Vol. LXIII, No. 8
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Speaking about her life and career in a lecture last Thursday entitled “Are You Who We Think You Are?” at McCosh Hall on the University campus, Glenn Close quipped that the title query “is a very tricky question to ask somebody, especially someone who has spent the last 30 years pretending to be someone else.”
Assuring the audience that she is not any of the characters that she has played, Ms. Close revealed that in order to do a role justice, “actors have to love their characters unconditionally.”
Ms. Close’s first role for the silver screen was that of Jenny Fields, the mother of the title character in The World According to Garp. “She was the first of a number of characters that totally intimidated me,” Ms. Close said. “I was a child, and she was the brilliant champion of women.”
Getting beyond the initial barrier of shyness with the character was described as “good training” for Ms. Close. She channelled some of the qualities of her maternal grandmother to get into the persona of Jenny.
In fact, both her grandmothers played an enormous role in her life and “remain vivid memories,” Ms. Close noted. Recalling “a speckled piece of film from the 1920s” showing her maternal grandmother dancing the Charleston in snowshoes outside during the winter, she said that her grandmother had wanted to be actress, but it “wasn’t allowed” at the time.
Growing up on her grandfather’s farm in Connecticut, she spent much of her time pretending to be a horse. The family’s brown Shetland pony was “my earliest muse,” Ms. Close said with a laugh.
When she was seven years old, Ms. Close said, “The world as I knew it changed forever.” Her parents were “seduced into a cult group,” the Moral Re-Armament (MRA), and she was “swallowed up by the MRA for 15 years,” during which her “imagination turned inward.”
At 22, Ms. Close left to attend college at William and Mary, and said “walked straight into the theater department and auditioned for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.” So began her enchantment with acting on stage, something that remains a favorite for Ms. Close even after having acted for movies and television.
Playing Alex Forrest, the protagonist in Fatal Attraction, involved some research. Ms. Close wanted to find out why Alex might act the way she did, and sent the scripts to various psychologists in order to “find the truth” of her character. They responded that it was likely that Alex was a victim of early incest.
Ms. Close lamented that “Alex became the most hated woman in America, and even the feminists hated her,” underscoring that “I wasn’t playing a generality or a cliche; I was playing a very specific, deeply disturbed, fragile human being who I had grown to love.”
The original ending of Fatal Attraction, during which Alex kills herself and the male protagonist Dan Gallagher is blamed for the murder, upset test audiences so much that six months after the last filming, the director Adrian Lyne decided to shoot a different ending, which Ms. Close characterized as a “terrible betrayal” of the person she had portrayed. She acknowledged that the audience wanted a sense of catharsis by the end of the movie, and thus she agreed to the new ending.
Throughout her career, Ms. Close said that she would call her father, who was a doctor, with questions pertaining to the characters or the medical accuracy of the scripts. In the case of the ending of Fatal Attraction, “I called my dad and asked, ‘If someone is drowning in a bathtub, what happens?’”
At the end of her lecture, Ms. Close paused to pay tribute to her father, who died last month, calling him “a remarkable man, and a passionate doctor.” He practiced medicine in Congo (then Zaire) for 17 years, and then in rural Wyoming. “He went on his last house call three days before he died,” she said.
Responding to questions from the audience after the lecture, Ms. Close said she doesn’t have a favorite role, but rather that “they are all with me. All of them have some element for me that I love.” She laughed, saying “I feel like I’m the mother of a lot of children, and I really can’t pick one over the other.”
Ultimately, for Ms. Close, acting is “all about connecting. That is what an actor lives for. Our art is two eyes looking into two eyes with the world in between.”
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