Michael Doherty catches up with Glenn Close, the actress whose dream role finally reaches the big screen this week.
In 1982, a young actress by the name of Glenn Close played a role off Broadway that would have a major impact on her life and career. Adapted from George Moore's short story, The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs, it was the tale of a young Dublin woman at the turn of the 20th Century who disguises herself as a man in order to secure work and achieve her goals in life.
Thirty years later, Close has finally achieved a goal in her life; that of bringing the role of Albert Nobbs to the big screen. Since announcing herself with that Obie award-winning performance, the actress has become one of the most accomplished talents in the business. Her landmark performances include the bunny-boiling Alex in Fatal Attraction (1987), the scheming Marquise in Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and the sneering fashionista, Cruela DeVil, from 101 Dalmatians (1996). Since 2007, the actress has also enjoyed enormous success on the small screen playing uncompromising lawyer, Patty Hewes, on hit show, Damages. Throughout her glittering career, however, Close has never lost sight of the dream of bringing that little George Moore story to a cinema audience.
Produced, co-written (with John Banville) and starring the 65-year-old actress, Albert Nobbs opens in Ireland this week, having already been nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Actress (Close), Best Supporting Actress (Janet McTeer) and Best Achievement in Make-up. Not for the first time, though, it was a certain New Jersey actress who pipped Glenn Close to the Best Actress gong.
"I have often been mistaken for Meryl Streep" the actress famously commented, "but never on Oscar night!"
Michael Doherty: Because this movie is the resolution of a long-held dream, Glenn, was there a feeling of trepidation at finally bringing Albert Nobbs to the big screen?
Glenn Close: You know, it was such a long process and, as the main writer, I was deeply into the story, too, so the feeling I had was one of excitement. We had an amazing team of people. I can’t imagine having a better cast or crew to realise the story. I had to pinch myself every day when I arrived on set in Cabinteely. I couldn’t believe we were actually doing it and doing it with such wonderful people. So I didn’t have time for any trepidation!
I believe the first make-up test was very emotional for you, particularly as you hadn’t used any make-up to play Albert Nobbs on stage. So how did it feel the first time Glenn looked in the mirror and Albert looked back?
It happened to me every morning and I never got used to it. The make-up was very brilliantly subtle because neither Janet [McTeer] nor I could look like we had gobs of special make-up on our faces. There would be a point every morning when I would look up and there would be a frisson because it wasn’t me looking back any more. I went through that process every day and always got that feeling, especially when the wig was put on and I was about to leave the make-up chair.
There’s a key scene where the characters decide to put on dresses and walk along the strand. At that stage in the story, you both really did look like guys who had decided to dress up for the laugh. Did you shoot in sequence so that moment would have extra impact?
We didn’t actually shoot in sequence but that was a scene I always looked forward to doing because it was so bizarre! To have these two women look like men in drag was bizarre; you kind of forget what you are looking at after a while. I liked that aspect of the story.
You talk about fond memories of shooting in Dublin, but you had to contend with Siberian conditions during which you were struck down with pneumonia...
Oh my God, when I think back on it now, we were told that it was the worst winter in, like, 30 years! But the actual filming was fantastic. It was great. We had a wonderful, wonderful crew and the fact that Lynn Johnson, who applied our make-up every morning, was nominated for an Oscar, was so thrilling for me. It was a wonderful place to work. Janet and I stayed at the Shelbourne Hotel and it was holiday season. We’d be coming back all wrapped up in our period clothes and our terrible wig hair and we would slouch through the lobby while everybody else was in their party finery. It was fantastic!
Janet proved a wonderful counterpoint to you in the sense that her Herbert was so tall compared to your diminutive Albert. What was it about her that made you cast her?
We were looking for an actress whose face wasn’t immediately recognisable so the reveal would have more chance of working. Though Janet had done wonderful things on film, she is better known as a stage actress at this point. And also, like you say, her stature was perfect. I saw her on Broadway playing Mary Stuart and she was magnificent. I went backstage and told her I had this little movie that I had wanted to make. I asked would she read it and consider playing Hubert Page. She immediately came on board and fit all the criteria. But what she brought to it herself was magnificent.
I know awards don’t matter, especially for cherished personal projects, and I know you have many gongs, but have there been times over the years when you just wished that Meryl Streep would just go away, or retire, or something?
Hahaha! Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen. Very early on in my career, my best friend, Mary Beth Hurt, was starring in a play called Trelawny of the Wells. Meryl had this little part and Mary Beth had the lead. When Meryl came on stage, I just thought to myself, this woman is going to factor in my career. And I was right! But I embrace it. She’s a great actress and I think we’re different enough to have our own identities, and that’s just the way it’s worked out.
In general, do you feel there are enough strong roles for women out there, without you having to write and produce them yourself, of course!
No, there’s not a lot of good stuff out there. Meryl and I have been very lucky in our careers. I have been especially lucky that I have been playing Patty Hewes in Damages for the past five years. That’s a great part and it doesn’t come along every day. Another wonderful thing is the opening up of really good things on TV. The level of the writing is fantastic now. You’ve had that forever in the UK and Ireland but now you find the same actors cross-pollinating movies and TV, so that opens up a lot of roles.
There was a time when A-listers would look down on TV, but the quality of the writing on HBO and Showtime, seems to have changed all that...
Absolutely. I had a wonderful journey on Damages and, in fact, we just wrapped the final show last night. We finished at 3.30 in the morning and it was kinda funny, because my last scene wasn’t with Rose [Byrne]; it was with Janet. It’s a very intense show and we had five years of it, but it was great. And the crew were so wonderful that they all have jobs lined up. When you have a five-year journey you are bonded for life, so I didn’t leave thinking, ‘oh dear, I’ll never see you again’, It was a case of, ‘next time!’ But don’t worry, I won’t tell you how the final episode ended!
In general, are you happy with the balance you have in terms of stage, TV and movie work?
Yes. Very early on, right after my first film, I did my first thing for television. And like you were saying earlier, there was a huge prejudice about working on the small screen. I was actually told that working on TV would ruin my movie career, but I knew that they did it in England all of the time. I’ve always just concentrated on the quality of the writing and I didn’t care if it was for TV, stage or the big screen. Stage will always be my home. It’s harder now that I’m happily married and I want to be with my husband; especially when there can be extended runs in the theatre. It’s been a while since I was on stage but hopefully, after I get some significant downtime, I’ll do a limited run of something. Balancing family and work had always been a challenge.
Can I ask you Glenn about BringChange2Mind, the charity you work with to raise awareness of mental illness issues?
It’s very challenging for me to be involved [Glenn’s sister, Josie, has bipolar disorder] but it’s also very gratifying. To change people’s behaviour and attitudes towards living with mental illness is really a huge challenge. We’re a small organisation [bringchange2mind.org] but we’re very committed and I think our niche is going to be helping those social scientists who have been in the trenches to bridge the gap between science and message in a way that’s informed and exciting. It’s also great to see a movement such as the one in Britain, Time to Change, successfully running an anti-stigma programme. So it’s challenging, but the changes are happening.