By MARK HIGLEY
Actress Annette Bening has long harbored ambitions to play the role of Academy Award winner Gloria Grahame. And not just because the eccentric Grahame desired much younger guys.
“She had a really interesting presence on-screen and she was a good listener. When you watch her, you feel like there’s an inner life going on and that is what
is compelling about her,” said Bening.
Now Bening, a four-time nominee, may very well slip in through the back door of the Oscar race with her portrayal of the actress often cast as the “tart with a heart.”
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is set to open Dec 22.
Based on Peter Turner’s 1986 memoir, the film follows the December-May romance between the young Turner (Jason Bell) and the once-popular movie star Grahame in 1978 Liverpool. Grahame, in her late ‘50s, has cancer and keeps her secret hidden from Turner. It’s an affectionate, moving and wry recollection of an unusual story with a powerful cast that includes Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave, Stephen Graham, Kenneth Cranham, and Julie Walters.
Barbara Broccoli, one of the producers, knew Grahame and Turner when they were together. She had first spoken to Bening about the part over two decades ago, but Bening would have been too young to play it
back then. Now at 59, Bening is perfect.
“Annette is the only person I would want to play this role,” said Broccoli. “She is such a great actress but she also connects with the character in a profound
It doesn’t hurt, either, that there is an uncanny physical resemblance between the two actresses.
Audiences may not recognize Grahame’s name right away but they will remember her as the gal who couldn’t say no in Oklahoma. She was nominated for an Oscar
in Crossfire, snatched one up in The Bad and the Beautiful and played the flirtatious Violet in It’s A Wonderful Life. She brought plenty of vim to the part of the elephant girl in The Greatest Show on Earth. Most of her best work was done in the ‘40s and ‘50s before her sparkling movie career took a nose dive.
Bening became fascinated with Grahame when she was making the 1990 film The Grifters with director Stephen Frears.
“When I was working on that film Stephen mentioned her to me. The Grifters was a
noiresque movie and so it made sense to look at film noir anyway and the women of that period and the way that they were portrayed. Gloria, of course, holds a
special place in that period.”
The filmmakers wanted to tell Grahame’s story, but in a tactful and delicate manner, much the same as in Turner’s book so there was little weight given to
Grahame’s propensity for lust or taboo.
She was married four times. Her fourth and most salacious marriage was to actor Anthony “Tony” Ray, 17 years her junior — and her stepson. Their tryst reportedly began when Tony was 13 years old.
Said Bening, “She (Grahame) is not Marilyn Monroe but there is something very unique about her and, God knows, about her personal life. Then looking at this connection she had with Peter, I have ended up thinking that he must have been the gentlest, most loving, accepting person that she probably had ever
been with. We need to show that.”