'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Glenn Close ('The Wife')

The living legend of stage and screen — who is the most Oscar-nominated living performer without a win, at 0-for-6 — talks about growing up in a cult, her later-than-usual film debut and how she made up for lost time, aging in Hollywood (she went to TV and back to Broadway) and the performance that has made her, at 71, the best actress contender to beat.
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"I look at my watch every day thinking, 'Do I have enough time?'" So says Glenn Close, one of the most venerated stage and screen actresses of her generation, as we sit down at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast. "There's so much to do. It's been an incredible ride so far."

The 71-year-old has won three Tonys (for the play The Real Thing in 1983, the play Death and the Maiden in 1992 and the musical Sunset Blvd. in 1994). She has won three Emmys (for the TV movie Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story in 1995 and the drama series Damages in 2008 and 2009). And she has accumulated six Oscar nominations (for 1982's The World According to Garp, 1983's The Big Chill, 1984's The Natural, 1987's Fatal Attraction, 1988's Dangerous Liaisons and 2011's Albert Nobbs) — but she has yet to take home that little gold man, making her the most Oscar-nominated living performer, male or female, without a win.

That could all change just a few months from now, thanks to Close's remarkable performance in Bjorn Runge's The Wife, which Sony Classics acquired out of the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and began rolling out in theaters on August 17. For her portrayal of Joan Castleman, a woman who begins to reconsider her life choices after her husband of many decades, who was once her college professor, is announced as the winner of a Nobel Prize in Literature, Close has garnered some of the best critical notices of her career — and awards notices will almost surely follow.

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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below.

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Close was born and raised in Greenwich, Conn. Her parents were members of a cult, and she remained under its influence through her high school graduation and for the five years immediately thereafter, during which she traveled with its "very conservative" youth arm performing folk music. At 22, she "broke away" and enrolled at the College of William and Mary, where her love of performing was fostered by Howard Scammon, the head of the theater department, so much so that by senior year she decided to pursue acting professionally. She graduated at the start of the summer, and by the beginning of the fall she was already living in New York and working on Broadway.

It was a "great blessing," in Close's view, that she got to spend the next several years learning her craft in the theater before her work in one Broadway production, Barnum (1980-1982), brought her to the attention of the film director George Roy Hill and his casting director Marion Dougherty, leading to her first big screen acting opportunity in The World According to Garp, when she was already into her thirties. Age was less a concern of hers than transitioning media — "I was worried because I had heard how difficult the transition was from stage to film," she recalls. But she pulled it off, landing an Oscar nom and, shortly thereafter, a part in The Big Chill, during the making of which she came to better understand how to act in front of cameras.

Close made up for "lost" time in a major way. She scored Oscar noms for each of her first three films, something that only Teresa Wright and Geraldine Page had done before her, and five Oscar noms in a span of just seven years, something matched only by Greer Garson, Bette Davis, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. (In 1983 alone, she won a Tony and was nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy.) And she began playing characters unlike any Hollywood had seen before — for instance, a female lawyer in Jagged Edge (1985), and, most famously, a publishing executive spurned by her married lover in Fatal Attraction.

One thing that Close was not given the opportunity to do onscreen, prior to Fatal Attraction, was be sexy — indeed, she was seen as an "Earth mother" sort, based on the roles she had played to that point, so much so that she was only auditioned for Fatal Attraction as a professional courtesy. "Thank god I didn't know how much they didn't want me," she says now with a laugh. In the end, she proved more than capable of playing the part of Alex Forrest, and had a blast doing so. "I wasn't sure about the rabbit," she confesses. "I thought it was over the top." Six months after the film was in the can, she was asked to return to shoot a new ending. "I couldn't believe it, I thought they were joking," she says now, and she refused to return for some time. She ultimately did, though, and now concedes, "I honestly think that it would not have been the hit that it was without that new ending."

At the height of Close's movie stardom, in the aftermath of Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons and Reversal of Fortune (1990), she surprised many by returning to Broadway to reunite with Mike Nichols (they had done The Real Thing together and now were doing Death and the Maiden) and to team up with Andrew Lloyd Webber (Sunset Blvd.), and, a few years later, venturing into TV, becoming the first major female movie star to become a regular on a TV series (working twice for FX, first on The Shield, joining during its fourth season, and then on Damages, becoming, for the latter, the first best actress in a drama series Emmy winner for a cable show). She also helped to create an iconic Disney villain, voicing Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians (1996). "I'm a sucker for material," she emphasizes, noting that British thesps move between the media all the time. "I thought it was worth the risk."

In recent years, Close has waded back into film acting slowly but surely. She landed her sixth Oscar nom 23 years after her fifth for Albert Nobbs, revisiting a part she had first played 27 years earlier in an off-Broadway production. And now, for The Wife — a multi-layered film not unlike 45 Years, for which Charlotte Rampling received a best actress Oscar nom three years ago — she is on track for Oscar nom number seven, a figure attained by only nine women in history, thus far: Streep (21), Katharine Hepburn (12), Davis (10), Geraldine Page (eight), Ingrid Bergman, Cate Blanchett, Jane Fonda, Judi Dench, Garson and Kate Winslet (seven).

Of Joan Castleman, the character she plays in the film, Close says, "I found her very, very tricky." She credits Runge, a stage director who only recently began venturing into film — "standing on the shoulders of [Ingmar] Bergman," she says by way of high praise — and co-star Jonathan Pryce, for helping her to crack the character. "We spent a week around the table reading, really going through the script with a very fine-toothed comb, me asking what could seem like obvious, stupid questions, because I had to answer for myself: 'Why doesn't she leave him?' And in the answering of that question, I really felt I dug very deep into the character and got to know her and what her journey had been."

Is The Wife, a film about an older, smart, accomplished woman who was wronged by a man, but stood by him, and who eventually comes to realize her own worth and stands up for herself, particularly resonant in the aftermath of the presidential election defeat of Hillary Clinton, not to mention the onset on the #MeToo era? "Yeah," Close acknowledges. "What I love about this movie is that what we ended up creating with a very, very close collaboration of all of us, is a highly-complex, very specific relationship. And I think the more specific you can be, funnily enough, the more it can universally resonate with people — they will bring to it and take away from it whatever it is that they have in their life. But it will be an authentic resonance and an authentic emotion."