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‘Seagull’ movie another prime Chekhov role for Annette Bening

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Annette Bening stars in the new film version of “The Seagull.” (Courtesy Nicole Rivelli/Sony Pictures Classics)

While filming the movie adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” Annette Bening found herself at the center of her own seriocomedy.

During the three-week shoot at a lodge in upstate New York, Bening, who plays an aging actress whose career and romantic life are endangered by an ingenue one summer at a Russian lakeside, felt threatened after being bitten by a tick.

Terrified she’d contract Lyme disease if she didn’t act fast, she removed it, put it in a plastic bag and rushed to the local hospital.

“The reality is I was a total hypochondriac,” says the actress, laughing, in an interview to promote the movie, which opens Friday at the Clay Theatre in The City. “It’s not a good story. It’s me being a jerk, a dope. I drove to the emergency room and they were very sweet, but they laughed at me. They said, ‘This is why you’re here?’ But they could not have been nicer. I completely overreacted and it was completely stupid.”

That her experience was almost Chekhovian in its mix of tragedy and comedy is not lost on Bening, whose role in the third film by stage director Michael Mayer (a Tony winner for “Spring Awakening”) isn’t surprising. She has a long history with the 19th century Russian dramatist’s plays.

As a student, she starred in “Three Sisters” at San Francisco State University. She played her current movie role, Irina Arkadina, in “The Seagull” at American Conservatory Theater while studying for her master’s degree; and appeared in “The Cherry Orchard” with the Denver Center Theatre Company in 1986 (as well as in Los Angeles in 2006).

Bening, who was nominated for a Tony for “Coastal Disturbances” in 1987, and for Oscars for “The Grifters,” “American Beauty,” “Being Julia” and “The Kids Are All Right,” finds comfort in Chekhov’s plays, which help her see humor, even in today’s darkest moments.

“There’s something deep in human nature that he was able to figure out. He manages to write about the deepest anguish, pain and loss, but also love and joy at the same time. He helps us to understand our frailties and laugh at our foibles and flaws. There’s something reassuring about that in the present political situation that we’re in,” says the actress, who’s slated to appear in the upcoming “The Torture Report,” a movie about the CIA’s interrogation methods on detainees during the war on terror after 9/11.

IF YOU GO
The Seagull
Starring: Annette Bening, Saoirse Ronan, Corey Stoll, Billy Howle, Elisabeth Moss
Written by: Stephen Karam
Directed by: Michael Mayer
Rated PG-13
Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

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