The jilted psycho in Fatal Attraction. The saintly mom in Garp. Cruela DeVil. This month, she's the grounded vice president of the United States in Air Force One. Whether she's the calm or the storm, Glenn Close, newly 50, is a force of nature.
August 1997
By Bob Ickes
Photo Editor: Michelle Allison Fuertes

Getting Close

April in Manhattan was: wet, gray, dreary, gloomy. We're talking 101 Dalmatians gray, Sunset Boulevard gloomy. But on Tuesday, May 6, after weeks of disappointment, New Yorkers awoke to spring. Chirping birds. In‑line skaters. Pudgy weathermen squealing, "We finally beat winter!" Mother Nature, however, will not be ignored.

At noon, the sun dimmed. At 12:15, thunderclouds gathered. And at 12:25, the exact moment Glenn Close's chauffeur drove her into Manhattan, the apocalypse began. Rain squalls and lightning lashed midtown; tornadoes devastated New Jersey. But was Close ‑who, God love her, played Cruella DeVil in the live‑action 101 Dalmatians, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, and, precisely ten years ago, the unignorable Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction‑the slightest bit fazed? Get real.

Close had brought her dogs ‑she has several‑ down from her home in upstate New York for a day of public "fun" in Central Park. Surely this would convince obsessive fans (such as, say, Jessica Kinsinger of Pennsylvania, who maintains, under the nom de plume Jessica Grrrl, the Glenn Close Email‑Chat List and the Jessica Grrrl's Grooooovy Glenn Graphics) that the fur‑hag Cruella was just a "career opportunity" and in no way typical of Close's attitudes toward the animal kingdom. But with fun no longer an option, Close's dogs were whisked away and she repaired to the safe pastels of her publicist's office.

Too Close for comfort:
Actress Glenn Close in a faux-fur-trimmed. Tie-dyed velvet jacket by Barney Cheng. Hair, Marcielle; makeup, Kristofer Buckle; manicure, Deborah Lippmann. Fashion editor: Lori Goldstein.

"The weather was unexpected," she says softly, looking sideways toward a rain‑splattered window. She delivers a Dangerous Liaisons smile‑one that springs less from pleasure than from utter certainty that whatever she's saying is brutally, inescapably true. It is the smile with which she announces her Earth Mother maxims in The World According to Garp and The Big Chill, back when she was doing the radiant‑caregiver bit. It is the triumphant smile with which, as a defense attorney, she confronts a hostile witness in Jagged Edge: "Bitch?" she says, inching toward him in stiletto heels. "Did you call me a bitch?" It is the gaspingly creepy smile with which, as Alex, she responds to Michael Douglas's lame excuse for their first adulterous date. He slaps his forehead, shrugs, and says something like "Gee, isn't this wacky? I mean, I've got a great wife, a great job, a great house, a great everything and blah‑blah‑blah‑blah." Close, all Chablis and blond tendrils, leans forward, puts her chin on her hands, and says, "Then what are you doing here?"

It is the smile that reassures America this month, in Wolfgang Petersen's thrilling Air Force One, that even though Harrison Ford, the president of the United States, is being held hostage at 35,000 feet, she, Glenn Close, the vice president of the United States, is very much in control. But can she also reassure the Jessica Kinsingers of the world‑and the colleagues that have bestowed on her an Emmy, three Tonys and five Academy Award nominations, as well as the folks who write, cast, and direct films‑that she hasn't, à la Faye Dunaway, become a camp icon, incapable of playing mere mortals?

Before Close answers the question, she glares at the black leather raincoat she wore into the office and threw onto the couch. (Never mind why: The meteorologists expected no rain.) It is the celebrated coat from Fatal Attraction, the one she wears when she calls Douglas a "faggot" and, later, when she abducts his daughter and takes her to an amusement park.

Tapping her black sunglasses against the conference table, Close takes a deep breath. Then, all of five feet four inches tall, she sits down. "Truly, I can be nurturing," she says, tilting her head toward the halogen lamplight. The beams catch her short golden locks‑and suddenly, she glows. "I've been so gifted because I've worked with gifted cinematographers and lighting designers and hairdressers and makeup artists. They've created such convincing looks and personas for me."

Lightning flashes behind her.

"I can make the switch to human, to mother, anytime I want to." Close mentions, with hushed reverence, In the Gloaming, the recent HBO film directed by her "dear friend Christopher Reeve." In it, she plays a kindly suburban mother confronting her son's impending death from AIDS. "You know, people look at me, and I know what they think. Tough. Demanding. Bitch. But frankly, I really get more than a little angry when they think that my profession gives them the right to play psychiatrist with me."

More lightning.

"To me," Close continues, "acting is about craft, imagination, choice. The fact that, at 50, I still have choices is comforting. It's not like I have to go hunting for roles. Or that I have to go out and do interviews, which I quite dislike."

Then what are you doing here?

She laughs and looks down at her shoes. Black, mannish, and wing‑tipped. She leans forward, her short arms dangling between her blue Armani slacks, and laughs again. Loudly. A thespian laugh, a triumph of craft, imagination, choice. "Well, I should say that I don't get tons of scripts."

In conversation, she's a bit of a flirt, blinking and grinning as if confiding the most outré details of her personal life. Seduced, you lean forward, expecting to hear how, while filming Fatal Attraction, she, like Alex Forrest, conceived a child out of wedlock. (Her 9‑year‑old daughter, Annie, lives with Close and her carpenter fiancé, whom she met on the set of Sunset Boulevard.) But she will tell you only that, yes, she can become vexed when her assistants don't pay her bills on time or promptly return the hundreds of calls that flood her office each week. "I do still trust in the goodness of people," she adds quickly. What she won't tell you is that this trust reached its fullest expression during her late adolescence, when she toured with the patriotic singing group Up With People.

"Oh, I believe you have to love your characters, even if they're unsympathetic, even if no one else does," she says, glancing at the sandwich‑shop menu an assistant has slid into her hands. "Consider Reversal of Fortune; poor Sunny von Bulow. The scene with the ice cream sundae and the sunglasses. Now, you may find that campy, a scream." (Guilty!) She looks up from the menu and then smiles at her assistant. "The turkey, please." She tugs at her blue‑and‑white‑checked Gap shirt and pauses, as if about to deliver a practiced monologue. "But I really wanted to convey the horror of this woman, who was hypoglycemic, literally trying to kill herself with an ice cream sundae."

Close simply will not accept the argument that the trajectory of her film titles ‑from "Natural" to "Chill" to "Jagged" to "Fatal" to "Dangerous"‑ leaves little room for advancement. Nor, she says, does she feel especially pressured to win an Academy Award ‑though, after losing five times, she stands alone among her peers. Instead, she says, she has taken a vigorous interest in producing films for television and for general release. And then there's Broadway, to which she hopes to return in a few years. "This is not a retreat from film acting, not in the slightest," Close says. "I turned 50 and realized I had a lot to offer that wasn't being fully explored. My daughter is my life now." Indeed, Annie often accompanies her around the world, to shoots and premieres. She was a key adviser on 101 Dalmatians and visited Close on the set of Mars Attacks!

"And what I mentioned to you before, my love of my character, is something I hope I can pass on to her." And who is Close's favorite so far? "Alex. Alex, absolutely. I loved her so dearly. I knew her, you see. There never was an actual Alex, of course. But I went to psychiatrists and showed them the script. And they described a terribly fragile woman, someone who'd been abused as a child."

Close looks again toward the window. The rain has stopped. The sun peeks through.

"If you study the film closely, you'll see there's a scene where she literally vomits at the mention of sex. That was because I'd deduced that she'd been forced to perform oral sex as a child, which produced an instinctive gagging reflex."

She's still smiling. She's placed her hands on her knees.

"When the film was released, she was viewed, incorrectly, as a dating parable, a battle‑of‑the‑sexes thing. But she just needed love. As did Norma Desmond. As did the Marquise in Dangerous Liaisons. As do we all."

Fetch: The actress in her own bathrobe with her dog, Gaby, a Coton de Tulear.