Annette Bening (search) admits she's addicted to acting and gets antsy without a "fix."
"It doesn't take a lot to satiate me -- I can do a reading or a charity thing and I'll be all right for a while -- but it's like a drug," she tells The Post. "I'm like a junkie."
If this is true, then the 46-year-old actress must have overdosed on her latest role as a gloriously monstrous, ostentatiously theatrical stage diva in the 1930s-set comedic drama "Being Julia." (search)
It's the kind of fabulously juicy part that Hollywood actresses dream of -- and, following the film's world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last month, Bening has suddenly become a serious contender for a Best Actress Oscar.
"Being Julia" is adapted from W. Somerset Maugham's novel, "Theatre"; in it, Bening's beautiful stage actress, married to Jeremy Irons' theater impresario, takes a young lover to try and ignite the spark missing from her life.
Julia giggles and flirts, rages and cries, and swings from bitchily imperious to nakedly lonely in the blink of a heavily made-up eye.
"When I read [the script], I thought, 'Oh my God, this is a feast of a role," she says. "But then not long after comes the fear. Because anything that's appealing is also terrifying in a way."
But there was no sign of nerves on the set, says Hungarian-born director Istvan Szabo.
"Annette is not just a fantastic movie star, she is [also] a great theater actress who has performed Chekhov and Shakespeare," he says. "So she has this technical knowledge of how to be different onstage and in front of the camera."
Stage actress, movie star -- and mother of four children with husband Warren Beatty, the former playboy she domesticated after they met on the set of the 1991 film "Bugsy."
The Hollywood golden couple's most recent child, a daughter named Ella, was born in 2000, a month after the Academy Awards at which Bening was nominated for "American Beauty."
The children -- ages 4 to 12 -- were with her every day of filming; Bening insisted on tucking them in at night.
"She's hard about saying goodnight to her kids herself; she's hard about telling the last fairy tale to her kids herself," Szabo says.
It was this devotion to her offspring that caused Bening to "go cold turkey" with acting during the mid- to late '90s.
"For so long I was having children and I lost the desire to act and I thought, What is wrong?'," she says.
"Then I realized there was such a blessing in that, to completely let go. And then suddenly I was fine to come back because I'd had the babies and all of that."
Bening is not one to complain about the lack of great parts for "women of a certain age" in Hollywood -- but admits they are scarce.
"I don't think there is any kind of conspiracy against middle-aged women or older women, but there might be a cultural bias," she says.
"[But] women don't have to buy into that -- we don't have to think of ourselves as less interesting, sexually vital, less creatively on fire."
The actress herself, wearing a chocolate-brown leather jacket and caramel-colored pants, certainly looks stunning.
In "Being Julia," which opens Oct. 15, she displays a refreshing lack of vanity, often appearing in close-up, without make-up -- even slathering cold cream on her face as she prepares for bed.
"Yes, this is a woman who's theatrical and a diva, but luckily it's so well-written there's an opportunity to strip away and take off the mask and the make-up and reveal something underneath," she says.