TORONTO (Reuters) - In her 29-year film career, Glenn Close has been nominated for five Oscars, won three Emmys, and prompted a generation of married American men to think twice about cheating with her turn as an obsessed lover in 1987’s “Fatal Attraction”.
But through it all, she harbored the dream of bringing to the big screen “Albert Nobbs”, a curious tale about a woman driven by circumstance to pass herself off as a man in 19th-century Dublin. It premiered this week at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Close first played the titular character on stage in 1982, and 15 years ago launched an all-out effort to get the film made, shepherding the project through script rewrites, casting changes and endless searches for private investors.
“The nature of these kinds of films is you’ve got to have this crazy passion behind them, because they’re outside the box,” Close told Reuters, flashing a broad smile that would be out of place for the repressed and buttoned-down Nobbs.
“I knew it was going to be hard. I didn’t know it was going to be 15 years hard,” said Close, who also co-wrote the script and produced the Rodrigo Garcia-directed film.
With a pallid face, straight back and Charlie Chaplin-style walk, Close’s portrayal of Nobbs bears little resemblance to the femme fatales and authority figure roles that have defined her career.
As a waiter in a swanky Dublin hotel, Nobbs keeps to herself, hiding her gender from co-workers and squirreling away money for the day when she can leave and open a business.
But her cloistered reality is broken by the arrival of the painter Hubert, played by Janet McTeer, who harbors a secret similar to Nobbs, prompting the waiter to consider trying to reclaim whatever true identity remains under her disguise.
Despite her familiarity with the character from her previous stage work, Close found herself in new territory this time around, having aged nearly 30 years and now dealing with cameras rather than a live theater audience.
“I found it challenging when I did it all those years ago, and it’s even more challenging on film because you have close-ups...film looks into somebody’s soul,” Close said.
While critics have been lukewarm to the overall movie, Close’s performance has won generally strong early reviews. Daily Variety calls it a “career-crowning role,” and others have wondered if the gender-bending nature of the character may allow the actress to finally break her Oscar jinx of five nominations with no wins.
As the joyful and self-possessed Hubert, McTeer offers a counterweight to the painfully repressed Nobbs and one of the only characters in the film that doesn’t seem pushed to the point of desperation by Victorian-era Dublin.
“This film isn’t just about me dressing as a fellow and Glenn dressing as a fellow, it’s about poverty and about what that does to woman,” McTeer told Reuters. “There were very few ways of escaping from that as a woman at the time.”
For Close, the story at its core is about survival, and what lengths people will go to endure in difficult circumstances. “It doesn’t have to be being a man. I think everybody puts on some sort of face walking out their door every day,” she said.
Reporting by Cameron French; Bob Tourtellotte