“We’re all getting chills as we’re working on it,” Annette Bening says shortly before a matinee performance of All My Sons, the Roundabout Theatre Company production that just led to her second Tony Award nomination. “It’s completely relevant.”
That may initially seem questionable for a play first produced in 1947, but Arthur Miller’s domestic drama set in the after-math of World War II asks deep, perennial questions. As Bening puts it, “When are you more responsible to your family and when are you responsible for the greater good of the community? What are the deepest bonds that we have?”
The play also tackles topics such as PTSD and the grief of a family who loses one of their own as Kate and Joe Keller, played by Bening and Tracy Letts, mourn their son—even as a secret threatens to destroy their already fragile bond.
Bening has had plenty of time to think about the issues Miller raises; All My Sons has long been on her short list of “must-do” plays. But a life and career in Los Angeles kept her from the Broadway stage after her debut in 1987’s Coastal Disturbances (for which she earned her first Tony nomination). In the interim, she has racked up four Academy Award nods and boasts a résumé of modern classics in seemingly every genre, from neo noir The Grifters to the biopic Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. But with her children now out of the house, Bening is finally back.
“I had my eye out and I was asked to do this with Tracy Letts and I immediately jumped at it,” she says. “I was thrilled. The play is a magnificent play and it’s so brilliantly constructed and I am a huge Miller fan.”
As a devotee of the piece, Bening naturally brought long-standing ideas about the role into the rehearsal room, where she said it became a process of adapting her interpretation after decades of loving it to what her co-stars were giving. “A play with this kind of depth requires weeks and weeks to deal with your initial impulses and your sort of intellectual ideas about what may or may not happen,” she says.
“And then of course you’re looking in the eyes of the actual people who are in the room with you, including our director [Jack O’Brien], who’s an incredibly articulate, inspiring person. It’s a sort of interesting process, going back and forth on what your gut level is and what you have all been discussing. But then eventually, hopefully, you get to a place where it all falls away and you’re just listening and responding to the other people in the moment.”