MARY ELLEN MARK was happy to capture Glenn Close on film for the second time in the photographer’s career. “It’s a pleasure to photograph her,” Mark says of the 52-year-old actress. “She lets the picture happen for you. She works with you to make the picture work. She’s a real collaborator. And she loves her dogs.” Mark’s new book, Mary Ellen Mark: An American Odyssey, was published in October 1999.
From The World According to Garp's earth mother to Fatal Attraction's woman scorned, this uncompromising star has vividly embodied the extremes of female experience.
BY MARK SALISBURY
Photographed by MARY ELLEN MARK
DOG DAY AFTERNOON: The actress’s Scottish border terrier, Belle, snuggles in for a Close encounter.
GLENN CLOSE GLIDES INTO A MANHATTAN RESTAURANT, radiating the resoluteness that has characterized many of her most memorable performances. "People still come up to me and say, 'You scared the shit out of me,'" she says, musing on her role in Fatal Attraction. "Thank God they're able to separate the actor from the part." One of the most versatile actresses of her generation, Close has, for nearly two decades now, brought her indomitable talents to bear on the worlds of film, theater, and television, earning the first of her five Oscar nominations for her film debut, in The World According to Garp. After several more earth‑mother roles (including turns in The Big Chill and The Natural), she subverted her image by playing Fatal Attraction's bunny‑boiling woman scorned, a performance of such monstrosity that the subsequent moral debate stoked her character into a global phenomenon.
In person, the 52‑year‑old Close is smaller than you'd imagine from her often‑intimidating screen presence, yet no less striking for it. Armani‑clad and looking effortlessly sexier than most women half her age, the three‑time Tony winner is engaging and surprisingly frank, despite her self‑confessed shyness. Her refined yet raucous laugh is a constant presence throughout the course of a late breakfast.
Raised in affluent Greenwich, Connecticut, Close has more than a touch of Katharine Hepburn about her, not surprising given their WASPish backgrounds and the fact that both of their fathers were doctors. "I feel an affinity for her," Close admits, despite having spent her early adolescence as part of the evangelical Moral Re‑Armament Movement and her late teens and early twenties touring the country with Up With People, a pro‑establishment '6os singing group ‑two topics she prefers not to discuss in interviews.
Twice married (and currently single) and the mother of 11‑year‑old Annie, Close clearly hasn't lost her desire to act or her versatility. This year she starred as an eccentric Southern belle in Robert Altman's Cookie's Fortune and voiced the character of Tarzan's simian mother in Disney's animated smash. For television, she has completed Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter's End -her third portrayal of the popular frontierswoman character ‑and The Ballad of Lucy Whipple. She has also just wrapped Rodrigo Garcia's Things You Can Tell just by Looking at Her, costarring Calista Flockhart and Cameron Diaz, among others ("I'm still kind of in the spell," she declares). Next, she'll morph back into Cruella De Vil as the sequel to 101 Dalmatians begins filming, and there's even another Broadway turn in the works: In the fall of 2000, Close will serenade the Great White Way in Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music.
You hadn't worked for a year and a half prior to Cookie's Fortune. What had you been doing?
Developing material. I also got quite burned-out, just mentally exhausted. I had done a lot of favors for people, little cameos and stuff, which is fine, but I'm at the peak of my powers, and cameos don't satisfy. I have a production deal with Disney, something at Turner, two things I'm doing for television, and two independent movies. I can't help myself; I'm very like my dad ‑we're both compulsive. You wish you could say "I wanna read a book," but somehow it's not in your chemistry. Things start interesting me, and all of a sudden you are making five thousand phone calls. It's exciting, but it's not something I want to do for the rest of my life. I figure I'll just do the stuff l really care about.
We hope to be in preproduction on a movie I've developed out of the women's maximum‑security prison in the town where I live. I've basically been the engine for the whole project. The other is Albert Nobbs, a dream project that [Meeting Venus director] István Szabo, Jim Sheridan, and I are doing together. I feel if that movie turns out the way I want it to, I don't ever have to act again for the rest of my life. [Laughs]
You've tended to play upscale, powerful women -the vice president, the First Lady, editors, lawyers‑ rather than, say, cops, hookers, or waitresses. Does that bother you?
It makes me sadder that I'll never play Juliet. But I don't spend much time thinking about it. I did get into acting later, and, especially with movies, to have my first role be Jenny Fields [in The World According to Garp) colored people's image of me as that kind of upright, straight‑backboned mother figure. Fatal Attraction shattered that; then I got much more varied roles.
Your portrayal of Jenny, Garp's mother, was a revelation. You seemed to invest her with an almost spiritual resonance.
I've drawn a lot from my grandmothers. That was my maternal grandmother: a woman who had a very comfortable, upper‑middle‑class upbringing who was totally unsnobbish, a great lady. She had that quality that Jenny had of zeroing in on people and making them feel like they're the most important people in the world.
Have there been any other instances of real people inspiring your characters?
The scene in Reversal of Fortune where I have the temper tantrum and I'm pounding my thighs, that was my Grandmother Close. I actually saw her do that; it was terrifying.
You once joked that you only got the Oscar nomination for The Big Chill because of the scene where you're crying, naked in the shower.
Absolutely. I've learned to seek out scenes like that because those are tiny windows into the private landscape of [the character] that none of the other characters know about, but the audience knows. Like at the end of Dangerous Liaisons, where she wrecks her boudoir. I knew people would realize she loved him, and as she was destroying him she was destroying herself, and it's gold. The thing I just did with Rodrigo, my entire little story is practically all that.
Adrian Lyne said you actively pursued the role of Alex in Fatal Attraction. Did you read the script and think, This is going to be something special?
It made my temperature drop. The one thing I didn't like was the rabbit; I thought that was really over the top, so I initially said I wasn't interested. Then I just couldn't get it out of my head, and started thinking of what I could do with that character. That's when I really went after it.
Yet there was some resistance to casting you. What was the problem?
That I could be sexy. I had never had a role that was sexy. Doesn't mean I couldn't be sexy.
How did you convince them?
I think it was [my audition] tape with Michael Douglas. Adrian kept saying "hotter, hotter." I thought I had not gotten the part after that, it was horrible. I guess they saw something.
Do you have to relate to every character you play?
When I'm developing a character, I [look at] where they're vulnerable, where our common humanity is, why they are behaving that way. You usually come back to something you can relate to. For that character, it was classic behavior for someone who had been sexually abused, probably by her father. It related to everything, and made me love her and empathize with her.
How did people's perceptions of you change?
You'd think I would have gotten a lot of freaky mail and been offered parts that were basically the same, but that didn't happen. I was offered better parts. Up to then I wasn't able to show a whole journey. Hollywood loves to see somebody who ends up, like, a hooker on the street. A woman destroyed is very seductive, and I ended up dead, what could be more fulfilling? [Laughs]
Whose idea was the perm?
Adrian's. We spent hours on that look. The lip is a very subtle shape too; we filled it in a little bit and made it much more tragic.
Fatal Attraction's ending was famously revamped, making your character less of a victim and more a knife‑wielding harpy. If that had been the ending originally, would you still have done it?
Maybe not, but who knows? When I read the script it was like this seamless film noir. The original version [in which Close's character frames Douglas's for murder by committing suicide with a knife that has his fingerprints on it] outraged people ‑they'd gotten so emotionally involved, they wanted my blood, so that's what they gave them. But that woman was not a psychopath. She was not a killer. She was self‑destructive. In my desperation I tried that self‑mutilation, but once you get the knife in your hand, that's the image.
I've read that you still have it in your kitchen at home. Do you use it for chopping up the vegetables?
It's actually the brilliant prop knife, which is mainly cardboard, so it's on velvet, framed.
Do you have any other movie mementos?
I have my entire costume collection, which is now getting rather extraordinary. I'm able to lend them out. I just got my three Dangerous Liaisons [costumes] back from Florence.
Do you ever try them on?
Like a mad ...[Laughs] I'll do that when I'm 80. I'll crawl into my costume room in the middle of the night. [Laughs] I probably couldn't fit into them because most of them are like corsets.
Speaking of Dangerous Liaisons, weren't you a new mother at the time of filming?
It was very bizarre for me. My daughter was seven weeks old when I did that movie, so they were shooting all of Michelle [Pfeiffer's story while I was recovering from childbirth. My first scene with John Malkovich, I was desperate. I said, "I don't know what planet I'm on," and Steve [Frears) let me look at the film they'd already put together and I got into that universe.
At the time, you said that women have to be ten times more effective than men in a male‑oriented society. Is that still the case in Hollywood?
There are two levels that women operate on in Hollywood, and this is just from very personal experience. First, it always helps to be in movies that make money because they think of you as bankable and lovely. There's all this talk about why women aren't paid more. Well, if they were in movies that made a lot of money, they would be, and the women that are do get big salaries. The bit they actually do respect, even though they don't pay for it, (is] talent. They respect somebody's choices. Right now this is my "goat leading the sheep to slaughter" phase. I was the first to sign on to Cookie's Fortune and everybody came. I was the first to sign on to Rodrigo's movie and everybody came. Start with great writing, then surround yourself with people worth spending time with. I've decided not to waver from that.
Your character in Cookie's Fortune stages amateur dramatic shows, something you did at your high school with the rather magnificently named Fingernails, the Group With Polish. How did yours compare?
Fingernails were brilliant. We wrote a skit during the time of The Great Escape ‑Tarzan and Jane as interpreted by Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. We did "Splish Splash I Was Taking a Bath" as if it were the story of the fall of the House of Atreus, as told by Clytemnestra. It was quite sophisticated.
What were you like at school?
I always thought I was overweight. I look back and think I was a totally unfinished, insecure person. Somehow the creativity of what we were allowed to do got me through. I was always morbidly shy outside of my family, and it's still pretty much my idea of hell to go into a room full of people holding cocktail glasses.
Have you encountered resentment to your Connecticut upbringing?
Oh, there's a huge prejudice against WASPs. My first job was understudying three leads on Broadway, and Hal Prince was directing [one of the plays] and asked to meet me. The first thing he said was, "Where are you from?" I remember my heart sinking, 'cause I thought, If I say I'm from Greenwich, everyone will think I'm a dilettante, that I don't need to work. But you cannot fit my family into that stereotype. My parents always had this great idealism; they quit all the country clubs their parents helped found. So we were of that society but chose not to participate.
When most journalists mention the time you spent in the Moral Re‑Armament Movement, they describe it as cultlike. It sounds rather sinister. Is that another case of misinterpretation?
Well, that's why I don't talk about it, because something that has pervaded every aspect of your life you cannot cover in an interview. People come out with a clichéd idea of what that was, and buttonhole you as a certain kind of person, and it's not fair to me or my family. I think there is something sinister about all cults. Cults are joined by people who have big gaps somewhere in them that have to be filled by people telling them what to do, what to say, how to dress, and it's turned out to be, as painful as it was for all of us, not a bad thing to have gone through.
You talked earlier about the need to be in commercially successful movies. Is that why you did Air Force One?
I did Air Force One as a favor to Harrison Ford. They cut it to seem like a much bigger part than it was. A long time ago, we'd just opened in Broadway in The Real Thing, and Peter Weir offered me the role in Witness. It's probably the only regret of my career. There's no way I could have gotten out of the play; we had just opened and it was a huge hit. So when Harrison came to me, that's what I first thought of.
You've always moved between theater, movies, and television. Is that simply a case of liking the variety?
Very much. I could spend my entire life doing theater, but we don't have a national theater here and there's nowhere for me to go unless it's Broadway. But in my dreams I would just do theater. TVs always been kind of looked down upon, but I've always felt good material's good material, wherever it is.
How did you come to dub Andie MacDowell's voice in Greystoke?
I had desperately wanted to play that part, to the point where I did a photo shoot dressed in Edwardian costumes, with a gorgeous auburn wig, and came up with these absolutely fabulous pictures. [Director) Hugh Hudson had a look in mind; he wanted Isabelle Adjani. The Hollywood mind said you can't have that many foreigners in a movie because no Americans will watch it, and he said, "I'll find an American who looks like Isabelle Adjani." I think it was Andie's first movie and [she) had a very flat execution for that part, and they had the audacity to ask me to be the voice. My agent asked for this exorbitant amount of money, thinking they would never come up with it. It was kind of sad for her and disturbing for me.
How did turning 50 affect you careerwise?
I liked turning 50 in a weird way. I'm aware that I only have two or three years left where I can really look pretty with good makeup and lighting, and then everything will probably start to go. So the next two or three years I'll do a big push.
You're reprising the role of Cruella in 102 Dalmatians, although at the time of the original, you wrote in PREMIERE that you wouldn't mourn her passing.
That's funny; I'd forgotten about that. I really meant it at the time, 'cause now I just remember what was fun about it. I fought like a dog to get good words, because she had to be kind of a cross between Noel Coward and the Marquis de Sade, and the battle kind of wore me out. The costumes were hard. But she's a fun character. The thing that's tempered that is the response of kids. It's meant a lot to me to have five‑ and six‑year‑olds coming up, liking the fact I did Cruella.
How has motherhood changed you?
In every aspect of my being. It's just balance all the time. I don't pretend we have a life like everybody else, because we don't. I'm very happy to have work that my daughter can observe that I love. She'll see somebody who's very involved and passionate about what she does, and hopefully someday she'll have that same kind of fulfillment.
Has Annie expressed a desire to act?
She has wanted to be in things, but now it's getting to the point where I don't want to put her in that arena unless she's prepared. She had a little part in Sarah, Plain and Tall. It's cut; she knows it's cut. She wanted to audition for a part in Lucy Whipple that was quite a hard part, and I said, "I don't think you're ready for it," and she understood. She does want to be in A Little Night Music. There's a role of a daughter, so she's going to start voice lessons.
No concerns about her following in your footsteps?
If she has talent, it's a great life. I've worked with the most creative, fantastic people, and my daughter has been surrounded by them. I realized a number of years ago that I'm really happy with my own kind. I feel most at home with my fellow actors. I think of actors as alien creatures and everybody else as civilians. I might be a WASP, but I'm really an alien.
Mark Salisbury interviewed Anjelica Huston and Cate Blanchett for l999's Women in Hollywood issue.
1982 The World According to Garp
1983 The Big Chill
1984 Greystoke; the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (voice only)
1984 The Natural
1984 The Stone Boy
1985 Jagged Edge
1987 Do You Mean There Are Still Real Cowboys? (documentary; producer only)
1987 Fatal Attraction
1988 Dangerous Liaisons
1988 Light Years (voice only)
1989 Immediate Family
1990 Reversal of Fortune
1991 Hook (cameo)
1991 Meeting Venus
1993 The House of the Spirits
1994 The Paper
1995 Anne hank Remembered (Voice only)
1996 Mars Attacks!
1996 Mary Reilly
1996 101 Dalmatians
1997 Air Force One
1997 In & Out (cameo)
1997 Paradise Road
1999 Cookie's Fortune
1999 Tarzan (voice only)