The Irish Times – Friday, February 17, 2012
As Glenn Close arrives back in Dublin for the screening of 'Albert Nobbs', she talks about the joy of living quietly, her chances at the Oscars and her role as that famous bunny boiler, writes TARA BRADY
THIRTY YEARS have passed since Glenn Close first embraced the title role in Albert Nobbs . Fifteen have gone by since she first tried to make that play into a film. But tomorrow she gets to present the finished movie to eager patrons of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. Now a radiant 65, Close exercises all her thespian might in the gender bending drama. In it she plays a woman who, in 19th century Dublin, feels compelled to dress as a man in order to secure work as a waiter in a creaking hotel.
Shot on a modest budget, the picture has secured three Oscar nominations. Close receives her sixth nod (she is yet to win) in the best actress category. She must be looking forward to a triumphant return to Dublin.
"Well I arrived almost 10 years to the day after we thought we were going to first do it," she says in her elegant, actorly voice. "I arrived in November. This was the time of the big snow. We had a fantastic time. We had a great crew. But it was so cold."
The film features an impressive array of Irish talent. Brendan Gleeson, Brenda Fricker and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers are all on board. John Banville, Booker prize winner, assisted Close in adapting the play (originally inspired by a George Moore story) for the screen.
I loved my collaboration with John Banville," she says. "Whatever Irish tweaks we could make we did. It had to have wonderful Irish twists to things. I would mail John and say: 'How would you say 'my father was a knock down drunk?' And he'd come back and say: 'He was a fierce hoor for the drink'. That sort of thing was wonderful."
Glenn Close now counts as show business royalty. A member of a prominent New England family – her father was once personal physician to President Mobuto of Zaire – she grew up in a rustic cottage on her grandmother's estate in Connecticut. Childhood was somewhat disrupted by her parents' involvement in a Christian movement named Moral Re-Armament. She eventually ended up studying theatre at William and Mary College in Virginia. Her gradual ascent to the pinnacle of her craft began after graduation.
Despite eventual success with films such as Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons and Reversal of Fortune , Close refuses to live the Beverly Hills lifestyle. She currently resides quietly in Maine with David Shaw, her husband of five years.
"That's all tremendously important to me," she says. "I think I would have exploded if I had lived too close to the industry. My most treasured memories are running like a wild child around the countryside of Connecticut. When you have those landscapes that's where you renew yourself and find sanctuary and that's why it's wonderful to be in Maine. There are places to hike. I love visiting California. But it's great to have this."
Close worked hard in the theatre throughout the 1970s but she didn't properly register with mainstream audiences until, in 1987, she made a certain film about an obsessive relationship. Heavens, the poor woman must be sick of talking about Fatal Attraction . One more time. What did she make of all those audiences cheering her character's eventual death? Wasn't it all a little misogynistic? Poor Alex was clearly troubled.
"Well yes. I think one of the truisms of being a human being is that most of us aren't who we think we are," she says, without betraying any impatience at being dragged back the 1980s. "Many people saw her as evil. Yes, she was destructive. But she was not an evil person. She was a person in crisis. I didn't have the language of mental illness at that time. There was no mention that she might be, say, bi-polar. We are so much more aware of brain disorders now. My research would have gone in that direction."
She goes on to express surprise that nobody even mentioned mental illness during the production.
"My approach was to love her and understand her," she says. "I wasn't surprised people cheered when she was dead. She same across as this classic horror film character. But I felt she was more complex than that. In the original ending she killed herself and he went off to jail. Which I thought was a nice way to end it."
Close has a unique way of dominating a role. She is a natural on screen, but she still shoulders the lofty charisma of an experienced stage actress. Such performers do not go in for method acting with quite as much gusto as do dedicated movie actors. She could not, when appearing in Andrew Lloyd Weber's Sunset Boulevard, have travelled home as Norma Desmond every night. Do the more disturbing roles hang about her psyche after she leaves the set?
"I am able to leave things behind when I leave the set," she says. "But when I did Alex in Fatal Attraction and Sonny von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune those were haunting characters. And then, when I did Norma Desmond on stage for a year and a half, she stalked me. I am not the kind of actor who is 24/7 in character. I admire people who can do that. But I like to have a laugh on set and then get into something more serious."
She may have to call on those reserves of goodwill in a week's time. Most Oscar pundits are saying that the race for best actress is between Viola Davis for The Help and Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady . If Close does lose then she will join Deborah Kerr (now there's royalty) in holding the record for the most nominations without a win. "Ha ha. I have never spent too much time mourning that fact," she says. "It would be nice to add that strangely aberrant naked golden man. People do often ask me what I think about all that. I think it may be Viola's year. But there are hundreds and thousands of actors. And there is a huge percentage that are out of work at any one time. So to be one of those five is such a privilege. How could any of us think that we are a loser? It's an amazing celebration and I really mean that. I love my fellow actors."
Close, who seems cheeringly at ease with herself, agrees that the growth of quality television has really helped actors of her generation. Younger readers may associate her with Damages, the tasty legal series, before thinking of her famous film roles from the 1980s and 1990s. But one gets the impression that, for all the exposure TV brings, she retains a very special affection for Albert Nobbs. The title character has, remember, been with her since before she was properly famous.
"In a way it has been my long- term companion," she says. "I have played a lot of powerful women and it's very easy for people to see me in those roles. But less powerful people can be more interesting to play. There are so many other ways of behaving that can be challenging and interesting."
Albert Nobbs screens on Saturday, February 18th as part of The Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. For more film and music interviews see The Ticket
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