Arts

Glenn Close on her acclaimed role in The Wife: I'm a very, very, very late bloomer

Glenn Close's portrayal of the self-effacing spouse of a Nobel Prize-winning author in The Wife is garnering rave reviews. And, as Georgia Humphreys hears, it's also a role that reflects the sea change happening in Hollywood

Glenn Close as Joan Castleman in The Wife

SIX: That's how many times Glenn Close has missed out on winning an Oscar. But maybe with The Wife, based on the novel of the same name by Meg Wolitzer, the Connecticut-born actress will finally get the recognition she deserves.

The drama, directed by Bjorn Runge, sees a captivating Close (71) play Joan, the apparently-perfect wife of a great American novelist.

It's notable how much Hollywood, and the world, has changed since the film was first shown at the Toronto Film Festival last September, what with the allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and the Me Too movement that has followed.

"Initially, I think we represented why Me Too was necessary, because it took 14 years for a movie called The Wife to be made, written by two women, and produced by women," reflects Close, whose first silver screen role was 1982 comedy-drama, The World According To Garp. "But now, it represents what I hope will be many more projects in the future."

The Wife follows the couple as they travel to Stockholm, where the self-effacing Joan dutifully stands by Joe (Jonathan Pryce) as he's awarded the Nobel Prize.

Through telling flashbacks, we see how ambitious young Joan (played by Close's own daughter, 30-year-old Annie Starke) was, before she became a hardened wife with a measured exterior.

Close has been applauded not only for the incredible stillness in the role, but also her portrayal of Joan losing control of her emotions, as she starts to question her life choices.

How does she feel about people calling the performance a career high?

"I am astounded," she says. "This was another independent film that I did and it was a wonderful, wonderful process. I get great joy out of the process – what happens afterwards, I have no control over. I pick stories very, very subjectively."

She then quips: "They say that it's the high of the career... what does that mean, it's all downhill from now?"

But she's clearly proud of the role.

"At this point in my career, to have a high is fantastic."

Many of Close's most memorable characters have been villainous: Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmatians, bunny-boiler Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction and a manipulative widow in Dangerous Liaisons.

Asked what appeals to her when she reads a script, she says: "I've played a number of women that people say, 'She's just a bitch'.

"I'm interested in those kinds of characters because I feel that we all exist in a grey world – we don't exist in a black-and-white world, though a lot of people like to make us think that we do.

"So it's the grey areas, what's underneath, that creates the 'why' of somebody's behaviour. That is fascinating to me."

Back to the Me Too movement – and the question of whether change is actually happening, or whether it's just a conversation about a change, is put to Close.

"I think it's a heightened conversation... Things are happening in the courts, and that ultimately, on certain levels, is where permanent change comes.

"What's really heartening to me is the level of awareness that the Me Too movement is creating, about what is not acceptable any more. It brings up a very, very complex set of questions about how you deal with behaviour. How do you compare someone's behaviour with someone else's?

"What will become the norm – we don't know that yet, and if it's the tipping point, I don't know. We've had these points before where people hoped it was the tipping point. I think it's an internal battle."

She calls herself "a quiet fighter", who doesn't feel comfortable getting up on a soap box, as such.

"There's certain things that I think are important to show up for if you possibly can," Close says. "I went door-to-door with my sister about a woman who was running for Congress out of Montana."

She continues: "It's a tricky situation when you're perceived as a celebrity and somehow people have tried to take your voice away because you're a celebrity and they try to say that everyone thinks a certain way.

"I got very disillusioned by politics, and now it's hard to not continue that. I wasn't showing up for political things the way I did at one point, after my daughter was born. But it's tremendously important. I just want to be totally authentic in however I express myself."

Close certainly isn't keen on the term "celebrity". "[In] our country, there's a worship of them that is just so over the top," she says. "I think I've gotten my celebrity because I've done work consistently over 42 years that people have been interested in.

"When I started, the red carpet was just something you walked over... When I look back at pictures of what I wore for the opening of The World According To Garp, it was my own clothes out of my closet. It's totally changed."

Close remains wonderfully un-diva like today, solidified by her suggestion for what everyone should wear on the red carpet: black pyjamas.

"Why not?!" she exclaims. "Be comfortable. Don't wear five-inch heels and be in absolute screaming agony by the time you're at the end of the carpet."

She likes to imagine there will be a time when she doesn't act – there are other things she'd like to do, like writing – but she always gets "seduced by stories".

"I love what I do. I'm still very very intrigued and inspired. But I have to say, I have had very few times to just go on vacation. It's kind of pathetic."

Regardless of what Close decides to do next, she certainly agrees the industry is less cruel than it used to be to older women.

And she, for one, is embracing the ageing process.

"I'm a very, very, very late bloomer," she says. "So, I'm having a very good time at this time in my life."

:: The Wife is released in cinemas tomorrow. Read the film review in our Friday Scene section.

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