Movies
2:56 pm
Wed December 21, 2011

Glenn Close Finds Chemistry In Role Of Albert Nobbs

Originally published on Wed December 21, 2011 5:14 pm

Early in her career, Glenn Close was often cast in the "good girl" role: the idyllic muse in The Natural; the understanding friend, wife and mother in The Big Chill.

Things took a sharp turn for her when she played an evil manipulator in Dangerous Liaisons and then created one of film's greatest villains in Fatal Attraction.

The range of her roles alone would make Close one of the great actors of her generation. Now, she adds another remarkable character to the list, playing the title role in the new movie Albert Nobbs.

The film debuts in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 21, and will be in theaters nationwide in January. In the film, Close brings to life the painful loneliness of a woman living as a man, desperate to find love in 19th-century Ireland.

She not only acts in the film, but also shares producing and screenwriting credits. The movie holds particular significance for Close, who wanted to make it a reality for many years.

"In 1982, I'd done mostly stage [acting], and I got cast in a wonderful adaptation of a George Moore short story called The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs," Close tells NPR's Lynn Neary. "I just thought it was a really good, albeit strange, story."

The role was challenging for Close, because Nobbs is a woman pretending to be a man. But Close says the stoicism and masked emotion that characterize Nobbs don't necessarily allude to inner turmoil. Nobbs is so invisible in society and has disappeared so completely into her disguise to avoid poverty that she doesn't know what she's missing, Close says.

"She is surviving just fine, and she just wants to keep it that way," she says. "I think for her, to have work and to be able to save up her money, which will keep her from the poorhouse or being thrown out on the street, that is what she strives for. ... This is a person who is surviving as best she can and is happy with that."

Nobbs is vastly different from Close's character Patty Hewes on the TV show Damages. Where Nobbs is more fragile and prefers to blend in with the wallpaper, Hewes acts out.

Despite their differences, Close says, the two characters are reacting in their own way to a male-dominated society where women had no rights if they lacked family, a good name and money.

"[Hewes] has come to the top in what for many centuries was considered a man's world of law," she says. "It's cost her something, but basically she's acting like a man. ... Albert is also living in a world totally run and controlled by men, and yet her way of dealing with it is disappearing, rather than exerting herself."

Close tells Neary she believes there is something chemical about the pairing of actress and character.

"I think maybe some people's chemistry matches the chemistry of these great parts better than others," she says.

Close feels she was meant to play Albert Nobbs, a character she wanted to bring to life for nearly 30 years. When she transitioned from the stage to movies, she says, she felt more uneasy about the role.

"I just didn't know how I could pull it off on film, which is much more difficult than stage because you have the close-up," she says.

During the shooting of Damages, Close flew out to California for a hair and makeup test. Before committing to make Albert Nobbs, she had to convince herself that she was right for the role.

"There came a point I looked up and it wasn't me," she says. "It was a new creature, and it was something that I could believe. ... I felt — OK, it's still fated."

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And I'm Lynn Neary. A lot of people may have forgotten this, but early in her career, Glenn Close was often cast in the good girl role - the idyllic muse in "The Natural," the understanding friend, wife and mother in "The Big Chill."

Things took a sharp turn when she played an evil manipulator in "Dangerous Liaisons" and then created one of films' great villains in "Fatal Attraction." Just the range of her roles alone would make Close one of the great actors of her generation.

Now, she adds another remarkable character to the list, playing the title role in the new movie, "Albert Nobbs." Close brings to life the painful loneliness of a woman who is living as a man in 19th century Ireland and is desperate to find love.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ALBERT NOBBS")

GLENN CLOSE: (as Albert Nobbs) I was wondering, Miss Dawes, if you would care to come out for a walk.

MIA WASIKOWSKA: (as Helen Dawes) Pardon me, Mr. Nobbs?

CLOSE: (as Albert Nobbs) I'm off duty at 3:00 tomorrow and if you're not engaged.

WASIKOWSKA: (as Helen Dawes) Engaged? No. I'm not engaged, Mr. Nobbs, but are you asking me to walk out with you?

CLOSE: (as Albert Nobbs) I am.

NEARY: Glenn Close joins us now. Welcome to the program, Ms. Close.

CLOSE: Thank you very much.

NEARY: Now, you not only act in "Albert Nobbs," but you also share producing and screenwriting credits and you've been wanting to make this film for many years. Tell us how this all began.

CLOSE: Well, back in 1982, I'd done mostly stage and I got cast in a wonderful adaptation of a George Moore short story called "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs" and I just thought it was a really good, albeit strange, story.

NEARY: It is a strange story. And your performance is sort of - it's fascinating in a couple of different ways. First of all, not only do you have to represent this woman as a believable man, but you also have to convey this kind of constant inner turmoil that this character seems to be going through and yet, there's an amazing sort of stillness and almost like a mask over her face. She tries to mask her emotions so much.

CLOSE: I actually think, when you first meet Albert, she's not in that much turmoil because she's so invisible. She has disappeared so completely into her disguise and she is surviving just fine and she just wants to keep it that way. I think, for her to have work and to be able to save up her money, which will keep her from the poor house or being thrown out on the street, that is what she strives for. So she really - she doesn't know enough about life to think, oh, I'm missing all this. I think, at that point, in a world where the poverty was unbelievably horrible, that this is a person who is surviving as best she can and is happy with that.

NEARY: There are two characters in this story who are women passing as men. Do you know how common that really was at the time?

CLOSE: I think it probably was something that happened a lot more than anybody will ever have statistics for because, certainly, in Albert's time and in the society she lived in, women had absolutely no rights and no possibilities if you had no family, no name and no money.

NEARY: The sort of fragility of this character is an interesting contrast to the other character you're so well known for right now and that's the role of Patty Hewes in "Damages." You're speaking to us from the set of "Damages" right now and I wanted to play a clip of tape from both "Damages" and from "Albert Nobbs" and then ask you about that. First from "Albert Nobbs," this is from a part of the film where Nobbs is seeking some advice about opening a store.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ALBERT NOBBS")

CLOSE: (as Albert Nobbs) I've been thinking I might purchase a little business.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ah, a business? Fancy that. What kind of a business?

CLOSE: (as Albert Nobbs) Perhaps a little shop.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Like what kind of a shop?

CLOSE: (as Albert Nobbs) I'm thinking maybe tobacco.

NEARY: That was a clip from "Albert Nobbs" and now we're going to hear a clip of Glenn Close playing Patty Hewes in "Damages." I think this clip is self-explanatory.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "DAMAGES")

CLOSE: (as Patty Hewes) Get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Patty.

CLOSE: (as Patty Hewes) I said get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You see enemies everywhere, but you can't see the people who actually care about you.

CLOSE: (as Patty Hewes) Get the hell out.

NEARY: I just couldn't help - I saw that clip of tape and I thought, what a contrast to the character she plays in "Albert Nobbs." And yet, I wondered, as an actress, is there something that those two characters - is there anything they might have in common?

CLOSE: When I hear that, I'm thinking, you know, it's really lucky that Albert Nobbs didn't have to confront Patty Hewes. No. He would have disappeared into the wallpaper very fast. I guess you could come at both of them from the angle that Patty has come to the top in what, for many, you know, centuries, is considered a man's world of law. It cost her something, but basically, she's acting like a man, you might say.

Albert is also living in a world totally run and controlled by men and yet, her way of dealing with it is disappearing rather than asserting herself.

NEARY: I also wanted to ask you about one of your famous stage roles and that's Norma Desmond in "Sunset Boulevard" because I saw a production of that fairly recently with another actress and it was a perfectly fine production. I enjoyed it, but I have to say, as soon as this actress came on the stage, I thought, oh, I wish it was Glenn Close. I just...

CLOSE: Oh.

NEARY: I felt like I could see you in that role. You know, you just seemed perfect for that part and I wonder if you think that's true, that there really are some parts that an actress really is just meant to play, that that part was made for them, really?

CLOSE: You know, I think, in some ways, there might be because Lord knows that we're chemical creatures and, certainly, the great parts are chemical, as well. And I think maybe some people's chemistry matches the chemistry of these great parts better than others.

NEARY: You think you were meant to play Albert Nobbs?

CLOSE: I do. I think I must. There was, about five years ago now, a time when, you know, it had been a long time that I was trying to make this film happen. And, you know, in the beginning, it was without question that I'd play Albert. Well, almost 30 years went by and I just didn't know how I could pull it off on film, which is much more difficult than stage because you have the close-up.

So I remember we were shooting "Damages" at the time and I flew out to California on a weekend and we had a hair and makeup test before I decided to really go all out, you know, to try to make the movie happen at that point. I had to convince myself that I was still right to play it, but what happened at that makeup test where there came a point, I looked up and it wasn't me and it was a new creature and it was something that I could believe was this character of Albert Nobbs. Then I felt, okay, it's still fated.

NEARY: My guest is Glenn Close. She stars in, produced and was writer on the film "Albert Nobbs." It debuts in limited release today and will be in theaters nationwide in late January. Her show, "Damages," can be seen on DIRECTV.

Glenn Close, it was a pleasure talking with you. Thanks so much.

CLOSE: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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