Glenn Close, with Mia Wasikowska in a scene from Albert Nobbs.
Glenn Close makes men shudder in their boots. Poor Michael Douglas didn't stand a chance in Fatal Attraction. Well, he wouldn't have escaped her wrath if the original ending hadn't been changed to let the man win. And this is one of Close's gripes. Women get a raw deal in Hollywood. Still.
"If anything I think they are objectifying women even more. I mean there is a new series about Playboy bunnies," she notes, exasperated. (The Playboy Club has just been cancelled after three episodes.)
Ah, a woman who speaks her mind on screen and off. No wonder Close has never won an Oscar. While her good friend Meryl Streep continues to win award after award with her dazzling characterisations in The Devil Wears Prada, Julie & Julia and now as Maggie Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Close is doing what she does best, creating tightly coiled characters who wield a power that most men could only hope for.
Yet her latest role couldn't be more different from her signature characters - her stalker in Fatal Attraction, her scheming Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons and her formidable power lawyer Patty Hewes in Damages - if she tried.
With her portrayal of the title role in Albert Nobbs - a timid, fragile woman living life as a man in order to maintain employment as a butler in a turn-of-the-century Dublin hotel - Close delivers possibly the most nuanced performance of her career. The trim 64-year-old now stands a chance of winning her first Oscar, and no actor could deserve it more.
"Knock on wood!" she says smiling and peering at me with that famous green-eyed glare, looking understated in a tailored navy dress. Does she ever resent that she has been Oscar-nominated five times and is yet to win?
"Oh, no, I don't resent it," she replies dismissively. "I think it's the nature of the beast. It also largely depends on the role. If you get a good, great, juicy role then you have more of a chance."
It's not as if Close "got" the role. She virtually created it herself. She first played Albert Nobbs on stage 30 years ago and had been trying to turn the story (which is based on a novella by late-19th- and early-20th-century Irish author George Moore) into a movie ever since. She is credited as a co-writer and producer.
"There came a time about four years ago when [producer] Bonnie Curtis and I had been really battling it out and I kind of sat myself down and really, really thought, 'Am I going to give it up and admit defeat or not?' I just was not willing to admit defeat. One thing after another didn't work. To get the money for an independent movie like this was really tricky and why it took so long was that I was working and would lose windows of opportunity. It is incredibly gratifying to see it come to fruition. I still can't quite comprehend it, because it was so long a hope. Now that it is here, the one thing that I really feel is that it could not have been done with a better group of people."
Originally, using her considerable clout, Close had enlisted Orlando Bloom, who was hot off The Lord of the Rings, as well as the young rising Mamma Mia! star Amanda Seyfried in the respective roles of the handsome scoundrel who comes to work at the hotel and the young maid Albert misguidedly tries to marry. Yet, by the time the financing came through, they were unavailable.
"I met Orlando and talked to him about this for the first time after his first Lord of the Rings movie," Close recalls. "He was a boy then and was much younger. I really have Orlando to thank, and we thank both of them in our credits, because after they signed on we were able to get interest from other people. They could have easily said, 'No, are you kidding?' But they didn't."
Aaron Johnson ultimately replaced Bloom while Australia's Mia Wasikowska took over the role vacated by Seyfried. "I play a young maid at the hotel and it's the weirdest love triangle ever," Wasikowska chortles. "It's really funny. It's quite twisted. It's certainly an original film; there's nothing I can compare it to. Glenn is fantastic. When you're acting with her, she makes you better. She's really tough in the best way. She's just one of those people you want to be better around."
Even if the astounding success of Downton Abbey has made the period drama popular again, Albert Nobbs, with all its gender confusion, is far more subversive.
"Very subversive!" Close cackles. "There are scenes where you don't really know what you are looking at. Gender actually becomes kind of irrelevant.
"A woman was paid to raise her and she was never told her who she was. This was probably at the orders of the family, which was very upper class," explains Close. "Then she lost that woman who was her connection to the world. She had no prospects and was brutally raped. That is a highly traumatic thing to happen - you disappear and from that day on, you just keep your eyes lowered and you exist."
The story appealed to Close not only because of its feminism and humanism but because it deals heavily with class. Coming from a blue-blooded New England family, she grew up on a 200-hectare estate, and from the age of seven within the strictures of the Moral Re-Armament (MRA) movement her doctor father belonged to. During her childhood he was busy setting up a clinic in the Belgian Congo and Glenn was sent to school in Switzerland and then to boarding school Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. At a time when her future theatre colleagues were protesting against the Vietnam War and for civil rights, Close was part of an MRA singing group called Up With People and spent five years singing at military bases and eventually married the group's lead guitarist. When she was 22 they divorced and Close failed to make any of her subsequent relationships endure, until her current happy marriage to biotechnology entrepreneur David Shaw.
I had previously met the actor more than a decade ago for 102 Dalmatians, the sequel to the hit 101 Dalmatians, in which she played Cruella De Vil. A single parent since her daughter, Annie, was two, she seemed less comfortable with herself and her work, often sacrificing jobs to focus on raising her daughter.
As she grew up, Annie went everywhere with her mum, including film sets in our part of the world. She starred in Bruce Beresford's 1997 feature Paradise Road, and in the 2001 TV version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific.
Now Annie has flown the coop and she wants to be an actor, like her mum.
"I don't understand why some actors don't want their kids to become involved in a profession they completely love themselves," says Close. "I'm thrilled." Might she write something for her? "I would love to write something for her and, in fact, that is a great idea."
Four years ago, Close was quoted as saying that life begins at 60. Does she still think that?
"I think maybe I should rephrase that to, 'You start growing up when you are 60.' The irony is that then you start getting old really fast! Ha ha ha!"
Close admits to being completely happy in her personal life and adds that it's probably no coincidence that her career is going strong, even though Damages may soon be a thing of the past.
"I took the series because at that point my husband and I lived in New York," she says of her former life in their apartment in the historic Beresford building on Central Park. "I thought it would be a good time because we both would be working. We have since decamped to Maine, so it's a little more difficult."
At the time of our interview Close was feeling a sense of closure, in terms of movies at least.
"I feel no pressure to do anything else," she says. "I don't have any plans. I know I want to be with my husband. I would like to try writing. I think it's kind of presumptuous, but it would be fun to try."
Of course, just as she says Damages season five could be her last (it's currently filming with Ryan Phillippe as a Julian Assange-type character), Thérèse Raquin, another long-gestating movie to which Close has been attached, has received the green light and is set to film in the spring. An erotic thriller, it stars another awards contender, Elizabeth Olsen, as a young woman who's pushed into an unhappy marriage by Close's overbearing aunt.
Given that Close also recently made the cover of The Hollywood Reporter, together with awards contenders Michelle Williams, Carey Mulligan, Charlize Theron, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis, she's sitting very pretty.
It's never too late to make a comeback, and let's face it, Close never does things by halves.
• 1982, The World According to Garp - Best Supporting Actress
• 1983, The Big Chill - Best Supporting Actress
• 1984, The Natural - Best Supporting Actress
• 1987, Fatal Attraction - Best Actress
• 1988, Dangerous Liaisons - Best Actress
THEATRE AWARD WINS
• 1984, The Real Thing - Best Actress in a Play
• 1992, Death and the Maiden - Best Actress in a Play
• 1995, Sunset Boulevard - Best Actress in a Musical
Drama Desk Awards
• 1995, Sunset Boulevard - Outstanding Actress in a Musical
• 1982, The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs - Best Actress in a Play
TELEVISION AWARD WINS
• 1995, Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story -Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie
• 2004, The Lion in Winter - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Miniseries or Television Film); Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress (Miniseries or Television Film)
• 2008, Damages - Emmy Award for Best Actress (Drama Series); Golden Globe Award for Best Actress (Television Series Drama)
• 2009, Damages - Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series; Satellite Award for Best Actress (Television Series Drama)
FROM: Sunday Life