ILLUSTRATION BY HANOCH PIVEN
During her 36-year career in film, Glenn Close has been nominated for six Academy Awards and never won, making her the most nominated living actor without an Oscar on her mantel. Not that she cares. She’s won three Tonys and three Emmys, starred in her pick of Broadway shows (Sunset Boulevard), TV series (Damages), and films (Fatal Attraction, anyone?), and raised a daughter who’s now following in her footsteps.
Fans, though, feel she’s overdue. The Hollywood awards predictor site Gold Derby recently polled users on who is most deserving of an Oscar in 2019, and Close won by a landslide. And it just so happens that her new movie, The Wife, based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer, offers her best performance in years. Close plays Joan Castleman—the wife of Joe, a newly minted Nobel Prize–winning novelist—who gave up her own promising writing career to support her husband’s. But after 40 years of standing by as critics and fans fawn over Joe, Joan can no longer hold back the secrets and lies that form the building blocks of their marriage and his career.
Close gives a master class in subtlety, letting her ice-blue eyes and pinched-lip smiles speak volumes, and she so seamlessly toggles from livid to loving that you can’t help but feel her complex pain. Though the film is set in 1992 and features flashbacks in the 1950s—long before #MeToo and The Women’s March—it’s very much of the moment. “I think it’s really interesting because this is a pre-feminist woman,” says Close, calling from her home in Bedford, New York, on an early summer morning. “So it’s actually a portrait of a woman just at the beginning of her awakening as far as how to use her powers as a woman.”
Close will continue to wield her own powers next month, when she stars in Mother of the Maid at the Public Theater in New York. The play, written by The Wife screenwriter Jane Anderson, tells the story of Joan of Arc’s mother, Isabelle, whose faith is tested when her daughter becomes a saint-in-the-making. Further on the horizon—“knock on wood,” says Close—is the long-time-coming screen adaptation of the musical Sunset Boulevard, which she starred in twice on Broadway. “It’s glorious,” she says, “because it demands everything”—exactly what Close has given in every role she’s tackled.
The timing of the release for The Wife—when women’s issues are front and center— couldn’t be better.
It’s incredible. And I think that really will add to the conversation in a very good way because we need to be aware of what has come before. You have to remember this [film] is before feminism, really, so she had all of these role models of women who did not do what she wants to do. Now we’ve gone through feminism, and I think the #MeToo movement is much deeper, and I choose to believe we’re not going to go back to the way it was before.
I think it’s easy for audiences to see themselves in Joan and Joe.
I do too! When I sat in Toronto [at the film’s premiere] last year and experienced the response of the audience, I thought, Wow, there’s really something in this movie that touches a very profound place. And it wasn’t just women; it was men, too. As good as it is, the book has a whole other tone—a great ironic sense of humor. But I think the husband is painted in the book a little bit more black and white, and I personally don’t find that interesting. I think people exist in the gray areas of life.
Do you think this kind of relationship still happens today?
Oh my god, yes. I don’t think it has to be that she is a Nobel Prize–level writer, but I think there are women in all kinds of situations where they’ve just been programmed to be secondary to their partner and therefore never really fulfilled themselves. I mean, my mom was like that—a very, very intelligent and artistically inclined woman who was always supporting my dad, and he kind of demanded it and never helped her develop. I think she got angry, but she would not go against her marriage vows. But at the end of her life she said, “I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing.” Of course, you always say, “But look at the family you raised.” But I think with people, what feeds your soul is to be able to express yourself in some creative way, whether it be in business or art or whatever. And without that, we always feel that there’s something missing.
You had your daughter, Annie, at the height of your career, in the year after Fatal Attraction was released. Did you feel guilt about being a working parent?
Oh yes, to be a working parent, you’re cut absolutely in half. And my daughter at a very early age said to me, “I want you; I want all of you.” I think even if you’re home but you’re working on something, they sense your distraction, and they want all of you. And I think that’s where the son in this movie has suffered—not just from the narcissism of his father but also from the feeling of being neglected by his mother.
Annie plays the younger version of your character in the movie. She’s wonderful.
Oh, thank you. Yes, I’m very proud of her.
You didn’t have scenes together, but I’m guessing you worked together to create the character?
Yes, very much so. In fact, she’s the one who kind of establishes the character. She joined meetings around the table about the character to decide what aspects are really important—her assuredness about her writing and her shyness and also the fact that she really was in love with Joe and how it became mixed up with not wanting to lose him and bucking up his sense of self-worth. And I think women do that all the time: “You’re OK! No, you can do it!” [Laughs]
What feeds your soul is to be able to express yourself in some creative way.
You and Annie both started your film careers slightly late. Do you feel like that’s safer somehow, because you know yourself better?
I think it might help in surviving. She’s very passionate about what she feels could be her contribution. Also, the aspect of being the daughter of a famous person and trying to do the same thing as that person—that takes a lot of guts. Because I think a lot of time those kids are judged much more harshly. She’s resilient, and whatever she ends up doing in life, I think she’ll have the resilience and humor and the ability to deal with it. And she’s getting married this summer, which is really exciting. I’m thrilled for that.
What’s the best advice you’ve given her on marriage?
She’s had my mistakes to learn from! [Laughs] That’s the best lesson!
Well, is there any advice you wish someone had told you?
I think it all comes down to how you feel about yourself, doesn’t it? Just try to know yourself. There’s a friend of mine out in Montana who said that if you’re compelled to give and give and give, then you’ll be empty, and you’ll feel exhausted and discouraged. Really, the way we should look at it is: You deal with the world with the overflow. Which means that you have to keep your own cup full; you don’t empty yourself out. You keep your own cup full, and you deal with the world with the overflow. That really spoke to me. Because that means it’s OK, and it’s really important to take time out for yourself.
It’s all right to let yourself be a priority.
Yeah, but also take time to think, take time to read, take time to just say, “I’m going to do this,” or “I want to go on a walk.” I think we’re so compelled now to succeed one way or another that we are neglecting ourselves in the process.
Knowing oneself fits in with BringChange2Mind, the organization that you cofounded with your sister Jessie, which focuses on ending the stigma of mental illness. Why do you think there is still such stigma?
Because people still aren’t talking about it enough. I’ve been invited to do a two-hour-long town hall on CNN with Anderson Cooper, who lost a brother to suicide, [that will air] just before Anthony Bourdain’s last episode. My sister tried to kill herself— twice actively, and [a third time when] she stopped herself. So it’s something I’ve learned about since we became articulate and communicative about what was going on in our own family. And I really think this stigma will be defeated when people have the courage to talk about it. I think this thing that CNN is doing has to happen on a regular basis. There are so many entertainers and so many sports figures who are starting to come out and talk about their struggles, and it’s the most empowering thing to hear someone else’s story. Then what we really need is to get enough of us together to get a real groundswell, but we need the funding so that there are enough places for people to get help. I think we have to not just pay lip service but really start fighting for what this country needs to really take care of the people who are struggling with mental illness.
You had a pretty difficult childhood. When you were 7, your parents joined Moral Re-Armament, a spiritual cult headquartered in Switzerland, and you spent the next 15 years of your life in it. How did that shape you, and how did you let it not control you?
Ooh, that’s been a hard journey. I had no tools. And about three or four years ago, I actually sought out a childhood trauma person because I was so tired of being triggered by things, by behaviors that had been [ingrained in me] from my childhood. And that was incredibly helpful to me, really empowering. But at my age, those [behaviors] are still so powerful. It’s like a template laid down in your childhood, and it can be very destructive—certainly to human relationships. So, yeah. Awareness is everything. And why I went to a trauma specialist is I wanted to know how it affects me now and how to have it not affect me. You could say I am a very late bloomer [laughs], but the thing is, I’ve never felt better in my life—in my own skin, comfortable, and OK with saying, “No, that won’t bring me joy, so I don’t think I’ll do that, thank you very much!”
How did you find the strength to walk away from the cult?
I couldn’t bear it any longer. There are details that we can’t go into in an interview like this, but it would have been considered an act of rebellion. And I said I wanted to go to college, and they frowned on that because it takes you out of the group and makes you into an individual. That’s what an education does! [Laughs] So, yeah, I was able to do that, and I went to William & Mary, and really my growth as an adult began.
You’ve talked a lot about your professor there, Dr. Howard Scammon. Sounds like he was instrumental in your career.
Dr. Scammon, yes! But also, when I was at William & Mary and had become known in the town and the college for the stuff I had done in theater, he came up to me and said, “Remember, you’re a big fish in a very little pond.” [Laughs] That was really good.
Sounds like he kept you grounded. But, of course, you’re still a big fish. Actresses often say there are no good parts for women over 30, but you never seem to run out of good roles.
I’m open, and I have been from the very beginning of my career. I did television right after my first movie, and I was told it would ruin my career. And my answer has always been, “Well, the English do it, why can’t we?” [Laughs] I think I’ve gone where the writing is. If it’s independent film, I’ll go there. If it’s stage, I’ll go there. And if it’s television, I’ll go there. Damages is some of the best writing I’ve ever had consistently in my career. So I think I haven’t put myself into a box.
You do have a defining role, though—Alex in Fatal Attraction. Is it odd, more than 30 years later, to still be known best for that?
I’m lucky to have had a role like that—and to have “bunny boiler” now in our lexicon! [Laughs] I think it’s OK. It’s OK to scare men.