Crossing the 64 kilometers of open sea between Cuba and Florida at the age of 170: this is the feat accomplished in 2013 on the fifth attempt (four after turning 60, the first was at the age of 29 in 1979) by former marathon swimmer, then sports journalist, Diana Nyad, the first athlete to make the crossing without being protected by an anti-shark cage. An extraordinary true story that became a film for Netflix (where it is already available), Nyad - Across the Ocean directed by Oscar-winning documentary filmmakers Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (winners of the statuette in 2019 for Free Solo) here making their debut in a fictional story.
The perfect protagonist is Annette Bening, flanked by Jodie Foster in the role of coach Bonnie Stoll, linked by an increasingly intense and deep relationship, with the contours of a platonic love, to her friend Diana. A duet that could bring both, according to many critics, back into the Oscar race.
"Their friendship is the beating heart of the film," explains director Chai Vasarhelyi in one of the Deadline Contenders sessions, dedicated to the most important films of the season, also in view of the nominations for the 2024 Academy Awards. "Ever since we read the script (by Julia Cox, who adapted Diana Nyad's autobiography, 'Find a Way'), we knew we wanted an actress in the same age group as Diana to play the role, who was able to fully reflect her complexity and was also ready to face the physical test required by the role. We were thrilled when Annette accepted the part." Annette's mastery of acting also brought her to the preparation for the part: she trained in swimming for about a year, and on her first day on set in a safety test of the scenes in the water, she amazed everyone, in showing how believable she was as a marathon swimmer. Another example of her greatness as an actress."
You don't have to be an actress "to want a challenge," explains Annette Bening. Diana had failed the same feat when she was in her 20s, then at 60, she decided to make it happen, even though many told her it would be impossible. But she felt that her life had value, and that she had earned, through the obstacles she had overcome since childhood, the right to fight for that goal, thanks also to her life experience." The strength of Diana Nyad (who today travels the US holding meetings as a motivational speaker, ed.) "is not the only interesting aspect in her," adds the actress, who has already been nominated for an Oscar 4 times. She has a great personality but I was also struck by her sweetness, the part of her that suffers, the part that is insecure, a part that we all have." For this reason, "I also wanted to show those aspects that she, having faith in me, showed me."
Annette Bening didn't think Jodie Foster would accept the part of Bonnie at first, but "then we met and talked a lot about the script. She already had some great ideas and both Chai and I told her to feel free. When she said yes to the part I was so happy, because it would allow the film to take a leap forward, for the role of Bonnie you needed an actress of her caliber." Jodie Foster "is brilliant, confident, but also very funny and humble," says Annette Bening, "an extraordinary combination." Coming to the physical training she did for the film, "I'm quite athletic, I've dived, I'm not afraid of water, but the first time I went into the pool to train I cried, thinking about what I should have made believable," she says. But I had an Olympic swimmer Rada Owen as a coach and day after day, working and working, we got there."
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