It’s 11 days before the first preview of the Roundabout Theatre production of All My Sons when I sit down to talk with Annette Bening about her return to Broadway after 31 years, and she’s in kind of a gray area. Some actors are super intellectual; others navigate by instinct. Bening strikes me as embodying the best of both worlds. She learns everything she can about her character for weeks and months and then forgets it all and lets fly. She’ll still think—but only in character, in the moment, following another actor’s voice or an inner whisper. It sounds woo-woo, but great actors have supernatural feelers and we’re meeting at the moment when the talk has stopped and the process of shedding her defenses and becoming a “gardenia” (Bening’s husband, Warren Beatty, uses the word to denote suppleness and fragility) has begun. On her way into the Bowery Hotel, she walks past a film shoot without turning a single head. Her invisibility cloak must be on. She’s guarding her energy.
Bening says she has been obsessed with All My Sons since she saw a production in L.A. in 2006 with Len Cariou, Laurie Metcalf, and Neil Patrick Harris, and came back to see it again with her husband in tow. It seemed to her that Arthur Miller had found the perfect metaphor for capitalism at its most blindly, murderously selfish. Written in 1947, the play centers on Joe Keller (played here by Tracy Letts), a midwestern captain of industry