December 11, 2023

Annette Bening and director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi dove right into the deep end at Contenders Film: Los Angeles to talk about their Netflix movie Nyad, and what it meant to them to explore the world of swimming icon Diana Nyad. 

“It was really important for us to cast age appropriately,” said Vasarhelyi about Bening and the film, which traces Nyad’s efforts in 2013 to swim from Havana to Key West, FL. at age 64. She added, “We wanted an actor who was not afraid to play a woman who is complex.”

Vasarhelyi talked about filming in the water, and remembered that when Bening did her water-safety test, “it was a moment of wonder, because it just looked effortless like she was a marathon swimmer. That’s a testament to a great dedication to the craft of a great actor.”

For Bening, the role was more than just driving in a pool and taking a couple of laps.

RELATED: The Contenders Film: Los Angeles – Deadline’s Full Coverage

“It was a great challenge. When I read it and knew [co-helmer] Jimmy [Chin] and Chai were directing, I immediately said yes,” she said. “The script is amazing. Fabulous. I was touched. I thought she was so interesting and complicated, and I didn’t really know much about her.”

RELATED: ‘Nyad’ Review: Annette Bening And Jodie Foster Soar In Thrilling Saga Of A Driven Swimming Legend Who Won’t Give Up On A Lifelong Dream

She added, “I started to really think about swimming and I thought, I’m pretty athletic and I’m in pretty good shape and used to scuba dive a lot, but I’ve never been a distance swimmer. My nature is to jump first then figure it out.” (She worked with former Olympic swimmer Rada Owen on the swimming portions of the film.)

RELATED: ‘Nyad’ Trailer: Annette Bening And Jodie Foster Tell The Inspirational Story Of A Remarkable Woman

Vasarhelyi said the production hit the jackpot again in landing Jodie Foster, and remembered how intimidating the process was of not knowing if the two-time Oscar winner would agree to be a part of the film, playing Nyad’s confidante Diane Stoll. “I mean, first with [Annette], and it really became about how can we serve the story. We were committed even more to bring these characters to life.”

Bening also talked about getting to know the real Diana Nyad.

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“Diana is strong. There’s no question,” she said. “She’s the most interesting person in the room. She’s the most energetic and has a big personality. However, what interested me when I got to know her was also the softness in her and the part of her that suffers just like any of us, and the part of her that is unsure. I’m curious about what part of her does not feel capable. What part of her is that? As I said, it’s like the soft underbelly. We all have that.”

RELATED: How ‘Nyad’ & ‘Dumb Money’ Producer Teddy Schwarzman Built Black Bear Into An Indie Studio To Be Reckoned With – The Deadline Interview

Check back Monday for the panel video.

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