Rotten Tomatoes’ “Get To Know Your Nominees” series will provide an in-depth look at one nominee from each of the major awards categories – the four acting categories, and directing – diving into their highest-rated work from both fans and critics, essential titles from their filmography, and featuring thoughts on their nominated film drawn from an extended interview.
Glenn Close says she went into the Golden Globes ceremony earlier this month with low expectations, something she does “for my own emotional and psychological health.” So it was that when Gary Oldman read out her name as the winner of the Best Actress Drama award, Close was just as surprised as the viewers at home – many of whom had no idea that The Wife, the movie for which she won, even existed – and the pundits who had tipped Lady Gaga to take home the trophy.
When she got to the stage to accept the Globe, tears in her eyes, she let out a few disbelieving gasps and eventually, an “Oh my gosh.” “When they called my name, it took [me] a few seconds,” Close told Rotten Tomatoes, a few days after the big night. “I think a lot of times, awards go to the flashy, buzzy person, and that’s why I just say I’m proud of the work I did and glad to be in the room.”
In her acceptance speech – for many, the highlight of the night – Close paid tribute to her mother, who, like her character in The Wife, lived her life in the background. “In her eighties, she said to me, ‘I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything,’” Close told the crowd at the Beverly Hilton. “And it was so not right. And I feel like what I’ve learned from this whole experience is, women, we’re nurturers, that’s what’s expected of us… But we have to find personal fulfillment. We have to follow our dreams. We have to say, ‘I can do that, and I should be allowed to do that.’”
On Tuesday morning, Close was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of The Wife’s Joan Castleman, whose quiet life lived in the shadows of her celebrated writer husband (Jonathan Pryce) is upended when he wins a Nobel Prize for literature and the couple travel to Stockholm for the ceremony. It is her seventh Academy Award nomination, and many predict it will be her first win – finally! – if she can stave off fierce competition from Gaga and The Favourite’s Olivia Colman.
What does it mean to be receiving such accolades at this stage of her career, 36 years after her first Oscar nomination for The World According to Garp? “In a way it even means more [now],” Close says, “because I’m very proud to be a survivor in this business.”
Close was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for three consecutive years in the mid-1980s: First for Garp in 1983; then for The Big Chill in 1984; and then again for The Natural in 1985. It was an auspicious start to her film career; her performance as a radical feminist named Jenny Fields in Garp had marked her big-screen debut. Her first Oscar nomination for a lead role came in 1988 for her portrayal of Alex Forrest, cinema’s scariest “other woman,” in the thriller Fatal Attraction.
“Well, she’s the Bunny Boiler,” Close says when asked to reflect on the character 30 years later. “She’s like every man’s nightmare.” At least that’s the place Forrest – who refuses to let go of Michael Douglas’s Dan as he tries to untangle himself from their affair – occupies in the popular culture. But that was never Close’s intention when playing her. “I was playing a very, very specific character, who is in crisis, really. A woman that needed help, but, because of her behavior, she’s become this terrifying figure, and is considered one of the best villains of the 20th Century.”
“And, also, of course, the new ending made her into a psychopath,” Close adds, referring to the film’s finale, which was changed after test audiences demanded something more cathartic – and ultimately less sympathetic to Forrest.
There were layers to the performance, and the plot, that the audience was not privy to that might have changed Forrest’s image in the popular mind. Close says Forrest had been abused as a child and was dealing with severe mental health issues that had never been diagnosed or addressed. She also shot a scene, which never made the final cut, that showed that Forrest was indeed pregnant with Dan’s child, putting to rest any ambiguity about whether she had invented the pregnancy.
“I’ve said before, that if you told the exact same story from her point of view, she would now, I think, become a tragic figure, rather than a villainous figure,” says Close. “If people could see the reasons for her behavior and what she’s struggling with, it would be a whole different story.”
After an early rush of Oscar nominations in the 1980s, Close would not be nominated again until 2012 for Albert Nobbs, the story of a 19th-century Irish Butler who is hiding the fact that he is secretly a woman. Close’s muted, deeply internalized performance was the highlight of a film that most critics dismissed as too staid (it has a Tomatometer score of 56%). Nobbs had been a passion project for Close, who played the role on stage in New York in the 1970s. Like Forrest, Albert was a damaged soul at a time when the help needed was out of touch.
“Everybody brought their own baggage to that movie, and however they want to interpret it is okay with me,” says Close, “but I was playing a woman who wasn’t trying to be a man. She was disguised as a man in order to survive. She never thought of herself as a man. She’s not transgender, and she’s not even lesbian, because she doesn’t know what that is. She’s never been touched by anyone. She’s never been loved by anyone. She’s this invisible soul, who’s surviving.”
Close has a Havanese named Pip who occasionally interrupts our telephone conversation, barking at dogs passing by the actress’s house in Montana. Pip has an Instagram account, where you can see him dressed up like a snowman for Christmas one day and walking the red carpet with “momma” the next. Close also co-founded an online dog apparel and accessories store, fetchdog, and supports a number of animal charities. Which is all to say that real-world Glenn Close couldn’t be further from the character with whom some most closely associate her: Puppy-coat enthusiast, Cruella De Vil.
In her Golden Globes speech, Close revealed a love of Disney, and it was that love that compelled her to sign on to the 1996 live-action remake of 101 Dalmatians after John Hughes, who wrote the script, met with her following a performance of Sunset Boulevard on Broadway. “The witch in Snow White is one of the most vivid figures in my childhood,” says Close. “I loved Snow White, I thought she was so beautiful – she looked like Miss Wilson, my second-grade teacher. And I loved all those movies, and they always feature animals. Cruella is a classic Disney witch; and I was very thrilled to be in that tradition. The meaner I was, the funnier she was, and the more she was in that tradition.”
The performance, marked by that incredible cackle, earned Close a Golden Globe nomination and the film itself was a smash; she would go on to star in the sequel, released four years later. The actress says one of the great joys of making the Dalmatians films was getting to wear Cruella’s outrageous costumes, designed by veteran costume designer Anthony Powell (she’s disappointed to this day that the camera never caught the floor-length tail on one of De Vil’s jackets in the second film). Close collects all of her characters’ costumes and in 2017 donated her 700-plus collection to Indiana University’s School of Art, Architecture + Design.
Her second brush with Disney would also see her stepping into some wild outfits, this time with a militaristic edge, when she played Nova Prime in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. (So yes, Glenn Close can add “part of the MCU” to her credits.) Getting James Gunn’s comedic tone just right was a challenge, says Close, but a fun one, and she enjoyed the special-effects work. “You’re standing around on the set of the big command center, and we’re told, ‘This is going to be a hologram of the war that’s outside,’ but you can look at this tennis ball – ‘This is the war thing that’s coming toward you.’ And I said, ‘Oh, I can do that. That’s what I did when I was a kid.’ You know? Let’s pretend. And that way it was so much fun.”
Close was among the first big-screen stars to move into television, first with an arc on The Shield and then in the lead role of litigator Patty Hewes in FX’s acclaimed legal drama Damages. “I was told at the time that if I did [TV], I would ruin my movie career,” says Close. “But I’ve always said, all these years: ‘The English do it – why can’t we?’ It’s about the material.” The material came courtesy of showrunners Daniel Zelman, Glenn Kessler, and Todd A. Kessler, and the pilot immediately grabbed Close (a friend said she’d be an idiot not to take it, and Close agreed). It helped too that she could shoot in New York, where she was living with her then husband and where her daughter was in school.
Damages is among the most acclaimed work of Close’s career – the first two seasons are Certified Fresh, seasons 3 and 4 sit at 100% on the Tomatometer, and Close collected two Emmys and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Hewes. The series was also seen as pioneering, a whipsmart and complex legal drama that centered on a complicated relationship between two women: Hewes and her protégé, Rose Byrne’s Ellen Parsons. “I remember when Dangerous Liaisons came out and the word was, ‘Nobody’s going to want to see a costume drama,’” says Close. “I remember when I did Jagged Edge [in which Close plays attorney Teddy Barnes], no one had done a film where a woman was starring as a lawyer – and then right after that, LA Law came out. Damages was such excellent writing… and I think it showed that you could have a fabulous story around female characters. Then The Good Wife came out, and now Christine [Baranski] has that spinoff. It’s gratifying. It really is.”
Close compares shrewd modern-day lawyer Hewes to Dangerous Liaisons’ 18th-century Marquise de Merteuil, the deliciously icy schemer who allowed the actress to spout lines like “I, who was born to revenge my sex and master yours,” and who earned Close her second Best Actress Oscar nomination in 1989. “You know, I’ve played certain women in my career – I’d say Jenny Fields, Patty Hewes – who I would be intimidated by if I had met them, so it takes me a while to get rid of that and let the character come in, but the Marquise – oh my god,” Close says with a chuckle. “It’s really interesting that she’s considered a bad person, when actually she’s just treating people the way men treat people. I loved that character. She’s very much like Patty Hewes… she keeps her power by keeping those cards close to her chest.”
The Wife’s Joan Castleman too plays her cards close to her chest, but mostly to prop up her husband’s status rather than achieve or sustain her own. We won’t spoil the film, but as the story progresses Joan does come to struggle with that choice. As she does, she shows flashes of so many of Close’s most well-known characters: Hewes’ intelligence, the Marquise’s manipulativeness, Albert Nobbs’ struggle to understand himself. And like Alex Forrest, who became part of the late 1980s zeitgeist, Joan comes to us at a fascinating time: In the midst of the #MeToo era, this story of a woman finally standing up to the man who’s taken advantage of her for decades hits hard.
“It’s actually incredible,” says Close. “The same thing that happened with Fatal Attraction. You’re making a movie, you’re telling a great story, but it happens at the time to touch these very tender nerves. The thing that I still can remember is sitting in that Toronto audience [the film premiered at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival]. You make a little independent film, and you hope that it has a life. You hope that it has enough behind it that people will see it. But sitting in that audience that night, I was astounded: they got every single nuance.”
The Wife opened in limited release on August 17, 2018. The Academy Awards will be celebrated on Sunday, February 24 at 5pm PT /8pm ET and broadcast live on ABC.