When a big studio decides it has a shot at Oscars, it often rolls out a spectacular Academy Award campaign with a budget rivaling that of the actual film. In the case of the $8 million independent movie Albert Nobbs, Glenn Close — star, writer and producer — is the campaign. Her Oscar nomination for Best Actress and Golden Globes noms for her and her co-star Janet McTeer are helping to get the word out. But a lot depends on Close being available to tell the story of her 30-year labor of love despite the time demands of her TV series, the DirectTV legal drama Damages. Close spoke about her journey with AwardsLine contributor Diane Haithman.
AWARDSLINE: Let’s see — a period drama adapted from a play, set in Dublin, in which you portray a woman living as a man. Obviously this is a “special needs” project. Doing so much press must be a huge demand on you as a working actress.
GLENN CLOSE: I’ve tried to show up for as much as I can. It’s just amazing to me that I finally got it made. I must have walked into every single office of every single independent film company that existed in the past 30 years.
AWARDSLINE: One can imagine some of the things that must have been said in some of those meetings. What kind of reaction did you get? Just … huh?
CLOSE: [Laughs] Yeah, I go into an office, looking like me, and say: “Well, I’m gonna be a butler, and then I die.” It was a pretty hard sell. And I never resented that. I’ve always felt that an independent film is a film that almost doesn’t get made. When we went on our foray into Dallas, we found John and Cami Goff; John Goff is a very, very successful real estate guy, and he just liked what he heard and believed in the team. I told him: “You are like the one pearl in a vast beach of white stones.”
AWARDSLINE: How did you end up fundraising in Dallas?
CLOSE: Bonnie Curtis, who is our fierce and wonderful co-producer, is from Dallas, and we decided to go to Dallas because there is money in Dallas. And her aunt and uncle have a wonderful house and decided to host a dinner. I think there were only six couples chosen, and they know why they were being invited. We smuggled in my wonderful friend Paul Bogaev, who was the conductor of Sunset Boulevard and at the end of the dinner, I sang for my supper, I sang them something from Sunset Boulevard. I learned what skin in the game means. I felt that I couldn’t ask people to risk in this movie unless I was willing to risk myself. So against everything you’ve ever heard, never put money in a movie, I put quite a bit of my own money in it.
AWARDSLINE: Is this Oscar campaign making it difficult to maintain the elements of surprise?
CLOSE: We thought about that, trying to keep Janet quiet, but ultimately we came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter. There have been instances even when people know she’s in the movie, they don’t know that that’s actually her until she reveals her incredible breasts.
AWARDSLINE: Is there a real historical precedent for women having made the choice to live as men?
CLOSE: I think there really is. There are a lot of women who have done it either to survive, or to be able to have experiences they wouldn’t be able to have if they were women. There are close to 1,000 women who fought as soldiers in the Civil War.
AWARDSLINE: Certainly there’s a precedent for Oscar-winning roles that are gender benders — Hilary Swank, and Linda Hunt being the first woman to win an Oscar® for portraying a man, Billy Kwan. Would you ever want to play a male character — not a woman who is masquerading as a man?
CLOSE: To actually play a man? I don’t know if that would interest me so much. And I don’t know that I would be particularly convincing. But there are more parts for men. It would be kind of fun, now that you mention it. If you had a great collaboration with someone like [Albert Nobbs makeup artist] Matthew Mungle, and [hair stylist] Lorraine Glynn Whelan, you could make a career out of playing men and nobody finding out.
AWARDSLINE: It took 30 years to get this film made. It would have been a very different movie if you had played Albert when you were a thirtysomething actress.
CLOSE: Because so much time had gone by, Rodrigo [García, the film’s director] organized a screen test for me. Matthew Mungle did the first whack at the nose shape and the ear shape, and played around with the little plumpers that you put in the mouth. I always thought my face would be a burden in this movie, that the whole exercise would be to forget that it was me. It was during that test that there was a moment when I looked up and it was not me anymore. I do think the years that have gone by only make the character more poignant.
(Photo of Glenn Close at Oscar nominees luncheon by Getty Images)