Annette Bening

Annette Bening has a certain gift for playing women with, to put it gently, emotional difficulties. The actress took home a Bafta for her portrayal of a resentful wife in American Beauty, and notched up a Golden Globe for her manipulative diva in Being Julia.

If those who have worked with her are to be believed, Annette has little in common with her onscreen personas. Despite a stellar career on the big screen, Hollywood's version of "success" has never been high on her list of priorities.

It was her treatment of the predatory Myra in the Stephen Frears thriller The Grifters that first caught the public's attention. Looking back on her career, Annette acknowledges that nothing was the same after she received an Oscar nod for the role.

Offers started flooding in, and not long afterwards she landed a part opposite Warren Beatty in Bugsy. The tale of how the notorious gangster founded Las Vegas was to prove another life-changing experience. In the movie she plays fiery moll Virginia Hill, who captured the mobster's heart. And in a high-profile case of life imitating art, the iconic Mr Beatty, who had something of reputation for womanising, fell head over heels with his co-star.

It took the Tinseltown press by surprise when the Oscar-winner, whose previous partners had included Natalie Wood, Joan Collins and Joan Collins and Madonna, suddenly declared himself a changed man. "For me, the highest level of sexual excitement is in a monogamous relationship," he announced.

But then Annette is unlike most of her Hollywood peers. Uninterested in glamour and social status, she makes no secret of her disdain for the culture of celebrity. "Nowadays everyone is asking me about the pressure to look good," she says. "If anything I get to do the opposite. I get to say 'that's not really my job'. If a role calls for me to look good, then I should look good, but if it calls for a moment where I should look natural and bare, then I want that. I don't want to be a different age than I am."

The Kansas-born star credits that sense of security to a happy childhood. From day one both her insurance broker father and her mother did all they could to encourage her. "My parents were always very supportive," she reveals. "They went to every show and they never told me not to do what I was doing."

After studying drama at San Diego State University she began her career as a stage performer. It was while working at the city's American Conservatory Theatre that the aspiring thesp met her first husband J Steven White. Two years later their marriage was on the rocks, however, and Annette, then 28, decided to pack her bags and head for the Big Apple. There, a Broadway production of Coastal Disturbances earned her a Tony award, and the young actress decided to capitalise on her new-found renown by making the break into movies.

From that point on her career went from strength to strength, but Annette's greatest aspiration remained unfulfilled. From early childhood she had wanted nothing more than to become a mum. So when she discovered she was pregnant with first child Kathlyn, there was no question of her next move - she immediately pulled out of the Catwoman role in Batman Returns. Two years later she did the same with controversial thriller Disclosure, giving the lead to Demi Moore in order to focus on baby number two, Benjamin.

She and Warren went on to increase their family to four with daughters Isabelle and Ella Corrinne. "I knew I wanted children in my life," says Annette. "The acting was always in relation to it. Life at home is chaos - I just love it."

Putting parenthood before movies seems to have had little effect on her career, though, as Annette remains one of the industry's most sought-after talents. "You would never think that a human being would be able to do what this one does at home and still be what she is at work," says proud husband Warren. "She has more talent than any actress alive… I'm always amazed by her."

Her achievements on the silver screen were highlighted when, in November 2006 at 48-years-old, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And luckily for her fans, she plans to carry on her day job for some time yet: "I love my work, I love my craft so much and I feel it's a journey I'm still very much in the midst of."
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