Annette Bening is an Academy Award nominated actress who’s churned out several strong performance over her 25 year career. Her latest work is a small independent drama called Mother and Child from screenwriter and director Rodrigo Garcia. In the film Bening plays Karen, a middle age woman who gave up her daughter at 14 (at the insistence of her mother) and never recovered from the decision.

Over time she’s become cynical and bitter about life and relationships yet she constantly yearns for the affection of her ailing mother and unknown daughter (played by Naomi Watts). Bening brings her A-game to the role and plays the emotionally unstable Karen like a fiddle. When we got the opportunity to speak with her at the film’s press junket she discussed her source of strength for the character and what she learned about the serious psychological effects a teen pregnancy can have on a girl…

Karen is closed off yet thirsty for affection and Bening has to go between those two multiple times in the movie. We wanted to know how she was able to pull that off.

That paradox is in the writing, so that immediately attracted me. Trying to find that is a bit nervous making as well because you see it and you see the potential that’s there, and then you go, “Well, I hope I can find that.” I loved that about her, and I loved the character and how prickly she is at the beginning. If I didn’t know where it was going, it probably would be unbearable some of the painful sequences but when it’s on the page and you know that it’s there, then you’re just basically trying to follow what’s already there.

She also stated that Karen’s behavior was a logical side effect of the traumatic events from her past.

I think that the scars make sense. I believed that given what she’d been through, it affected her in the way that it did. I mean obviously, everybody would go through that in a specific way, so not everybody would be traumatized, in that particular way. But I certainly knew girls who went through similar experiences to Karen. Close friends of mine.

There’s a huge psychological change that happens when a young girl (essentially a child themselves) goes through something as invasive as a pregnancy. But depending on the time, place, society and culture the reaction to the situation can be drastically different.

Once we were doing the film, I got further and further into first-person narratives and people talking about what it was like to not only become pregnant, but imagining the whole thing…going through it at 14 or 15, and being sent away and feeling so ashamed, and then going through child birth alone because a lot of them didn’t have their family with them, and then being expected to go back into life.

That’s the other part that’s just almost inconceivable. It’s like, “Okay now, we’re going to just take the baby and it’s going to be fine. You can go back to school.” To think that these kids go through that is terrible. I felt that was all very much there and realized in what Rodrigo wrote.

The actress also spoke about some of the research she did for the part. She didn’t submerge herself in literature about teen mothers but she did talk to a few women who were older but had been through the experience in the past.

I talked to a few, but I was thinking of it more as a middle-aged person who’s now dealing with it. That’s who she is, when we meet her, so I felt it was really important for me, just for myself, to understand what the whole experience was from the time that it happened.

As for her own connection to the material, Bening had never been in a situation anywhere near Karen’s but she did know of some girls when she was younger who suffered in that way.

I really had very close experiences with girls who went through similar things. I remember one girl – and I became preoccupied thinking about her – who I’d known since we were very little, and we ended up going all through school together. She was a gorgeous girl who was really vivacious. What I remember is wondering what happened to her. You were never really told explicitly what happened, but suddenly she was gone and there were rumors, and then you didn’t see her. Well, she was sent away because she got pregnant.

Mother and Child opens in theaters in limited release on May 7th.