Back in the ’80s, Glenn Close became the original “bunny boiler.” As Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction, she may have cooked up a child’s pet, but for Close, that character was a lot more complex than the crazy woman scorned that audiences often perceived. However, a generation of gleeful misogynists seized so hard upon that rabbit-based terminology that it made it into the Collins dictionary as, “A person, especially a woman, who is considered to be emotionally unstable and likely to be dangerously vengeful.”
“Fatal Attraction was a movie that touched a very, very raw nerve between the sexes,” Close says now. But in the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, it could certainly stand a female-centric remake, and who better to spearhead that than Close herself?
“We’ve gone back to Paramount to find out, because they own the title,” she says. “I think they’ve had some things in the works, but I do think it would be interesting to take the exact story basically, and do it from her point of view. I think she’d become a tragic figure, rather than perceived as an evil figure.”
In the fashion typical of female roles back then, Alex was often seen as a one-note character; nothing more than a ‘crazy’ woman. “It’s so easy to make people who probably have one mental disorder diagnosis the antagonist, to make them the bad people,” Close says. “And it just feeds into the stigma. But I do think it would be interesting. It would be very upsetting to do it from her point of view.”
From the 1982 start of her film career, playing the inimitable and unconventional Jenny Fields in The World According to Garp, to her most recent incarnation as unrecognized author Joan Castleman in Björn Runge’s The Wife, Close has fought to bring nuance and complexity to onscreen women, smashing through accepted female tropes of ingenue, spouse or mother.
1988’s Dangerous Liaisons saw Close playing the powerful and complex, scheming but brilliant Marquise de Merteuil. But while Close counts this among her favorite roles to date, it’s in spite of the fact that once again, the Marquise was often perceived in a reductive way. As Close says, “She was a woman who is considered evil when she was just surviving, using the same survival tactics that men used in that society.”
In The Wife, Close’s Joan Castleman has effectively won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but it’s her husband’s name that’s stamped on the award, since she has spent her life ghostwriting his oeuvre. Now, in what feels like a righteous denouement for subjugated women everywhere, Close has picked up a Globe, a Critics’ Choice and a SAG award for the role.
The tear-soaked appreciation of the crowd during that first win at the Globes is testament to the resonance of Close’s portrayal, and to the meaning behind it—an emotional response that kicked up a few notches as she gave her acceptance speech. It was the speech that really finished people off. As she urged us neither to allow ourselves to be made smaller, nor give up on our secret dreams, the entire Globes audience, and indeed people watching the world over, seemed to nod in approval and recognition.
“I’m floored by how wide my Golden Globe acceptance speech went,” Close says, “because for me it was truly a spontaneous moment, and I’ll never be able to recapture that. So, I think, probably that’s one of the reasons why people were moved by it; it really came spontaneously from my heart, thinking about my mom. I’ve been amazed. People have come up to me in airports and on the street and thanked me for that speech.”
Her speech touched on how her mother wasn’t recognized for her own creative brilliance, but while her mother’s life might be thematically in line with what happened to Joan, Close didn’t actually base the character on her, she says. “I don’t work that way. I try to create an imaginative life for the character and not base it on, ‘My mother did this, so I’m going to do that,’ but watching my mother in my life, that’s just become part of my behavioral DNA. I mean, that’s what we saw. So, yes, the scenes where she’s holding his coat, or when she’s helping him with meds. Well, my dad was a doctor, so a lot of times [it was] the other way around, but she was there doing that.”
As she’s weighed awards in her hand these past few weeks, her grandmother’s ring has been on her finger as a symbol of all those who didn’t get the chance to stand up and be counted. Her grandmother wanted to be an actress, but was never allowed to try.
And long before she was the multiple Tony-winning theater actress she would become, Close wore another of her grandmother’s rings to an early meeting with Andrew Lloyd Webber. “I remember sitting on my bed in the hotel before I was taken over to Andrew’s house and thinking, well, my life will either go in one direction, or in another direction, but I have her ring. It’s a very powerful talisman.”
Having begun her career in the theater at 27, she dipped into television, which she would of course return to later with, among other things, a double Emmy-winning role in Damages. Close was 35 when she starred in Garp, then came further critically-acclaimed work with The Big Chill and The Natural. In 1985, she experienced poor treatment from a producer on the set of Jagged Edge, who allegedly criticized her appearance in comparison to that of Jane Fonda who’d formerly been cast in the role. But that situation seems only to have shown Close’s true mettle.
“I think it might’ve also been the same producer who one time was standing right in my eye line,” she says. “At one point in that movie, I was in an office set with a phone on the desk. And during a setup, I picked up the phone, and then said to this producer, ‘Oh, it’s for you.’ And he automatically went and took the phone as though it was a real phone, as if there was actually a message on it. So, I got him back in a subtle way. I think I’m very fierce in work when I’m fighting for a character. I’ve never hesitated to stand up for the character however I can. Life is different, but in work, I have that ferocity.”
That ferocious defense of her art has led her to pick smaller films at times, based simply on a single scene that she wanted to play. While this was not at all the basis for how she chose The Wife when she first signed on five years ago, there were scenes in that script she felt so compelled by, she simply had to do them, she says. She singles out a favorite as the scene where Jonathan Pryce as Joan’s husband is accepting the Nobel Prize that should have been hers. There’s a long, long moment when the camera stays mostly on Close’s face, which remains almost expressionless, yet seems to radiate the white heat of suppressed rage. The scene was, for her, “quite extraordinary,” she says. “That whole sequence to me was very enticing and challenging. There are so many good scenes in this film that I have.”
With seven Oscar noms behind her, Close is now officially the most-nominated living person in Academy history who’s never actually won for acting. But, it’s not the awards or personal accolades that she’s here for exactly; it’s to truly fulfill her artistry in her work. If and when she stands on a podium as a winner, she stands for those whose dreams didn’t come to fruition; those who find themselves largely unrecognized and unrewarded.
“Both my grandmothers,” she says. “One had a beautiful singing voice and could have had a career as a singer. My maternal grandmother would have been, I think, a phenomenal actress. Neither of them were allowed to do that. It was because it was unthinkable. My mom was a wonderful writer; she was a wonderful artist. My older sister Tina is an untrained, self-taught, incredible artist. My brother is a magician with metal—he has a machine shop and he probably could have been an industrial engineer. None of us were mentored. My younger sister Jessie is a writer. So, I do feel, if you talk about personal fulfillment and a sense of feeling that you have had the chance to contribute in a positive way to society, yes, I think I’m carrying the unmet dreams of many people.”
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