It's an annual question during Hollywood's awards season: Why are there so few great roles for women? But this year that query has disappeared.
The Hollywood Reporter recently invited six of the most buzz-worthy actresses -- Amy Adams ("The Fighter"), Annette Bening ("The Kids Are All Right"), Helena Bonham Carter ("Alice in Wonderland," "The King's Speech"), Nicole Kidman ("Rabbit Hole"), Natalie Portman ("Black Swan"), and Hilary Swank ("Conviction") -- for a discussion of their careers and the roles that got away (in one case, to a fellow panelist).
WHAT IS YOUR TOUGHEST MOMENT AS AN ACTRESS?
Helena Bonham Carter: It's every time you start a job. "What am I doing here? I can't actually act. Someone employed me again?" I think for me, the most excruciating thing is watching myself. It's like painting a picture blind and then taking the blindfold off, and unfortunately it's nothing at all what you intended.
Amy Adams: My hardest moments have a lot to do with being unemployed, which I'm very familiar with. I was in L.A. for about six or seven years before "Junebug."
IS THERE A TIME YOU THOUGHT ABOUT GIVING UP?
Adams: Oh yeah, absolutely. That's what is great about being an actor: You really do examine every type of life. So I fantasized about, what if I became a teacher? But the good thing is that I get to embody all these different characters and get to experience a different life. So I think I'll stay.
HOW INVOLVED ARE YOU IN THE FILMMAKING PROCESS? FOR INSTANCE, ANNETTE, FOR "THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT," I READ THAT YOU HAD ENCOURAGED DIRECTOR LISA CHOLODENKO TO MOVE THE FILM IN A MUCH LIGHTER DIRECTION.
Annette Bening: I wouldn't say that. I just didn't want it to be earnest. She's too generous when she talks about me and my contributions. I do remember not wanting it to be too earnest, and that's very hard. It's easier to do that, and that's why we've all made that mistake. I didn't want it to be idealized or the "noble couple" rising against the situation they're in. It's such a serious subject -- and the more serious it is, the more hilarious it can be. And the writing is really good. There are just little things that I kind of knew that maybe we could tweak a little bit. We could take it out of it trying to be noble.
NATALIE, WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN YOU GOT THE SCRIPT FOR "BLACK SWAN"?
Natalie Portman: I was actually committed to the film before the script. Darren (Aronofsky) and I had started talking about it about nine years ago when I was still in college. He had the whole idea for everything, but that was really an instance where the script was very much a blueprint. Nicole actually said something to me when we were doing "Cold Mountain," and I totally remember. You said, "Always choose by director because you never know how the movie's going to turn out and you're always guaranteed an interesting experience." I've always had that in my head, and it's so true because even when the script is great, I've had the experience where sometimes someone can really botch it. Really, it does take a visionary, and if your experience is worthwhile, you always have that no matter how it turns out.
WHEN YOU TAKE ON CERTAIN ROLES, DO THEY CHANGE YOU?
Portman: Oh definitely. I definitely see skinny people as sad now. It's so sad to be skinny!
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING YOU DID PHYSICALLY FOR A ROLE?
Nicole Kidman: I got a bad injury when I was doing "Moulin Rouge"; I tore some cartilage in my knee. But it was that dancing mentality where you keep dancing. It was like 3 a.m., and I was thinking, "I'm so tired and I probably shouldn't do another one in these heels, but yeah, okay, one more take, this will be it." And I just kind of fell and tore my knee up.
Bonham Carter: There is a point where you're responsible for yourself. Sometimes there are so many people around and it costs so much to keep a crew going. But there is a point when you should say, "This isn't going to happen." But it takes a lot of courage.
Kidman: Yeah, but when you're in a role, it's almost like a high. Once we started, there was no way I was going to stop.
Adams: I did. I was doing a shoot outside in Ireland.
Bonham Carter: What was the film?
Adams: It was called "Leap Year," and it was tons of weather. We were in this ridiculously strong wind all day long, and people were getting eye injuries, and then it started raining. I'm in a sweater and a pencil skirt and high heels, and I kept going, "This isn't good. I'm done." I wasn't like, "I'm going home," or I'm throwing a fit. It was like, "Guys, we're not going to get this shot. It's not going to happen."
IS THERE A ROLE THAT YOU DIDN'T GET THAT YOU WISH YOU HAD?
Bening: Oh sure. I was up for the Bertolucci movie "The Sheltering Sky." I was up for it for months, like sometimes happens, and Debra Winger is in the movie, and it's a beautiful movie.
Hilary Swank: I like to read things even when they're not offered to me. I just ask my agents to send me material.
Bonham Carter: Isn't that self-flagellation?
Swank: For me, finding really compelling, original work is few and far between, and instead of just waiting for something to come my way, I ask them to send me the material. I want to know the writers that are out there. I have a production company, so it's part of that. I don't want to ever rest on my laurels and sit back and see what comes my way. I want to fight for things that I believe in and that I want to be a part of. You know, there was a script I fell in love with back in August that was sent to me. It's a first-time director but a well-known writer, and I read the script and I said, "I want to meet you." And he was like, "OK, great." I went in and I didn't get it.
Bening: Who did?
Swank: Do you really want to know? It's Alex Kurtzman. He did all these big movies, "Star Trek" and "Transformers," and you wouldn't think this was his movie. I'm not a real big science fiction fan, but this script ("Welcome to People") is a beautiful story about a brother and a sister. (Silence.)
Bening: Amy, you got it, didn't you? (Laughter.)
Swank (to Adams): Did you read it? Did you like it?
Adams: I'm not getting into this! (Thunderous laughter.)
Swank: Amy got the role! Amy will be playing the role that I wanted!
Adams: Let me just say, I'm not doing it. We don't normally talk about this!
Bening: Don't say anything you don't want to say. However, we want to know the dirt!
Adams: I felt at this time with my daughter being a baby, I couldn't go there emotionally and still be there for her in the way I felt like an infant deserves.
Bening: You mean, like, sobbing and screaming and then going home?
Adams: I felt like this was my first career/mom decision, where if I went to work every day and played this girl and came home, she's not going to have me -- I'm not going to have the experience. I will miss this first year, and I can't have that back. If I'm lucky, there will be a beautiful script that will come to me at some point in my career, but I'm never getting that time back with my infant daughter.