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Annette Bening, ‘Running With Scissors’

Lead actress contender

Ryan Murphy is quick to admit his obsession with Augusten Burroughs’ 2002 bestseller, “Running With Scissors.”

He optioned it, spent more than a year adapting the screenplay, finished it in early October ’05 — and soon thereafter landed Annette Bening to star.

That seemed rather easy, no?

“She had the same passion for the material that I had,” explains Murphy, the creator of FX series “Nip/Tuck.” “And when I said, ‘Is there anything I need to do, that you need for the film,’ she grabbed me by the shoulders and said, ‘You know, Ryan, it’s all about the wigs.’ 

“I thought that was brilliant, and it turns out to be true. She had seven wigs. If you have one bad wig, it takes you out of the performance.”

Though “Scissors” is Murphy’s first helming effort on a major feature film, his work on the Golden Globe-winning “Nip/Tuck” proves he’s no stranger to edgy material. Nor is Bening, who’s had three Oscar noms already for gritty roles.

“Annette and I were in total agreement on how she’d play the role. She said, ‘I don’t want to play a crazy person but a person who made bad choices.’ ”

Indeed. Not that delving into the mind of an unstable woman doesn’t come at a cost. “I know that portraying mental illness can be very draining, and she had a lot of trouble sleeping,” Murphy notes.

Asked about his favorite scene with Bening, Murphy

responds: “In her drugged-out, Nembutal-induced fantasy, getting tied down in the sanitarium and imagining herself at Carnegie Hall.”

Yet there was no money for extras to fill the huge auditorium. To offset costs, Murphy put Bening’s celebrity to the test.

“Do you want to be in a scene with Annette Bening?” Murphy posted on an online site. “You have to show up wearing ’70s formal wear.” More than a thousand extras showed up.

“Annette walked in and said, ‘Where did we get the money to get all these people?’ I said, ‘Oh, they came for you. She’s like, ‘You’re kidding me?!’ ”

“So between takes, she kind of wafted into the throng, like Gloria Swanson, and got bombarded for autographs, cell phone pictures and stayed for an hour,” Murphy recalls. “She was performing. You could hear a pin drop, and I just love that day, and her for it.”

Next project: “A Woman of No Importance,” directed by Bruce Beresford