Close Encounter: Her Greatest Role Yet?
BY Ari Karpel
January 13 2012 5:00 AM ET
"She doesn't allow herself to be treated the way women are usually treated," says Glenn Close about Patty Hewes, the ferociously vindictive lawyer she has played on TV's Damages for the last four years. But she could just as easily be describing any number of iconic film, TV, and stage roles she's embodied in her more than 35-year career.
Complicated female characters have been Close's stock-in-trade since her first film role. In 1982's The World According to Garp, she played a World War II-era feminist who becomes a single mother more out of defiance than circumstance. In the ensuing decades there have been Fatal Attraction's Alex Forrest, Dangerous Liaisons' Marquise de Merteuil, Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond. Add to that abbreviated list Albert Nobbs, the title character of a film Close spent the last 15 years bringing to the screen. She also cowrote the script and wrote the lyrics to "Lay Your Head Down," a song that Sinéad O'Connor sings over the film's closing credits.
Nobbs is a complicated fellow. First off, she's not a fellow. Which makes it the kind of career-defining role that Oscar nominations are made of. The five-time nominee (who has earned three Tonys, three Emmys, and two Golden Globes — and recently was nominated for another Golden Globe, for Albert Nobbs, and two SAG Awards, for Nobbs and Damages) is rendered nearly unrecognizable as a woman in 19th-century Dublin who was orphaned as a child and sexually abused as a teenager. She dresses as a man in order to get higher-paying work, avoid sexual harassment, and become independent. And yet Close's transformation is miraculously free of showy, look-at-me flourishes. Instead, her performance is understated and nuanced, true to the soft-spoken character.
Nobbs doesn't easily fit into our modern notions of gender and sexuality. First of all, Close urges viewers not to call Nobbs a man. "I think of her as a she, for one thing," scolds Close. "I never think of her as a he. Talking to people who have seen the movie, they always say 'he' [because] that's what she looks like. I mean, that's what she hopes you would do."
Close doesn't consider Nobbs a lesbian or a transgender man. She sees her as, like Julie Andrews's character in Victor/Victoria, putting on a costume for a purpose, cross-dressing as an act of survival and economic necessity rather than out of an expression of attraction or gender identity.
"I don't think Albert thinks in those terms," says Close. "Albert is an innocent, and you bring your baggage to somebody like that. How you react to someone like Albert shows more about you than it does about her."