‘It’s still hard for people to accept strong women,’ says Glenn Close, sitting cross-legged in a jacket and swingy trousers, all confidence and platinum hair atop a feminine frame. The contrast between Close’s in-person commanding beauty and her fragile, homely title character in Albert Nobbs is astounding. In a Q & A before last week’s Film Independent screening at the LACMA, Close explained her long-term investment in the Nobbs story.
An investment which began in 1982 when she first played the role onstage at the Manhattan Theatre Club.
Close laughs at herself for being so ‘bad at auditioning’ back then, usually walking in with no makeup on and, once, doing a terrible Katherine Hepburn impression. When she read for the Albert Nobbs play, she stopped mid-audition and said, ‘I’m boring myself. I must be boring you, so I’m just going to go home’. And she left. They called her back because ‘at least that was interesting’, and she got the part.
Albert Nobbs is not a movie for the masses, but it is an amazing feat of acting for Close, who plays a woman in 19th century Dublin who has been living as a man as long as she can remember, which affords her more freedom and opportunity than she’d have living as a woman. Albert is a shy, determined butler at a local hotel who saves his every penny beneath a floorboard for the day he can finally buy a space and start his own tobacconist’s shop. He is well respected at the hotel, but has no real friends or family. His loneliness is palpable, and his interactions with others reflect that.
The parallel between Close and her beloved character is ‘stillness’. This singular attribute is one that many producers have latched onto. Close has a very contained energy that captivates. Before speech, before movement, she believes that watching, ‘two human eyes looking into two other human eyes’ is the best way to see ‘real human emotions in action’.
Nobbs is a prime example of the success of this acting method, and, though the story stretches a little long, it is a wonderful picture of the backward politics of this particular time and place, and of the great lengths it took to have any semblance of freedom, especially for women.
‘The process is where you get your great joy’, close says, acknowledging that she might sound pretentious. She acts not as the means to an end, but for ‘the basic process of creation; that beautiful delicate organism that is a company—you feel like you’ve been given something great’.
Watch this Sunday’s Golden Globes to see if Close wins her Albert Nobbs nomination for Best Actress in a Drama, and to see what she wears. Close admits she is having a little bit of a ‘crisis’ due to her fashion identity. At these events, she says, ‘You define yourself by what you wear, but I’m not that, so what do I wear?’ Maybe some nice pants would work.