Close encounter

Actress receives Sherry Lansing Leadership Award

"You know that song?" asks Glenn Close. "It's one of the few love songs that doesn't say 'love.' " The actress is perched in her hair-and-makeup chair at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn, a stylist busy securing the ashen wig that will help transform her into Patty Hewes, the merciless litigator she plays on FX's "Damages."

We're between takes of a pivotal scene of soul-searching from the Emmy-winning drama's upcoming second season, yet Close is about to put on a different kind of show. The audience: Jake and Billy, the well-mannered terriers who rarely leave her side.

"Listen closely," Close whispers -- her voice emotes softly, even a tad plaintively, adding to its heft -- as the swinging horns of Ella Fitzgerald's "All the Things You Are" begin booming from her iPod speakers. She's dressed down in a denim jacket, light jeans and brown sandals that bob slightly as she rocks slowly on her cushy throne. "Someday I'll know that moment divine," she croons toward the dogs even as the stylist applies her lip gloss. "When all the things you are are mine."

The scene of a patrician figure entertaining her canine groupies doesn't quite jibe with the image Close has cultivated during more than 35 years delivering moments divine on stage and screen. Her creations can be ruthless. They demand attention. They might lie, cheat or even try to kill your beloved pet.

But the actual Glenn Close says she would be scared to death of most of them.

"I'm a wuss in real life," she says. "Well, no. I have a Yankee kind of resilience. 'Wuss' isn't the right word. Sensitive. Yes, I'm sensitive."

She's still not sure why -- maybe it's her piercing glare, or the Connecticut chin, or the regal intensity with which she can raise and lower that voice -- but she's always projected an air of authority onscreen.

"She's incredibly able to convey power," says Daniel Zelman, who co-created "Damages" with brothers Glenn and Todd Kessler. "When she appears onscreen, there is a force. She is not to be messed with."

That strength helped Close blaze a path from the New York stage to films at an age when some actresses already are considered over the hill. She was in her mid-30s when she scored her first screen roles: 1982's "The World According to Garp" and 1983's "The Big Chill." Her star-making turn as Michael Douglas' bunny-boiling lover in 1987's "Fatal Attraction" established her as one of only a handful of American women fit to play such commanding -- and often conniving -- figures as the Marquise de Merteuil (1988's "Dangerous Liaisons"), the U.S. vice president (1997's "Air Force One") and Cruella de Vil (1996's "101 Dalmations" and its 2000 sequel).

That she was never the romantic comedy type has actually helped her maintain a lasting career.

"I had a certain sophistication, but I didn't have classic looks," she says. "I have a very uneven face; I have to be very well lit. So I missed out on the ingenue type roles because they had passed me by before I got there."

Now 61, she also has moved past episodes of personal drama. Close spent time as a child in a cultlike group in Switzerland, endured two failed marriages and raised her daughter, Annie, largely by herself. Since 2006, however, she has settled into a comfortable Upper West Side existence with her third husband, biotech venture capitalist David Shaw.

In fact, tomorrow night -- a day before Close jets to L.A., where she will win an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama, a first in the category for Close and a basic cable series -- she'll don a strappy black dress and co-host a high-society fundraiser for the Jackson Laboratory, a genetic research nonprofit whose board members include her husband. Close has been ramping up her philanthropy work lately, especially for animal rights (she blogs at FetchDog.com), Teach for America, and Fountain House, a mental illness charity.

Indeed, with Annie off at Hamilton College and "Damages" occupying 12 hours a day for seven months a year, Close comes across as a low-key and hardworking empty nester, comfortable in the understated demeanor more often associated with British acting royalty like Emma Thompson or Judi Dench.

She has brought that ethos to her apartment, an airy corner unit above Central Park that was once owned by Rock Hudson and is now a few doors down from the Seinfelds. The place gives off a casual, domestic vibe: New Yorker magazines strewn across the coffee table; dog hair on the couch.

Hardly the image of the woman whose portrait of obsession ignited debates over sexual politics. Close says neither she nor Sherry Lansing, then head of Paramount, expected that "Attraction" would become a cultural lightning rod at a time when women -- women like Lansing, ironically -- were just cracking executive boardrooms.

"That film touched a vein of red-hot anger that had been fomenting since the onset of feminism," Close recalls. "It was like drilling a hole and Old Faithful breaks through. Feminists hated Alex Forrest because they thought I was doing a huge disservice to all single working women. But I wasn't playing all single working women. It really opened the dialogue of gender and power and sex in a very visceral, subliminally terrifying way."

In 2003, the character was named the seventh-best screen villain of all time by AFI, a fact that amuses Close.

"I never think I am a villain," she says. "Maybe that's what makes me a good one."

Her "Damages" character isn't a villain, but Patty Hewes is willing to go pretty far to get what she wants. To research the role, Close met with a handful of strong, professional women.

"Talking to a lot of these women about what it takes to get to the top of the heap, every woman admits there were times of humiliation," Close says. "You have to prove yourself over and over and over. Going into a courtroom, the only discussion for men is over what color suit and what tie they're going to wear. For women, it's skirt or slacks, high heels or no heels, how much jewelry. Everything is strategic."

Strategy has led Close to seek out good roles regardless of the medium. She did television long before other film actresses dared venture there, and she jumped into the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Sunset Boulevard" in 1993, at perhaps the height of her earning power in Hollywood.

"They thought it would ruin my film career," she says of television. "Even today there's a little, 'Well, is she doing TV because there aren't the movie roles for her?' The reality is that some of the greatest writing ever is coming out of these TV shows."

"Many use television at this point in their careers to rest," Zelman says. "Glenn is using it to challenge herself."

Challenging herself and those around her is why Close will receive this year's Sherry Lansing Leadership Award at The Hollywood Reporter's Women in Entertainment breakfast. She joins previous honorees Jodie Foster, Meryl Streep and Barbara Walters, women who have made a difference both within the industry and through their leading roles in philanthropic endeavors.

"The bottom line is, you do your work, you do what's expected of you, and you try to bring everyone else up to your level," Close says. "Lead by example."

The wig secured, Ella Fitzgerald in her head, Close is up and ready to return to work. She grabs her Razor scooter and takes off down the hall, Jake and Billy following a few steps behind.
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