How Twins From Brisbane Became New York’s Newest Creative Visionaries

An extract from our issue 20 cover story with twin brothers Daniel and Matthew Tobin, the co-founders of Urban Art Projects.

Article by Lance Richardson

Urban Art Projects (UAP) is a company co-founded and co-owned by twin brothers Daniel and Matthew Tobin. Photographs by Nick Hudson.

The only clue that something marvellous happens in Rock Tavern, near Beacon, a 90-minute drive north of New York City, is the presence of a few Frank Stella sculptures perched by the roadside. The sheds themselves are stubbornly nondescript, the kind of hangar-sized industrial buildings you drive past without a second glance. But if you were to stop and peek inside, you’d discover the artistic equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory here. Instead of a river of chocolate, there is a foundry producing rivers of molten bronze. Instead of a Lickable Wallpaper Room, there is a White Space with works like Agnes Denes’s “The Debate”, a dark cube containing skeletons engaged in some kind of morbid conversation. In another room cluttered with workbenches, an Academy Award is sitting out, newly minted and still waiting for the name of its winner.

This sprawling studio complex is part of Urban Art Projects (UAP), a company co-founded and co-owned by twin brothers Daniel and Matthew Tobin. Originally established in Brisbane, UAP now has facilities in Brisbane, Shanghai and here in the Hudson Valley, New York, plus offices in a half dozen other locations around the world. The company collaborates with artists, designers and architects to realise almost any creative vision, in nearly any medium, particularly for public art installations.

“Public art has been part of the human story since things all started,” says Dan Tobin in a conference room overlooking the busy workshop floor. Think of the Trevi Fountain in Rome, he says, or the Statue of Liberty in New York: “Aside from the amazing craftsmanship that it takes to make those things, they come embedded with layers of history.” What he means is that UAP is more than just a manufacturing company; it is dedicated to creating history and meaning for communities through art. Dan and Matt point to the Australian Waanyi artist Judy Watson, a long-time collaborator. “She’s thinking about the memories of her people, telling their stories. Being able to help her make that work is pretty cool,” Dan says.

Among other projects, UAP is responsible for carving Watson’s six-metre-tall shell hook sculpture, “bara (Monument for the Eora),” now erected in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens. The team has also worked with Reko Rennie on those large abstract eels emerging from Parramatta Square. Internationally, the list of collaborators is dizzyingly long, from the Roy Lichtenstein estate to Ai Weiwei. Each commission is different, presenting its own set of challenges for the company’s artisans to overcome. Dan calls it “the tyranny of bespoke projects”.

This is a short extract from our “Structure” issue.

To read the full story purchase a copy of T Australia straight from our online shop. You will find it on Page 62 of Issue #20, titled “Making It Big”.

Official Oscar statuettes for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, shown here at various stages of production, are just one of the artworks produced in the workshop at Urban Art Projects (UAP) in upstate New York.
Foundry staff at Urban Art Projects in Rock Tavern.

Inside the Malibu Home and Artistic Universe of Pierce Brosnan

Before Pierce Brosnan was an actor, he dreamed of being a painter. Now, at 70, he finds his vivid canvases are garnering a wave of recognition.

Article by Victoria Pearson / Interview by Viola Raikhel

Pierce Brosnan smiling in his Malibu home.Photograph by Greg Gorman.

What makes a good Bond (James Bond)? Like a perfectly balanced martini, Ian Fleming’s iconic literary character demands a specific formula: equal parts confidence and calm; intelligence (sometimes eclipsed by pride); and a vermouth-style wash of mischievousness, wit and sex appeal. Shaken, of course, with the potential to knock you from your seat. And served with a singular roguish garnish.

To expect any mortal to embody all of the above and more on screen is a hefty ask, one that just seven actors have attempted in the 62 years since the release of the first film. Sean Connery planted the cinematic flag for Bond in 1962, with his bone-dry delivery and distinctive brand of cool. Roger Moore played 007 with added humour, and arguably the silliest gadgets. Daniel Craig, the franchise’s most recent Bond, brought a grittier, muscular sensibility to the MI6 Secret Intelligence Service agent.

And then there’s Pierce Brosnan, who imbued Bond with a pitch-perfect mixture of suavity, savagery and a touch of world-weariness throughout his seven-year tenure in the role. He relished the quirks of the series’s scripts. Case in point: after knocking a henchman into a churning newspaper printing press in 1997’s “Tomorrow Never Dies”, he somehow manages to convincingly deliver the line: “They’ll print anything these days.” The character of 007, and the long cultural shadow he cast, seemed to be Brosnan’s destiny.

“When you play a role like that,” he is quoted as saying in a 2007 New YorkTimes article, “you live with it forever.” But in portraying the bad-guy-chasing bachelor, Brosnan was subjected to the professional pigeonholing and public resistance to reinvention that often afflicts Disney stars and franchise actors (Mark Hamill of “Star Wars” fame springs to mind). He wrestled openly over the years with the limitations of 007, calling the role “a straitjacket of apiece” in the same 2007 article. “It did limit one,” he said. “In the same breath, it has allowed me to go off and create my own films, my own work.” Complicating the picture is the fact that Brosnan maintains he never intended to pursue an on-screen career.“I’m always amazed that I am an actor,” he tellsT Australia today. “I’m intrinsically very shy and I find it very difficult, at times, to act. It can be very painful to have to show yourself.”

Here on the set of the T Australia cover shoot, thePacific Ocean lapping beyond the window, Brosnan, now 70, appears both deeply at home and a million miles removed from his Brioni Bond suits. This could be because we are at his real-life beachfront home in Malibu and the photographer, Greg Gorman — a renowned celebrity portrait shooter — has been a friend for three decades. (The two met in the early ’90s, the day Brosnan got the news that he would play the next Bond.) But it is also because we are discussing a subject close to his heart: art.

Pierce Brosnan in his studio.
Even when he's away filming, Brosnan will make time to paint. Photograph by Greg Gorman.

Brosnan was born in Drogheda, County Louth, Ireland, to a carpenter father and a nurse mother, and grew up in Ireland and, later, South London. He left school in Putney at the age of 16 with a handmade cardboard folio of sketches and a dream of becoming an artist. Lacking any formal training or qualifications, he tried his luck selling artworks (in Brosnan’s words, “hawking my wares”) on Fleet Street, before snagging a job as a trainee commercial artist atRavenna Studios, a boutique art studio tucked beside a brewery. For 20 pounds a week (about $800 in today’s money), he was employed to, as he puts it, “draw straight lines and water the office spider plants”. A fortuitous conversation with a photo lab technician opened the door to the Oval House Theatre in Kennington. It was1969, a golden age of British experimental theatre, and Brosnan, a self-described film buff, enrolled in some workshops and shortly thereafter left his Ravenna Studios job to test the waters in a different facet of the arts. But his dedication to his first creative love never wavered.

Art became a constant companion. When an acting role required Brosnan to travel, he would set up a makeshift workspace in his temporary lodgings. “I find the space and I set up a studio so I have comfort, I have a home,” he says. “If it’s a demanding role and it needs real focus and concentration, then you’ll go to work, you’ll come home, you’ll make yourself some dinner or get some food, you learn your lines, you study, and in between I work on canvases, drawings, and create, just because it’s an outlet.“I just have to draw,” he continues. “I have to keep moving.”

Brosnan’s painting style evokes his Impressionist-era influences — he lists Matisse, Chagall and Picasso as enduring sources of inspiration. Most of Brosnan’s works begin as sketches, which he transforms into abstract landscapes and portraits rendered in vivid, expressive colours. An overwhelming sense of energy pervades his oeuvre. “It’s all in the doing,” Brosnan says.“The constant doing. The repetition, the practice, the line and the form. Being invested in your own life and the world around you.”

Surrealism has also had a large influence on Brosnan’s creative output. “When I was 16 and working at thePutney gallery, I bought my first book at WHSmith, a small copy of [Jean-Paul] Sartre’s ‘Nausea’. It had a Dalí on the cover,” he recalls, referring to the artist’s painting “The Triangular Hour”. “I still have the copy somewhere.” Ever eager to expand his creative repertoire, Brosnan used a filming schedule in Geneva,Switzerland, as an opportunity to procure a fine set of tools for making linocuts. He took them with him to his next film set, in Texas, for the television series “The Son”. “I had days off and I began to do linocuts, and my line and my form has gotten stronger,” he says.

Pierce Brosnan painting
Brunello Cucinelli shirt, shop brunelleocucinelli.com. On the easel is Brosnan’s work “Angels of Anguish”. Photograph by Greg Gorman.

A holiday in Mexico in 1994 brought Brosnan face-to-face with another great love. While on a beach during his stay in Cabo San Lucas, he was introduced to the television producer Keely Shaye Smith (now Brosnan), who was there to interview the actor Ted Danson. “He was captivating,”Keely said of meeting Brosnan in a 2001 People interview. The couple welcomed their first son, Dylan, in 1997, and their second, Paris, in 2001, before marrying later that year in Ireland’s Ball in tubber Abbey. Even a short time in the couple’s presence reveals Keely’s grounding influence on his life. On the day of the shoot, she is the consummate host, serving an elegant family-style lunch for the crew.

Brosnan speaks effusively of Keely’s impact on his life. “I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it wasn’t for her,” he says. “She’s always just genuinely being graciously supportive of my work as an artist, as a painter. And she has a voice and an opinion about it. She’s got a great sense of colour herself.” He gestures around the Malibu home they share — a tropical-style villa affectionately dubbed “Orchid House” — as proof of Keely’s aesthetic influence. “She created this home that we live in,” he says. “You walk through it — it has an energy, it has a flow, it has a grace, it has a dignity.”

It also contains evidence of Brosnan’s artistic practice at every turn. Keely shares that he will do his linocuts and printing in the kitchen, while the garage has also been converted into a studio space, sketch-filled notepads sit beside the telephone and Keely has surrendered her office, adjacent to the main bedroom, to Brosnan so he can act on bolts of late-night inspiration. “He’s taken over every surface,” says Keely, “and happily so.” Keen eyes might also spy replicas of famous paintings originally created for Brosnan’s 1999 art-heist film, “TheThomas Crown Affair”. Says Brosnan, “I was so worried about the making of the movie that I never even thought about the paintings, and then [Keely] said, ‘We have to get these paintings. They’re flying off the wall.’ ” Today, a“Monet” that featured in the film takes pride of place in the guest powder room, while a “Gauguin” hangs in the couple’s bedroom.

Brosnan met his second wife, Keely Shaye Brosnan (nee Smith), in 1994. A journalist, filmmaker and activist, she has played an integral role in her husband’s artistic pursuits. Grooming by David Cox at PHOTOGRAPH RETOUCHING BY RICK ALLEN Art Department. Photograph by Greg Gorman.

Brosnan was also a producer on the film. “I knew I wanted to steal a Monet or a Matisse,” Brosnan says, referring to the daring museum thefts his character, the billionaire playboy Thomas Crown, pulls off in the movie. He also personally chose René Magritte’s surrealist masterpiece “The Son of Man” to feature in the film, according to a 2021 interview withGentleman’s Journal.

As Brosnan’s muse and collaborator, Keely — whose CV now spans director, producer, documentarian, activist, philanthropist and organic gardener — has played an integral role in steering Brosnan’s artistic career. In 2018, she was invited to the Cannes FilmFestival to screen her film “Poisoning Paradise”, a documentary exploring the Hawaiian pesticide crisis(the couple purchased a home on Kauai in 2002). For the same festival, Brosnan was invited to submit a piece of work for amfAR’s 25th annual Cinema Against AIDSevent. Brosnan retrieved from his garage a portrait he had drawn of Bob Dylan and began painting it. “It came out rather well,” he says. “I brought it to Cannes Film Festival and we went to this beautiful gala, star-studded occasion.” At Keely’s insistence, they listed the portrait for $US30,000 (about $AU46,000) an unfathomably large sum in Brosnan’s view. The hammer would eventually come down at $US1.4 million ($AU2.13million), paid by the Ukrainian producer and venture capitalist Marina Acton. “It was one of those nights where we just skipped the light fantastic going home, and it made world headlines the next day,” Brosnan says. “If it could be like that every day, then I wouldn’t have to act. But no, I understood the chemistry of Brosnan-Bond-Dylan. It had a wonderful sense of embroidery and story to it.”

From there, Keely encouraged Brosnan to exhibit his works publicly, offering fans the chance to see another side of their beloved Bond. “She curated about 250 drawings,” Brosnan says. “She got a photographer here one day and we spent the whole day photographing the work. Then it was like, ‘Let’s go find a gallery.’ ” They settled on Control Gallery on North La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles and got to work staging an exhibition of 50 of Brosnan’s paintings, many of which were pulled out of storage, alongside a curation of lithograph and silk-screen prints, about 100 drawings and a collection of Brosnan’s film scripts illustrated with sketches. The exhibition, titled “So Many Dreams”, opened on May 13,2023, with an opening-night guest list that included actors, sports stars and musicians. “There’s so much life and pain and joy in his paintings — it’s very emotional and so moving to see his art,” Brosnan’s “The Thomas Crown Affair” co-star Rene Russo told Vanity Fair at the reception. “I can feel it in the room. It’s powerful. I came in and burst into tears.”

Brosnan turned 70 three days later (“I just got in under the wire,” he jokes). But Keely insisted there was more to be done. “[She] was always saying, ‘You should go to Miami,’” says Brosnan, whose work was previously selected for a one-day showcase alongside his son Paris, a prolific artist in his own right (the father and son love to occasionally paint side-by-side), at the 2021 Miami ArtWeek. In 2023, Brosnan was invited to collaborate with the art collection management platform OLEA — co-founded by Billy Pressley and Jose Baltazar — for that year’s Art Miami fair on Biscayne Bay. Brosnan showed five works, including acrylic portraits of Picasso and the late chef and presenter Anthony Bourdain (a friend of Brosnan’s), a 1989-era Matisse-inspired interior scene and a blue-themed abstract painting titled “Fishhook”.

Cover photo of Pierce Brosnan in his home studio.
Cover photo of Pierce Brosnan in his home studio. Photograph by Greg Gorman.

Brosnan recognises the opportunities that acting has afforded his artistic pursuits — the“starving artist” schtick need not apply when you’re already a global icon. “This old mug got me in the door,” he says of his seemingly made-for-close-up profile, “and it’s kept me going.” Brosnan starred in three films in 2023, with another three currently in post-production. “I’ve had some talent as an actor and a belief in myself, and a courage within myself and my own destiny,” he says. But he adds that the additional role of visual artist has been a “necessary comfort of late”. Could Brosnan ever choose between these two parts of himself? “I don’t want to have to make such choices,” he replies.“I hadn’t really thought about age that much,” he says at one point. “Then you go, ‘70’, and it’s really time passed.“Time — present and future,” he continues. “And what mark do you want to leave? What do you want to be remembered as? Will you be remembered? Everything changes. Everything falls apart. So you enjoy it and celebrate it. And that’s why the art has become more meaningful now than ever.”

This is the cover story from our “Artistry” issue.

Purchase a copy of T Australia straight from our online shop. You will find it on Page 66 of Issue #19, titled “Portrait of the Artist”.

What Is the Real Meaning of Love?

Love is a near-universal need and an enduring cultural preoccupation, yet its definition is strangely slippery. Is it comfort, compromise, collective fantasy —
or all of the above?

Article by Lance Richardson

The model Maria Baza holding a bag for our issue #18 cover shoot.The model Maria Baza wears a Christopher Esber dress, Eres bra, Mulberry bag and Michael Hill necklaces (worn on the assistance's arm). Photographs by Jedd Cooney.

I was recently reading “The Children’s Bach”, by Helen Garner, when a sentence stopped me in my tracks. Dexter, a gregarious stick-in-the-mud living in 1980s Melbourne, is talking to another character about relationships. “Love!” he roars. “I’ve never been in love, then. In lerve. I don’t even know what that is.”

There’s a familiar cynicism here: the Australian habit of dismissing anything too sentimental by making it the subject of mockery (“lerve”). But what caught me was the last part: his incomprehension. Dexter is a bit of a fool in “The Children’s Bach” — his wife leaves him for a reason — but he was on to something here. What is love, anyway? And why, as a wise woman once said, does it make us so crazy? (“Looking so crazy, your love’s / Got me looking, got me looking so crazy in love.”)

Because I am a writer, my first impulse, after I put down “The Children’s Bach”, was to turn to the dictionary. Merriam-Webster offers nine definitions of love, the first of which is this: “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties”. This feels inadequate, to put it mildly, and the other eight definitions are not much better. Love seems to have defeated the editors at Merriam-Webster, but perhaps in the end it defeats us all.

Except William Shakespeare: I turned to him next. The word “love” appears more than two thousand times across his plays and poetry. Surely the high priest of English literature could pin down our elusive target. From “Love’s Labour’s Lost”: “Love’s feeling is more soft and sensible / Than are the tender horns of cockled snails.” Snail horns? This is not exactly what I had in mind. I looked again and found a more promising lead in “Venus and Adonis”: “Love comforteth like sunshine after rain.” Here, I think, is a serviceable definition of love. Everything can be falling apart in life, you can be metaphorically soaked to the bone, shivering and hopeless, but then you see somebody you love and — the sun comes out.

“Venus and Adonis”, which may have been Shakespeare’s very first published poem, appeared in 1593. Here we are, 431 years later, and the fundamental concept of love remains unchanged. What has changed, however, is almost everything else. What we think as a culture about the value of love. What we expect love to do for us on a personal level. How we go about looking for love in the first place. Where we find it.

The model holding a bag.
The model Maria Baza wears Sportmax dress, world.sportmax com; Michael Hill earrings; Prada bag, prada.com. Photograph by Jedd Cooney.

Ask any couple over the age of 60 how they met and they’ll probably tell a familiar tale. They met via friends, or out at a party, or at a church event, or at work, or — this being Australia — while drinking in a pub. My parents met while my father was on shore leave during his time in the Navy. My mother thought he looked good in his white uniform. But ask the same question of any couple under the age of 40 or so and you might get a very different answer. According to Relationships Australia, almost one in four younger Australians — meaning people under 44 — met their partner online. A Relationship Indicators Report from 2022, based on a national survey, suggests that “friends and family” remains the most common point of romantic connection, but websites and dating apps count for 11.7 per cent. Anecdotally, the number seems even higher to me if I glance around my own life: half of my friends met their significant others through one app or another. My cousin did. And my sister. And me.

It is not hard to understand the appeal of taking the search online. The same Relationship Indicators report found that more than 66 per cent of people thought “compatibility” was the biggest hurdle to love. How to find your person, the one who gets you? Waiting to stumble on a perfect fit at a party or through friends can feel like a fool’s game. Services such as OkCupid, Tinder, eHarmony, Bumble and Hinge promise to take care of the compatibility problem. You make a profile. You create a digital facsimile of yourself. And then the algorithm “matches” you with complements based on interests and preferences. Instead of waiting to randomly stumble on a perfect fit as you walk down the street, they are served up to you like fast food. Or so the promise goes. Anybody who has ever actually used one of these services knows that most of the matches are an immediate swipe to the left. (“No.”) Maths cannot promise love, no matter what the colourful ads say.

I have nothing bad to say about dating apps; without them, I would probably be living alone off-grid in Alaska. But I understand why there is an occasional surge of backlash. At the extreme end, there is the fear that apps advance what The New York Times recently called “technosexuality”, the entwining of our romantic lives with machines. The use of something like OkCupid, the argument goes, is a step towards a world in which everything is filtered through computers.

A world in which Bing’s chatbot can declare love autonomously — as it did not long ago to the journalist Kevin Roose, who was so “unsettled” that he had trouble sleeping afterwards. If we rely on technology to govern our love lives, what’s to stop technology from becoming our love life? Where do we draw a line? Less extreme, perhaps, is the entirely valid concern that online dating involves no small degree of commodification: a messy, fumbling and precious part of being human is reduced to categories for selection or rejection. In becoming a digital facsimile of yourself, you are flattened into a photograph — what you look like, not who you are. Love has always involved a degree of physical attraction, but technology makes appearances the dominant factor.

Recently, I was watching “Love Is Blind” on Netflix. The show is dreadful (I’m addicted), but I found myself wondering if its popularity is a response to the looks-focused dating culture promoted by the internet. Dating apps unavoidably tether the idea of love to what we look like. Here is a reality show that, however ridiculously, severs that tether.

But say you are lucky enough to find love. What comes next has also changed over the past few decades. Here we get into precarious territory, where “love” gets muddled up with “marriage”. But that’s because, for many years, marriage was the conventional outcome. What we expected, to generalise a little (or a lot), was that love would lead to a relationship, which would lead to a secure union. It seems to me this expectation has now been replaced by a slightly different one: that love will lead to happiness. This “happiness” is not synonymous with marriage; indeed, it might look like something else entirely.

Take Taylor Swift, who seems, by almost universal consensus, to be the voice of her generation. Swift has no shortage of love songs in her back catalogue. Does even one mention marriage in any significant way? Her concept of love, shared by many of her fans, has nothing to do with wanting security — she is plenty secure already without the help of a man. As the beneficiary of the women’s liberation movement in the 20th century, Swift sees love as “dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light”. That sort of spontaneous joy is what she wants. Anything else is extra.

I’ve been amazed by how many of my friends, unshackled from the expectation of a conventional marriage situation, are creating their own expressions of love. I know a woman in Chicago who just had a baby with her boyfriend; they will probably never tie the knot, but they are solid as a rock. I have a novelist friend whose partner lives on a different continent; they have an open relationship where love is reserved for them but sex can be with anyone, of any gender. I have two friends in New York — a gay couple — who were married for years, and then one day they introduced me to their boyfriend. That was six years ago. He now lives with them, shares bank accounts, car ownership and two cats. They visit one another’s parents on alternating holidays as a throuple. Their love is undeniable, and spending time in their company has changed the way I think about love: what I assume it has to look like in others.

A recent study by the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University found that one in nine people have been involved in a polyamorous relationship. As the Institute points out, “That’s as common as earning a graduate degree in the United States.”

The rise of polyamory, which literally means “many love”, is almost as striking as the rising rates of divorce. (There were 56,244 divorces in Australia in 2021.) But perhaps they are both symptoms of the same foundational shift. Elizabeth Flock, a journalist who was so interested in modern love that she wrote a whole book about it, “The Heart Is a Shifting Sea”, recently sent me a quote by Ursula K Le Guin: “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” In our attempt to make love new, we have made entirely new ways of loving.

The model Maria Baza lying down and posing.
The model Maria Baza wears Ferragamo dress, shop.ferragamo.com; Michael Hill earrings (sold as separate pairs); Roger Vivier shoes, rogervivier.com. Photograph by Jedd Cooney.

Let me tell you a modern love story. I met T on one of the dating apps in 2015. He was handsome and mentioned a book in his profile — literary, I thought, swiping right. He turned up to our first meeting wearing a “Star Wars” T-shirt, which was a questionable choice. Still, the date went well and led to another, then another. After a few months, I went to Berlin for the summer to finish writing a book. He came to visit, we had a good time, and then he went home. I stopped texting from Berlin. I had decided I liked him but didn’t like him. He was not, I thought, a perfect fit.

I had an idea in my head of the person I would end up falling in love with: a tortured, brilliant artist who somehow lived in Paris, New York and Sydney simultaneously. That person was not a realistic one, of course, and in retrospect, if they did exist they would probably be a sociopath.

T was not an artist but an academic. He lived only in New York, and he built “Star Wars” Lego sets in his spare time. He was the human equivalent of a golden retriever. But then we crossed paths again in a bar and I decided it was stupid to keep waiting for an imaginary person when there was a real one standing right there.

We moved in together after three years. We got married after four, at City Hall in New York. My parents watched the ceremony from Queensland via Skype. Our “reception” was pizza and karaoke with friends. In one of our wedding photos, I am pushing his face away, embarrassed by the whole sentimental hullabaloo.

Currently, T lives in Rhode Island and I, for work reasons, live in New York. I see him every other weekend, when I cook him meals to prevent him from wasting away on his default diet of salted popcorn and lentil soup. He is still obsessed with “Star Wars”, much to my horror, with the Lego gradually taking over our apartment.

In February, as I was thinking about what to write in this essay, my next-door neighbour invited me over to make Valentine cards. There was a small crowd of adults sitting around her kitchen table. A man whose wife had recently died of cancer, now making a card for a woman he was cautiously seeing. A young woman whose not-boyfriend refused to define what they were doing every single weekend and most weeknights. A couple who had been childhood sweethearts, still going strong after decades. Everyone was covered in glitter and glue.

I poured a glass of wine and sat down to make a card — something I could never have imagined doing just a few years ago — and ended up drawing R2-D2, the astromech droid, surrounded by stupid red hearts.

“I don’t even know what that is,” Dexter roars about love in “The Children’s Bach”. I guess, for me, that is what love is. Lerve.

This story first appeared in our “Love” issue.

To read the full story, buy now from the T shop and have it delivered straight to your door. You will find it on Page 68 of issue #18, titled “True Romance”.

Sarah Snook on Preparing for Her Role in “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

An extract from our issue 17 cover story with the award-winning television, film and theatre actor Sarah Snook.

Article by Emma Pegrum

Sarah Snook_1Sarah Snook wears Giorgio Armani jacket and pants, armani.com; and Pandora rings, earrings and necklace. Photograph by Eric Michael Roy.

It’s two days before Christmas, and Sarah Snook has just finished rehearsals for the year. “I’d been struggling with the narrator, but today I finally cracked it,” she says. She’s referring to the anonymous omniscient narrator of Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, the acclaimed Sydney Theatre Company adaptation of which she will star in — as each of its 26 characters — when it makes its West End debut at London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket this month.

Adapted and directed by STC artistic director Kip Williams, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” premiered in 2020 starring Eryn Jean Norvill, with three sold-out seasons in Sydney and tours to Melbourne, Adelaide and Auckland that left audiences and critics stunned. The production enables a single actor to play its entire script through the use of intricately choreographed video cameras, a combination of live and livestreamed performance, pre-recorded video and myriad demanding, transformative onstage costume changes and persona shifts.

The “Dorian Gray” opportunity first arose for Snook in late 2022, a few weeks before filming wrapped on the final season of “Succession”, Jesse Armstrong’s hit show in which she played the much-loved and even-more-loathed Shiv Roy. Snook was pregnant at the time, and became a first-time mother in April with her husband, actor Dave Lawson; meaning when Haymarket’s 14-week “Dorian Gray” run comes to an end in May, Snook will have learned, rehearsed and pre-recorded its numerous parts, and performed the play’s intricate, linguistically “muscular” (her word) and physically taxing script live on stage more than 100 times to thousands of audience members, all basically within the first year of her baby girl’s life. (Snook is set to perform every single show at Haymarket, with no alternate performer.)

On the surface, even in mere pace, this feat is a far cry from Snook’s measured and masterful portrayal of Shiv in “Succession”, a part which has occupied the past seven years of her life despite the show only comprising four seasons. That role was defined by a particular brand of consistency and an aesthetic flatness that befitted the Roy family’s wealth-induced tedium. Rightfully, Snook has been celebrated for the emotional nuance and vulnerability she brought to Shiv; an achievement for which she has earned her first Emmy win in a lead role and two Golden Globes. The show’s immense popularity and sheer artistic success saw Shiv — the boss, the bitch, the betrayed — become so engrained in the cultural imagination, it is perhaps not surprising that an actor of Snook’s calibre would jump at the chance to pull out a different trick.

It’s a signal, she says, of the kind of actor she is, and wants to be. “I feel fortunate that my passion aligns with my career, which is a rare and wonderful thing. But it is also a job,” she says, meaning she has to “strategically make choices that will keep that job going for as long as possible”. “I don’t think there are any ‘Dorian Gray’ characters that are ‘me’, necessarily, but there’s something of me as an actor that I want to show people that’s beyond the scope of what Shiv was.” 

Snook was born in 1987 in Adelaide and grew up as an “outdoorsy tomboy”, the youngest of three sisters. Her parents “did lots of different things”, but somewhere along the line her mum worked as a sales rep for Disney. Snook got the VHS tapes of all the studio’s films, watching “Aladdin” so much she learnt it by heart. “I always wanted to be the Genie or Jafar, or Scar,” she says of the characters with whom she spent so much time. “I wasn’t really interested in being Cinderella.” Snook auditioned for a scholarship to Scotch College, an Adelaide high school with a strong drama program, and got it, setting her on a path towards NIDA in Sydney, from which she graduated in 2008. “To be honest, ‘Dorian Gray’ feels like a return of some part of me that feels connected to that little person, standing up on stage and doing Roald Dahl’s ‘Revolting Rhymes’ and telling stories,” she says.

This is a short extract from our “Journeys” issue.

To read the full story purchase a copy of T Australia straight from our online shop. You will find it on Page 62 of Issue #17, titled “Playing Paradox”.

T Australia is Now Sold at Coles – And We’re Celebrating by Giving You Gifts

To celebrate its arrival in Coles, T Australia is giving shoppers a chance to win a six-issue digital subscription and collector’s edition tote filled with goodies.

Article by T Australia

The T Australia "Journeys" issue with Sarah Snook on the cover is now in Coles stores.

Out of milk? Head to your local Coles where T: The New York Times Style Magazine Australia, is now stocked in more than 800 stores nationwide.

The current issue, “Journeys”, stars acclaimed television, film and theatre actor Sarah Snook who has just been nominated for a prestigious Olivier Award for her 26-character role in The Sydney Theatre Company’s adaptation of “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. Inside this month’s mag, she sits down with writer Emma Pegrum to speak openly about her experience preparing for the role, and what she learnt about herself along the way. ⁠

You’ll also find a profile on Prince Albert II who, it turns out, has a special connection with Australia, as well as an exploration on the latest “gorpcore” fashion trend.

“We’re thrilled to expand T Magazine’s readership and national footprint with this iconic issue starring one of Australia’s most exceptional talents,” said T Australia publisher and editor-in-chief Katarina Kroslakova.

“As we embark on our third year in the market and increase to 10 issues per year, it’s so exciting to bring T Australia to a new audience.”

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To celebrate the launch into Coles, T Australia is giving shoppers the chance to win a six-issue T Australia digital subscription, plus 10 readers will receive a free collector’s edition T Australia tote bag filled with premium products from local and international brands including Clarins, Caudalie and WhiteGlo.

How to enter:

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A valid entry consists of a post or story on Instagram including a photo of T Australia magazine issue #17 at a Coles store with the tag ‘@tmagazineau’. 

Every valid entrant will receive a complimentary six  issue digital subscription to T Australia magazine. The first 10 valid entrants will receive a complimentary six issue digital subscription to T Australia magazine and a T Australia tote bag containing a complimentary gift from T Australia brand partners Clarins, Caudalie and WhiteGlo.

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What Keeps Annette Bening Up At Night?

Throughout her four-decade career, the actress has become known for playing difficult women. But it’s the difficulty of the roles themselves that really interests her.

Article by Ligaya Mishan

annette bening_1The actress Annette Bening, photographed in Simi Valley, California, on June 9, 2023. Dries Van Noten coat, driesvannoten.com. Photograph by Katy Grannan.

This is what it means to command a room. Onscreen, the long-distance open-water swimmer Diana Nyad, as incarnated by Annette Bening in the new biopic “Nyad”, does not slink, sashay or flounce. Watching her walk, it seems absurd that such verbs should even exist. After all, this is a woman who, having retired from her athletic career on her 30th birthday, decided at 60 — an age at which many women find themselves shunted to the sidelines — to revive a dream of swimming the more than 160 kilometres from Havana to Key West, Florida, through waters regularly roiled by storms and teeming with sharks and swarms of venomous box jellyfish, whose stings have been likened to electrocution by those fortunate enough to survive them. There’s no strategic coyness to her stride, no adjustment to the wants of others. Bening’s Nyad moves through the world absolutely certain of her place in it. Which is not to say smoothly: rather, she fully occupies her body, fully is her body, attenuated perhaps with the toll of age, but still a compact of muscle and force, presence and weight. She possesses space. She concedes nothing. 

For much of the film’s two-month shoot in 2022, Bening, now 65, spent three to eight hours a day in the water, in a 71-by-71-metre tank off the coast of the Dominican Republic. Two stunt doubles stood idly by. The film’s husband-and-wife directors, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, are no strangers to feats of athleticism and grit: their Academy Award-winning documentary, “Free Solo” (2018), chronicles the American rock climber Alex Honnold’s terrifying ascent without ropes or safety gear of the 914-metre cliff El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. But watching Bening, they were astounded. “The stunt coordinator said, ‘This is crazy,’ ” Chin, 50, recalls. “ ‘Nobody does this.’ ” She did long stints in a constricting full-body jellyfish-proof suit while wearing a silicone mask and acrylic retainers, which Nyad had used to keep jellyfish from slipping into her mouth and stinging her tongue — a setup that made it tough to breathe. All the while Bening had to act, of course: the wild agony of a jellyfish attack,
the disorientation as her strength fades.

In theatre — Bening’s first love; she did not appear in a film until she was 30 — truth is conjured out of scraps and sometimes less, and actors may take on any age or body type, without makeup or prosthetics, and be believed. But in film, a genre that visually collapses the distance between viewer and performer, more is required. Before “Nyad”, Bening’s most intensive ocean experience had been working as a cook on a scuba diving boat off San Diego when she was 16. So she started training with the American Olympic swimmer Rada Owen in 2021, a year before shooting. Owen “also coaches kids, so she was used to dealing with beginners”, Bening tells me over a late breakfast in Los Angeles in June, under the brooding of the marine layer, calmly elegant in dark jeans and a plaid shirt unbuttoned two stops below
the neck. 

The first time she plunged into a pool after reading the script, she was almost immediately out of breath. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she says. “But I liked that.”

In her 35 years in film, Bening has shown a particular genius for characters who are themselves performers. Some are literally so, like the blithely dissolute movie extra in the 1990 comedy “Postcards From the Edge” (based on Carrie Fisher’s novel of Hollywood misadventure), who pronounces the malapropism “endolphin rush” with dazzling self-assurance, and the imperious actresses of “Being Julia” (2004), “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” (2017) and “The Seagull” (2018): creatures of the stage who are unable to shake the habit of pretending when off, each with their own fine shadings of narcissism, coquetry and tenderness. Others bring a facade to their daily encounters, deploying charm to get what they want while holding their real selves in reserve, as with the small-time con artist in “The Grifters” (1990) who wears ditziness like a halo, her voice as sunny and juicy as an orange put to the squeezer, and the ravenous-to-succeed real estate agent in “American Beauty” (1999), with her metronomic mantras and immaculately dishevelled hair, which with each scene grows more vertical and more like a barely tamed animal, ready to spring. 

Her latest role might seem a departure: a woman with no apparent interest in the social niceties of artifice. “It was liberating,” she says, to play someone so free to pursue what she wants. Yet her version of Nyad is also eyeing the crowd, with the marathon swim as her greatest performance, a bid for the history books and an audience for eternity. What fascinated Bening about the character in the script — and she’s careful to note the distinction between the actual Nyad, 74, whom she befriended while making the film and says is “incredibly warm and charming”, and the domineering persona she plays onscreen, whose thorniest traits give the narrative arc and momentum — was in part the swimmer’s fanatical devotion to her mission. (Because of the SAG-AFTRA strike, which started in July, Nyad, a sports commentator, wasn’t available for an interview.) Bening is drawn to obsessives: she talks admiringly of the 2022 documentary “Turn Every Page”, about the maniacally meticulous biographer Robert Caro, and those who in their drive to master their craft exhibit a sometimes excessive desire for control over not only themselves but the world around them.

She tells me how one night in high school, when she was the lead in a play, during intermission the theatre teacher picked up a table and slammed it down on the floor because she thought the cast lacked energy. “She wanted to wake us up,” Bening says, still marvelling at the memory. “I was in awe.” The actress loved the disproportionality of it, of caring so much. Too much. “For people who are doing serious things like brain surgery, that’s a different matter,” she says, but “in our case, or with any creative act, it’s not rational to care so much.

annette bening_2
Givenchy coat, givenchy.com, Ralph Lauren Collection pants, ralphlauren.com, Wolford tights, wolfordshop.com, Schiaparelli earrings, schiaparelli.com, and The Row shoes, therow.com. Photograph by Katy Grannan.

“That whole thing about caring — I still feel it,” she says. “And when I notice it in myself, because I’m older now, I go, ‘What is that?’ The thing that keeps you up at night. Sometimes I can’t sleep. I want to sleep.”

Although Bening has portrayed a number of historic figures — among them Senator Dianne Feinstein in “The Report” (2019) — she had never done a full-fledged biopic. She’s tended instead to gravitate towards original material, projects that rely on the imaginations of writers and that are increasingly under threat as studios turn to what they call IP, or intellectual property, pre-existing entertainment that comes with a built-in fan base. One approach to the biopic is the kind of deep, uncanny impersonation that has won accolades for actors like Austin Butler in last year’s “Elvis”. (Nyad, an openly gay athlete, was already a public figure — having set long-distance swimming records in her 20s — before the fame that came with her Cuba-to-Florida swim.) But Bening knew that for the sake of her latest film’s narrative success, she needed to burrow further into the character’s dark corners, “wanting to portray her in a way that’s authentic”, she says, “but at the same time have some laughs and tell a story that people enjoy”.

Bening has long been heralded for playing so-called difficult women, from the monumentally self-absorbed poet manqué in “Running With Scissors” (2006) to the impatiently efficient doctor with a drifty wife in “The Kids Are All Right” (2010), convinced that she alone is keeping her family afloat (she’s not wrong). “It’s not about quote-unquote strong women,” she says. “That’s really boring, to only have stories about strong people. We need to know: what are their faults? Their blind spots? We all have them.” 

Sometimes audiences resist, wanting more gold-hearted heroines to root for. “She captures female intelligence, power and strength,” says the director Mike Mills, 57, who entrusted Bening with a role inspired by his mother in the quietly profound and profoundly funny “20th Century Women” (2016). “Which the world isn’t always ready for.” After “Nyad” premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September, an article in Variety suggested that the title character might be too “challenging” for viewers — in other words, hard to love. In any script, Bening sees herself as her character’s “advocate”, she says. “I felt very protective of Diana. Can you imagine someone playing you — how vulnerable you would feel?” (Bening says that the two of them “ended up being able to talk very frankly”, and when Nyad visited the set, they swam together in the ocean.) Vasarhelyi, 44, recalls deep conversations over a tricky scene in which the swimmer tries to bulldoze her navigator into going back out to sea after he’s told her the weather conditions are too dangerous. Bening experimented with different registers, testing how far she could take the character’s reckless disregard for the lives of others without crossing the line into villainy. But there’s no malice to her Nyad, just a single-minded ambition of the type that tends to be applauded in male leads (see, most recently, Cillian Murphy in “Oppenheimer”). 

“How to get it right?” she asks. “It’s always a bit of a gamble. When you’re making something, you just don’t know.”

When Bening was  trying to break into films in her late 20s, after seven years as a stage actress in San Francisco, Denver and New York (where she made her Broadway debut in 1987 in Tina Howe’s “Coastal Disturbances” as a young woman oscillating between neurosis and rapture, for which she earned her first Tony nomination), she auditioned for “Dangerous Liaisons” (1988), an adaptation of a play based on Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’s barbed 18th-century novel about the antics of restless aristocrats. Hardly any lines were on offer — she was up for the role of the saucy courtesan on whose alabaster backside the libertine Valmont pens a letter — and she didn’t get the part. But shortly after, in an odd and maybe karmic coincidence, she instead landed one of the leads, the Marquise de Merteuil, in Milos Forman’s “Valmont” (1989), which draws from the same material.

By then, Glenn Close, in the 1988 version, had made the character her own. Rarely do you get to see two world-class actresses go head-to-head in the same role at almost the same time, although at that point Close already had four Oscar nominations under her belt and Bening, 11 years younger, had no Hollywood credits beyond a few minutes on a 1987 episode of “Miami Vice” and a single film, the largely unnoticed 1988 farce “The Great Outdoors”. Where Close as Merteuil is scornfully magisterial, Bening is silkily sly, half-kitten, half-snake. “Dangerous Liaisons” is the greater film: it gives the antics of its louche characters the heft of tragedy, which is a kind of redemption. “Valmont”, which flopped in its rival’s wake, is frothier and thus ultimately bleaker. You can hear the devastation coming in Bening’s laughter when she reveals to Valmont, her ex-lover, that she’s been sleeping with a younger man. Even as she laughs — and keeps laughing, cruelly, triumphantly and then fraying into hysteria — she knows she’s gone too far; that this is a pyrrhic victory, a blow from which they, but above all she, will never recover.

“She’s so deft that way, to be serious and funny at the same time, to flip that switch so fast,” says Lisa Cholodenko, 59, who directed Bening in “The Kids Are All Right”. An entire taxonomy could be organised around Bening’s laughter, which spans octaves, from champagne bubbles to the peatiest depths of Scotch. Bening can do more with a laugh than most actors do with whole monologues. In “American Beauty”, humiliated at a party by her husband’s flat-affect revelations, she comes close to opera, with a cascade of giggles ascending into little high near yips. Her bit-part floozy in “Postcards From the Edge” has only three minutes of screen time but makes of it an incandescence, opposite Meryl Streep, no less, offering at one point a low, worldly chuckle, then dropping her jaw so the sound kicks up to the roof of her mouth and becomes an almost conspiratorial snicker. There’s a tinge of one-upmanship — she and Streep’s character have bedded the same man — but so faint that, were she accused of such a thing, she could bat her lashes and claim plausible deniability. 

This ability to tap into ever-shifting microclimates of mood may have saved Bening early on from being defined (and confined) by her looks. Forman, who cast her in “Valmont”, clearly saw how she could use the appearance of vulnerability as a weapon, with her delicate, fine-boned face blossoming upward like a heart. So did the director Stephen Frears, who passed on her for “Dangerous Liaisons” but a year later gave her what would become her breakout role, as Myra Langtry, the giddily upbeat con artist in “The Grifters”. Here again Bening evades the obvious, rejecting the standard markers of a femme fatale. When a jeweller tells Langtry, not unkindly, that the goods she hopes to sell are fake, she stops at the door on the way out, closes her eyes and smiles, so purely that it’s not even a con, and turns, beaming, to offer the jeweller the “one thing” she has left. “You’re looking right at it,” she says and, instead of bravado or desperation, what comes through in her voice is the bright pop of optimism: the expectation that, no matter how cornered, through sheer willpower she can manifest an escape. 

annette bening_3
Alexander McQueen coat, alexandermcqueen.com, Wolford tights, and The Row shoes. Photograph by Katy Grannan.

The tabloid headline from Bening’s star turn in “Bugsy” (1991), released when she was 33, was that she’d won the heart of the film’s lead, Warren Beatty, 21 years her senior and, for three decades, Hollywood’s most tenacious bachelor. While the film was still being edited, Bening announced that she was pregnant, and the couple married in 1992; they had their 31st anniversary this year. In the clamour over their love story, it was easy to miss the radical refusal at the heart of her performance as the gun moll Virginia Hill, who doesn’t tease in the way of a classic siren so much as lay down terms, and who insists on treating her gangster lover as an equal. 

If there’s a through line in Bening’s work, it’s how her characters seem ever to be negotiating their status as objects of desire — although what they’re really grappling with is power: how to get it, wield it and keep it, in a world threatening to take it away at every step, which closely tracks the shifts in the zeitgeist from decade to decade. She has a knack for appearing in films that define the moment: “The Grifters”, which is based on a 1963 novel and speaks to the amoral avarice of boom-time America in the Reagan years; “American Beauty”, a commentary on the spiritual dead end of American prosperity; “The Kids Are All Right”, with its relaxed, matter-of-fact treatment of gay marriage. When I ask if this is a quality she explicitly looks for in a script, she demurs. “It’s all in the writing,” she says, adding that it’s important to remember that in the midst of the Writers Guild of America strike (which ended, after 148 days, in September). 

Part of the battle sometimes is simply claiming the leading role, if only in her characters’ own lives. There’s a parallel here to Hollywood itself, which remains resistant to the idea of the older woman as the protagonist. Bening has defied that to a certain extent: “Nyad” is the eighth film in which she’s played a major role in the past decade. Not all found success at the box office. “I’ve made so many movies that nobody paid any attention to,” she says. “In my profession, you do a lot that people aren’t interested in — but we are.” While making “Nyad”, she says, it struck her that “it wouldn’t have mattered” if Nyad had never completed the swim; if she had just tried and tried again, always falling short and always rallying for a return, however stung, swollen, battered and sapped of strength. Until “the efforting”, as Bening puts it, became an achievement itself.

The actress has appeared in nearly 40 films throughout her career, and yet in recent years she’s been somewhat out of the public eye, less visible than some of her peers, like Angela Bassett, Frances McDormand, Julianne Moore and Tilda Swinton. This is hardly for a lack of ambition. Rather, she seems, almost anachronistically, not particularly interested in putting herself forward, beyond the screen. Ask Bening about herself and you may discover that you’re suddenly talking about someone else. She’s a master at the gentle deflection and quick to praise the contributions of others, saying that one of the perks of the job is being surrounded by interesting people who are passionate about what they do, from the underwater photographer Pete Zuccarini, who shot pictures on the “Nyad” set (“He takes this gigantic breath and then he goes down”) to her “beast” of a co-star Jodie Foster, who plays Nyad’s best friend and reluctant coach with equal parts generosity and exasperation (“She’s a badass, and she doesn’t suffer fools and she’s smart as hell”). 

This attunement to others is in part a reflection of Bening’s time on the stage, where the bond of the ensemble is paramount. “There’s a built-in selfishness to film acting,” says the playwright and actor Tracy Letts, 58, who starred alongside Bening in “All My Sons” on Broadway in 2019. The theatre demands a kind of self-effacement in which, he says, “your concern is not making yourself look good but making everybody around you look good”.

Letts wondered if Bening’s gifts — “I’m a bit wistful that we might’ve lost the great American theatre actress to films” — could be attributed to her “Midwestern sensibility”. She was born in Topeka, Kansas, spent her early childhood in Wichita and still thinks of her family as Midwestern, even though they moved to San Diego when she was seven. A trace of Midwestern propriety clung to her the first time she met with movie agents in New York when she was 25: “I remember seeing another girl who was in jeans and looked really casual and kind of hip, and I was in this little suit, a skirt and blouse,” she recalls. Even now, despite more than half a lifetime in Los Angeles — she and Beatty, 86, are known for presiding over lively dinner parties (“If you go to that household, you’ve got to be prepared to talk about politics and 20th-century history,” Mills says) — something of the Midwest persists in her public manner, that paradox of simultaneous warmth and reserve. For our breakfast, she chooses an unassuming neighbourhood spot in the San Fernando Valley where the waiter treats her exactly as he treats me, with no special deference. When I tell Bening that after our meeting I’m visiting my father-in-law, who lives nearby, she offers to give me a ride. 

You could argue that the ensemble is in fact Bening’s natural habitat. She was the last of four children born within five years, and she and Beatty have four children of their own. (Only the youngest, Ella Beatty, 23, is an actress, too, and graduated from Juilliard last year.) When Bening had their first child, she was startled to find that she’d lost her desire to act, though she’s uneasy with the idealisation of motherhood, “what a good mother is or isn’t — what a good woman is or isn’t — and is that defined by sacrificing the self?”. Nevertheless, there were roles she turned down — famously, Catwoman in “Batman Returns” (1992) — because she was pregnant or didn’t want to be away from her children for too long. “The thing that being in the theatre really teaches you is that sense of mutual vulnerability and mutual purpose,” she says, which could as easily be a description of a family. “She’s really close to her parents,” Vasarhelyi says. Bening’s mother, now 94, was a stay-at-home mum who sang in church; her father, who died in September at the age of 97, sold insurance. Up until his death, they still lived in the same ranch-style house in the neighbourhood that Bening grew up in, San Carlos. 

While in high school, Bening did some secretarial work for her father, who was teaching classes on Dale Carnegie’s principles of salesmanship. Foremost among them: being interested in other people. The key is not faking it. You have to genuinely care.

Bening’s physical transformation as Nyad is remarkable, rigorous and free of vanity. But equally so, perhaps, is the transformation she’s undergone onscreen and off over the past two decades: her acceptance of the steady, mundane process of aging, which so many in Hollywood, female and male, have tried to defy. In casting the role, Vasarhelyi says, “We needed an actor who wasn’t afraid of what a 64-year-old looks like.”

Not that Bening thinks her decision to forgo cosmetic alterations is in any way noble. “There’s all this pressure on women to have plastic surgery,” she says. “And then when they do, they’re punished for it.” She hardly set out to be a flag-bearer for aging gracefully, whatever that means. “You do it as you go,” Bening says. “As I’ve been inching along, I’ve felt more and more free.” She remembers, from her childhood, her mother slathering on Noxzema or Ponds. That was it. When her mother went out, she “had her eyebrows done and her lipstick on”, Bening says. “Now I’m just down to the lipstick.” As if on cue, she pulls a lipstick out of her bag and slides on
the colour without breaking eye contact, no mirror required. It’s a reminder of how much of beauty is aura and certainty — knowing who you are, that you have a place in the world.

“Am I thrilled every time I see my wrinkles? No,” she says. “But when I thought about being an actress, I always imagined it happening over my whole lifetime. That was my aspiration.” The trouble — and this is a banality — is that Hollywood doesn’t seem to know what to do with older actresses who aren’t straining to look younger. In the 1990s, Bening was consistently paired onscreen with older men: Michael Douglas (a 14-year gap), Robert De Niro (15), Harrison Ford (16) and Beatty (21). Then the pendulum swung and, in “Being Julia”, she was 22 years older than her callow (and frankly boring) lover, played by Shaun Evans, and 18 years older than Corey Stoll in “The Seagull” (2018). She reunited with her husband onscreen for “Rules Don’t Apply” in 2016, only she, at 58, was relegated to the role of mother of the young starlet, whom he — at age 79, playing Howard Hughes — seduces. 

In an early scene in “Nyad”, Bening, restless and keyed up, slashes at a ping-pong ball. “I’m not done,” she says. “I have more in me.” Now, in this improvised restaurant backyard abutting a parking lot, with astroturf below and the June gloom over the valley starting to clear, Bening is unruffled. She acknowledges that she’s privileged to be able to choose whether to work or not; to take only the jobs she wants. “But there’s always something I want,” she says, her voice sinking almost to her ribs. She doesn’t move, but it’s as if she’s leaned in. There’s a flicker in her eyes — wickedness? exultation? — and it’s gone. 

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our eighth edition, Page 80 of T Australia with the headline: “Annette Bening”