Glenn Close: An actress who spends time in her head

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Despite Oscar chatter about her acting in The Wife, Glenn Close does not allow herself to get caught up in the buzz

NEW YORK • It is not even September and already there is Oscar chatter about Glenn Close's riveting performance in The Wife.

Adapted by writer Jane Anderson from Meg Wolitzer's 2003 novel and directed by Swedish film-maker Bjorn Runge, the film centres on the relationship between Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce), a famous - and famously philandering - novelist, and his supportive yet equally secretive spouse, Joan, a thwarted writer.

The Guardian has described Close's portrayal of Joan as "unreadably brilliant".

So could this be the year for the 71-year-old Close, a six-time Oscar nominee who has never taken home the Academy's top acting prize?

But she will not allow herself to get caught up in the buzz.

"I don't believe anything's going to happen until it happens," she said.

The movie opens just as Joe is about to receive news that he has been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. It follows the Castlemans to Stockholm, accompanied by their adult son (Max Irons), a writer struggling to emerge from his father's long shadow, and Joe's unauthorised biographer (Christian Slater), a literary sleuth who is hoping to dig up dirt on his elusive subject.

Before it is all over, long-buried skeletons will be exhumed and cliches overturned.

Here are excerpts of a conversation with Close.

In a time of the #MeToo movement and increasing awareness of gender inequity in Hollywood, how does this film speak to the current cultural moment?

Joan is a woman who stays with an abusive man. I was afraid that every young woman watching the movie is going to say: "Just leave him." That was my fear.

That they would not be able to understand the mentality, or the culture, out of which Joan's behaviour was coming.

That was what Bjorn and I worked on the most. I had to understand that mentality for myself, to act her.

The question of why women stay with their abusers - whether the abuse is physical or psychological - is not just a generational problem.

Right. The thing that was key for me, in light of the #MeToo movement, is that, at the end of the movie, Joan does get her courage up.

Her anger has finally reached the point where she is just beginning to awaken as a full person.

Before that, she is complicit.

But I have been there myself. I have been in relationships where you are in the position of wanting to buck the other person up, at your own expense, to keep him with you. It is a trade-off.

Speaking of power and powerlessness, I understand that you had final say on hiring the director for this film. Is that kind of power not unusual for a woman in Hollywood?

I do not know. In the independent film world, I do not think it is that unusual, because a lot of times, they will hang a whole film on an actor, and they hope that other people will come because they want to work with them.

I do a lot of independent films. My definition of an independent film is a film that almost does not get made. This screenplay had been floating around for more than 14 years. So our meeting was important. We met around the corner from my little Village apartment, at Cafe Cluny. We just talked.

When Joe is asked to critique the plot of his son's first short story, he offers a harsh assessment that contains an implicit critique of the film's plot: "The blowhard husband, the stoic wife with the repressed rage - I don't buy it. It's a cliche."

And yet while that capsule description neatly sums up The Wife, the film scrupulously avoids those very cliches. As an actor, does this make things so much harder?

Yes. The scene where Joe is having a heart attack was one of the hardest things, because Joe asks me, "Do you love me?" right after I have just told him, "I'm going to leave you". I remember I stopped and turned to Bjorn and said: "Does he have to say that?"

Joan is also lying through her teeth in her big scene with Slater, where his character is trying to weasel information out of her about Joe. Watching the two of you play cat-and-mouse, one could not help thinking of this line from a review of your performance in the FX series Damages: "There is no actor alive or dead as scary as a smiling Glenn Close."

(Laughing) I love that scene, because it was all a mind game.

You once said that you have always felt like an outsider looking in. What did you mean?

I am an introvert. I read the book Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking. I do not naturally gravitate towards social situations.

I do not spend a lot of time thinking about where I stand on the Hollywood ladder. Maybe it is because I have never spent time there.

I have always been someone who spends a lot of time in their head.

Acting, for me, is thought.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2018, with the headline 'An actress who spends time in her head'. Print Edition | Subscribe