, the main character of Rodrigo Garcia's new Mother's Day movie, Mother and Child.

Forty years after giving up her baby, Karen, played by actress Annette Bening, has become a mean and brittle person.

"She had a battle wound," Bening tells NPR's Michele Norris — "a war wound from what happened to her as a child."

Bening says she saw something familiar in Karen's character: the mark of someone who clearly has issues.

"There's something in her that I felt like I'd seen a lot around me," Bening says. "We bump up against somebody in our lives — whether they're at work or maybe you see them in the grocery store or wherever — but the person clearly has issues. They're rude; they don't handle the moment well. And one senses in that there's something haunting the person."

"Haunted" is a fitting description for a character who is shown writing letters to the child she never knew and verbally attacking anyone who is the least bit friendly toward her. Take, for example, a scene in which Karen's colleague Paco (Jimmy Smits) finally gets up the nerve to ask her out for coffee. The date is tense and awkward; everything Paco says seems to rub Karen the wrong way. She finally walks out, telling him, "My words are too harsh for you."

"She's trying so hard to connect but doesn't have the equipment," Bening says of Karen's date with Paco. "And I felt that was in the writing itself."

But writer-director Garcia is quick to point out that it wasn't all in the writing.

Rodrigo Garcia i i

hide captionRodrigo Garcia is the son of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He previously directed the film Nine Lives and various episodes of HBO's In Treatment and Six Feet Under.

Francois Duhamel/Sony Pictures Classics
Rodrigo Garcia

Rodrigo Garcia is the son of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He previously directed the film Nine Lives and various episodes of HBO's In Treatment and Six Feet Under.

Francois Duhamel/Sony Pictures Classics

"I don't know how Karen moves and dresses and talks, and how she holds herself," Garcia says. "That's what actors do. I think as a director, you don't want to give so much direction that you squash creativity."

And while it may come as a surprise to hear that a film like Mother and Child was written and directed by a man, Garcia insists that it's actually right up his alley.

"I'm a junkie for this kind of behavior," Garcia says. "I love so many things: a woman's face when she's shopping for shoes; seeing a woman's face when she looks up and the waiter is handsome. That's just something that cannot be described."

That indescribable something certainly makes an appearance in Bening's performance as Karen, but she'd rather not go into it.

"As an actor, you want to have some secrets," she says. "You want to have some things that you aren't saying to anyone. And, of course, it's only of use if it feeds you in the moment when you're trying to do something. But that is part of our job: to have our secrets."

Garcia is happy to hear it: "There has to be a part of the creative thing that should always be mysterious and should always be a secret of the artist."

Good storytelling, after all, involves the art of surprise.

"I don't want to be shown the little compartment where the rabbit is hidden just before you bring it out of the hat."

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