Published On: Sun, Nov 26th, 2023

’Nyad’ Press Conference with Annette Bening and Jodie Foster

’Nyad’ Press Conference with Annette Bening and Jodie Foster
’Nyad’ Press Conference with Annette Bening and Jodie Foster


Annette Bening as Diana Nyad and Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll in 'Nyad.'

(L to R) Annette Bening as Diana Nyad and Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll in ‘Nyad.’ Photo: Kimberley French/Netflix ©2023.

Nyad,’ which enjoyed its world premiere at the 50th Telluride Film Festival on September 1st, before its theatrical run in select theaters on October 20th, will be available to stream on Netflix beginning November 3rd.

Moviefone recently had the pleasure of attending a virtual press conference for ’Nyad’ with Oscar-nominee Annette Bening and two-time Oscar-winner Jodie Foster.

Here are 10 things we learned from the conversation, edited for clarity and length.

1) Bening Crafted a Charm Offensive to Help Woo Foster

Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll and Annette Bening as Diana Nyad in 'Nyad.'

(L to R) Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll and Annette Bening as Diana Nyad in ‘Nyad.’ Photo: Kimberley French/Netflix ©2023.

Even though it’s her character’s name who gives ‘Nyad’ its title, Bening knew that she needed a top-shelf screen partner for the movie. But she wasn’t convinced that Foster would join her.

Annette Bening: When they told me they were gonna ask Jodie to do it, I said, “She’ll never do it. Like, she should play Diana.” Of course, she came over to my house and she gave me a little once-over — she’s, like, checking me out. We’d met but we didn’t “know each other,” know each other. But we just kinda clicked, I think, pretty well. Of course, my whole objective was to get her to do (the film). Jodie is always the smartest person in the room, which is not an easy thing to be in life, but she is. She’s always the smartest, she has more experience than anyone, and she’s a very fine director, so I knew that I was getting this incredible package. So I tried to be as agreeable and as charming as I could! And what really makes the movie is Jodie.

2) Foster Already Knew The Character Whom She Portrays

Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll in 'Nyad.'

Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll in ‘Nyad.’ Photo: Kimberley French/Netflix ©2023.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to dive into the challenge of portraying a real-life figure. But Foster had a leg up.

Jodie Foster: You know, I knew Diana and Bonnie from Christmas parties at friends’ houses and stuff. I would run into them, just the gang, and I just loved them immediately. I love both of them, and thought they were such characters. So that was my first connection, really — knowing them a bit personally. Bonnie [is] such a character and so eccentric. I adore her.

3) Bening and Foster Didn’t Mind Co-Directors Vasarhelyi and Chin Making Their Narrative Feature Debut

Director Jimmy Chin, Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll, director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Annette Bening as Diana Nyad on the set of 'Nyad.'

(L to R) Director Jimmy Chin, Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll, director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Annette Bening as Diana Nyad on the set of ‘Nyad.’ Photo: Kimberley French/Netflix ©2023.

Co-directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin were no stranger to tales of improbable human endurance and accomplishment, having won an Academy Award for their 2018 documentary ‘Free Solo,’ about rock climber Alex Honnold. That special perspective allayed any concerns their award-winning stars might’ve had about them directing actors.

Jodie Foster: Jimmy and Chai both have this experience with extreme sports and the personality and mindset that that takes, which is something that I didn’t 100 percent understand but I think that I was so curious about. You know, how does somebody become an athlete, and what do they give up in their life? What do they sacrifice in order to be excellent, in order to come this close to death and sort of cheat death every time? So, I think that that’s a very special point-of-view that they both brought to the picture — especially Jimmy, who’s been climbing mountains and hanging by his fingers for a number of years.

4) It’s All About the Friends We Made Along the Way

Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll and Annette Bening as Diana Nyad in 'Nyad.'

(L to R) Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll and Annette Bening as Diana Nyad in ‘Nyad.’ Photo: Kimberley French/Netflix ©2023.

Despite its portrayal of the incredible extremes to which someone goes in pursuit of doing something never before done, the film’s stars also viewed it, crucially, as a tale of female friendship.

Jodie Foster: They’re a package, you know? I think that that’s so lovely about the film. The thing that really drove me to it was this idea of two 60-year-old women who didn’t end up having kids. They were, you know, lovers early on, but friends forever, and that relationship and that friendship — you know, we say, “Only friends, friends are everything” — that these two women couldn’t have done it without each other, on both sides, that they completed each other, for me I thought that was really beautiful.

Annette Bening: It’s such an important thing, to see this. I know a lot of women that I know feel this incredible friendship. Jodie and I have become friends. I mean, how we keep going in life is our friends. Yes, we have our partners, we have our kids, we have our loved ones, but there’s something about friendship that is so powerful, and it’s so much a part of this story, and it’s not always easy to dramatize. So, within the context of the swim, it’s kind of like the perfect way to dramatize why people need each other, how we need each other, and what it is we do for each other.

Related Article: Jodie Foster Heads to ‘Night Country’ for True Detective Season 4

5) Filming Left Its Stars Moved Too

Annette Bening as Diana Nyad in 'Nyad.'

Annette Bening as Diana Nyad in ‘Nyad.’ Photo: Kimberley French/Netflix ©2023.

They have many decades of experience between them, but Bening and Foster aren’t at all jaded and cynical. In fact, the production of ‘Nyad’ left each of them emotionally moved on occasion — especially in key moments when watching their costar reaffirmed that acting is frequently about reacting.

Annette Bening: There’s a question at one point in the story as to whether Bonnie will stick with Diana or not. It’s an important part of the narrative, and the way that Jodie played the scene that followed that question really got me. When it’s all there in your partner, then all you have to do is be present and breathe and watch and listen.

Jodie Foster: I don’t want to ruin the movie because I don’t want to tell anybody what happens, but there is a last scene in the film that just really got me. You know, watching that, and after this whole, long film that we’ve done, after an entire year of training (by Annette) to play Diana, the transformation that she went through, the hardship, being in the water constantly, to watch her come out of that water, that was just so moving to me. I didn’t realize that that was gonna happen in the moment.

6) The Film’s Most Challenging Aspect Is Probably Not What You Think

Annette Bening as Diana Nyad in 'Nyad.'

Annette Bening as Diana Nyad in ‘Nyad.’ Photo: Liz Parkinson/Netflix ©2023.

Given the physical demands of portraying attempts at the record-setting swim that serves as the spine of its narrative, one might assume that training was the most challenging aspect of ‘Nyad.’ Not so, says Bening.

Annette Bening: Part of this story that we really felt was incredibly delicate and important to get right is that Diana was sexually abused by her swim coach all through high school. This is a very common thing in women’s sports, whether it’s tennis or swimming or gymnastics or whatever — a lot of girls, young women, are taken advantage of by their coaches, for obvious reasons. So we wanted that to be in the story, but the right way, because we didn’t wanna oversimplify it. It’s obviously such a delicate matter. So there was a moment when Diana does talk about that a little bit in the movie, when I talk about it, and that was really important to me that we tried to just touch on all the complexities of what that experience is like for people who go through that as kids.

7) ‘Nyad’ Is No Hagiography

Annette Bening as Diana Nyad, Rhys Ifans as John Bartlett and Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll in 'Nyad.'

(L to R) Annette Bening as Diana Nyad, Rhys Ifans as John Bartlett and Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll in ‘Nyad.’ Photo: Kimberley French/Netflix ©2023.

Hyper-successful athletes are almost by definition prone to a level of extreme tunnel-vision and competitive zeal — whether against others or, in the case of long-distance swimming, against themselves — that can render their personalities, at times, quite prickly. To that end, Bening thought it important to be able to use Nyad’s rough exterior, with flinty stares and curt responses, as a way to showcase her hidden vulnerability and insecurities.

Annette Bening: I find [Diana] absolutely touching, I did get to know her quite well, and I adore her. And like a lot of very, very strong-willed people, she has an inner softness and vulnerability (that she often hides). I was interested in that, and that is part of our job when we’re playing people. But what’s wonderful about acting, one thing I really love is when you’re playing someone, you are their advocate — you are there, fighting for them, for what they want, for what they need, given the circumstances of their lives. So Diana let us take some liberties in telling the story because I knew that we needed a character arc, and so we played around a little bit with the facts. But she’s an enormously charming person, she just takes over a room, she’s charismatic. But, yeah, she’s strong. How could you swim for 53 hours and not have an unusual personality? So she does have that very strong will, but (it also masks) inner softness, an incredible intellect.

8) Bening Is a Better Swimmer Now Than When She Shot the Film

Annette Bening as Diana Nyad in 'Nyad.'

Annette Bening as Diana Nyad in ‘Nyad.’ Photo: Liz Parkinson/Netflix ©2023.

Bening, naturally, underwent a rigorous training regimen to get ready for her role. She aced her preparation, but claims she’s even an even better swimmer now, over a year after production wrapped.

Annette Bening: I’d been in the water a lot as a kid. I was a scuba diver. I worked on a boat. I was in the ocean a lot. I love the ocean. I feel very comfortable in it. But I hadn’t really ever been a swimmer, you know? Not like Diana is. So, I thought, you know, how hard can it be? Like, I’m in good shape, I’m on my bike, I do yoga. Then I got in the water and it was like, “Oh, shit.” I mean, I was alone. I had a moment of like, “Wait a minute, oh my God, how am I gonna do this?” It was a come-to-Jesus moment. So, anyway, I did have a great coach named Rada Owen, who was an Olympian herself and is a coach now. Rada was the perfect coach for me. First of all, she still loves to swim. A lot of athletes, because they’ve spent so much time doing what they’re doing, they get burned out, they don’t wanna swim anymore. Diana doesn’t swim anymore. But Rada still loves to swim. She’s six feet tall and she’s amazing and she also just has this lightness of spirit. She knows how to work people hard but also not emotionally exhaust you. So she got in the pool with me, she started teaching me the (freestyle) stroke and had me swim, and she said, “Oh, yeah, you’re gonna be fine.” I’m a better swimmer today than I was when I even made the film. Because I still swim, and I love it. It’s like anything when you practice it, you find a few moments of flow, and those moments are worth all of the work.

9) Foster Did a Lot of Physical Preparation Too

Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll in 'Nyad.'

Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll in ‘Nyad.’ Photo: Kimberley French/Netflix ©2023.

While ‘Nyad’ focuses on its titular subject’s swim, Stoll was a former professional racquetball player, and Foster felt an obligation to immerse herself in the type of physical activity that would reflect that lived experience.

Jodie Foster: I like to feel what the character feels, and I like to think the body is sort of the gateway to everything. So maybe I overdid that part of it, I guess, because I was into it. I was like, “Bonnie, you’re gonna look good, dammit, you’re gonna look good!” So there was a lot of chicken involved and a lot of little small meals and all that sort of stuff. I went to the gym a lot and had to suck in my stomach a little bit when I was wearing the jogger bra, I’ll admit it. But I wanted Bonnie to look good, you know?

10) Sometimes the Best CGI is the Simplest CGI

Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll and Annette Bening as Diana Nyad on the set of 'Nyad.'

(L to R) Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll and Annette Bening as Diana Nyad on the set of ‘Nyad.’ Photo: Kimberley French/Netflix ©2023.

Despite all of Bening and Foster’s joint physical preparation, moments of action in one’s 60s sometimes still has a limit — as manifested in ‘Nyad’ in a competitive ping-pong sequence.

Jodie Foster: With the ping-pong, you know, we actually didn’t do too badly, I’d say.

Annette Bening: We were pretty evenly matched, I think. I was slightly better.

Jodie Foster: But there is one moment where we did a lot of this in the air (mimes wild free swings), and then they put little balls in there (digitally). Come on, we gotta tell ’em — we can’t cheat!

Annette Bening: We actually were gonna make [the scene] racquetball, but then we played racquetball for 10 minutes.

Jodie Foster: Then both of us were like, “My knees, my knees! I can’t do it.”

What is the plot of ‘Nyad’?

The movie tells the true story of Diana Nyad (Annette Bening), a long-distance swimmer turned author and broadcast journalist who, with the assistance of her friend and coach Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster), set out in her 60s to do something she wasn’t able to accomplish decades earlier: complete a free swim from Havana, Cuba, to Key West, Florida — a distance of over 110 miles.

Who is in the cast of ‘Nyad’?

Karly Rothenberg as Dee, director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Annette Bening as Diana Nyad, Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll, Diana Nyad, Bonnie Stoll, Rhys Ifans as John Bartlett and director Jimmy Chin on the set of 'Nyad.'

(L to R) Karly Rothenberg as Dee, director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Annette Bening as Diana Nyad, Jodie Foster as Bonnie Stoll, Diana Nyad, Bonnie Stoll, Rhys Ifans as John Bartlett and director Jimmy Chin on the set of ‘Nyad.’ Photo: Kimberley French/Netflix ©2023.

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