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CLOSE, GLENN: Paradise Road


Whether playing Hamlet's mother or the mistress from hell, Glenn Close is regarded as one of the most talented and intelligent American actresses of her generation. She spoke with ANDREW L. URBAN on the set of Paradise Road.

For all her love of her profession, Glenn Close has become "very picky" with roles she accepts, as she readily confesses, but not because of some enormous conceit. "Because," she explains, "especially movies, they interrupt your life and I have a wonderful private life. I have a child who is eight, and I respect her need to have roots. So at this point I'm probably more attracted to theatre than movies...it's all that waiting around [on set] and I have all this ENERGY..."

Some of that energy comes in handy at home, a renovated old federal farm house in upstate New York full of animals - three mice, two cats, three dogs, some fish, a pony and a horse - and her daughter goes to the little local school, where Close is getting more and more involved "because I care about public education in our country and I don't want it to go to hell. I really believe in 'community' and what that means.

"I have a wonderful fiance - we haven't had time to get married," she adds with a little laugh, "who I met while working on Sunset Boulevard. He's a techy [technician], he's just been working on building up the Sunset Boulevard tour set, and he's wonderful. I feel like for the first time we have ... a real sense of family, even though he's not Annie's father; and [with her father] we have a good a relationship as one can have under the circumstances."

"I try to have a simple house; I don't have a house full of servants. I have two girls who come and clean every Monday..." she says it lightly, with a smile, not defensively.

By simple, Close also means protective: she won't let Annie watch much tv and monitors her videos.

"I’ve always had great respect for actors" - Glenn Close

For relaxation, Close likes to read - in silence. "I don't know much about music..." she explains, perhaps unaware of how ironic this sounds in the midst of her making a film, Paradise Road, whose heart and soul is music.

Japanese soldiers outside are practicing drill, and the Far North Queensland sun is pushing the autumn temperatures to 28 degrees. We are a 15 minute drive inland from Port Douglas, but for now it is Sumatra, and the site is a Japanese prison camp for several hundred women, in the middle of the war.

Glenn Close plays Adrienne Pargiter, an upper crust British woman thrown brutally into the camp with other English, Dutch and Australian women - wives, nuns, nurses and including a shy missionary, Margaret Drummond (Pauline Collins) with whom Adrienne forms the extraordinary choir that has inspired this movie.

Drummond, (Margaret Dryburgh in real life) recreates orchestrations of several complex pieces of classical music specifically for voice - all from her extraordinary memory. Adrienne Pargiter (Nora Chambers in real life) conducts. The music not only gives the women something positive to focus on, it lifts and maintains their spirit in dire circumstances.

Enjoying a rare day with only conducting rehearsals to do, Close is totally calm, smiling, smaller than I expected, most unglamorous (brave, some would call it) in a white T shirt under baggy blue denim overalls with white sneakers (she has small feet) and without any attention to hair or make up. A day off, after all.

"I've always had great respect for actors," she says quietly, as if to underline the enormity of her respect. "And a great respect for the profession and for the craft."

Where did that come from?

"I don't know. My two grandmothers were wonderful women; one was a beautiful singer and the other one would probably have been a great actress, and they were both women who weren't allowed to do that, so maybe it was genetic for me, you know, I inherited that...."

"..a big fish in a small pond..."

Close never went to acting school, but did four years in a "liberal arts" course in Williamsburgh, Virginia, which had a strong drama department. "I had a wonderful triumverate of professors and I think the head of the department recognised my serious intent...I really consider him my mentor. He made sure I did a variety of roles, with big parts and little parts, and that I knew backstage, and he kept saying, 'just remember you're a big fish in a very small pond.'" Close says with a laugh, the first during our interview, and seems more at ease, enjoying the topic.

"I always felt this is what I should do. Nobody had to convince me..." She laughs softly again.

What was it, though, that even made her think of acting as a career? Was it some great actor she had seen?

"No; because I grew up in the Connecticut countryside and we very rarely - actually, when I think back - went to movies. Or even theatre."

Greenwich, Connecticut is a country town; a very sophisticated one, to be sure, but a country town. Not Los Angeles or New York. "But my parents were very non-materialistic people; I mean we could have been in Iowa. We were surrounded by animals, with beautiful country to run in and imagine things in...that was my early childhood."

For Close, there was never any doubt: even when she might have considered being a teacher, it was the standing at the blackboard PERFORMING for the class that appealed.

"craft and technique is basically common sense"

Throughout her career, Glenn Close has been regarded as a highly intelligent actress (she doesn't care whether she is called actor or actress), with a huge range. For instance, she played the ill fated Sunny von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune, opposite Jeremy Irons, and then flew immediately to England for the filming of Hamlet with Mel Gibson, in which she played Queen Gertrude.

She made her first film in 1982, The World According to Garp, and was immediately nominated Best Supporting Actress for her role as the strong willed Jenny.

She went on to portray a few other strong willed women: In Jagged Edge, she is the attorney who falls in love with her client while defending him against murdering his wife. In Fatal Attraction, she is the disturbingly ferocious and determined mistress; in Dangerous Liaisons she is the sexual games mastermind, Marquise de Merteuil. Both latter roles won her Oscar nominations.

Now she has been Cruella de Ville, then First Lady of the USA opposite Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks!, and now a reserved English prisoner of war, one after the other in quick succession. What has made her such a fine actress, and so versatile?

"I think I've been lucky to learn by observing the actors I've been working with and being directed by some wonderful directors. I think a lot of craft and technique is basically common sense."

"I wanted the audience to love me"

Theatre is very important to Close, more and more because she feels highly energised energy, and it's very hard to find roles in film that can take such large performance size. Theatre can."

In other words, what drives and fascinates her is acting: the art and craft of it, not the star trip. And she analyses everything minutely, "but much of it is private," she says. She feels as much at sea beginning this role as Adrienne Pargiter as with any other, trying to find the connection and the emotional line, which is very important to her. "Good acting I think is like being a magician, in that you make people believe; because it's only when they believe that they are moved. And I do want people to get emotionally involved. I think technique is important but it isn't everything. You can have a great technical actor who'll leave people cold. That's not my idea of great acting. As audience, I don't want to be aware of acting.

"That means you have to have great trust with your fellow actors, because to have that connection is a great act of trust, and you have to look into their eyes as far as they'll let you. And you have to let them know that they can look into your eyes and it'll be okay.

"I've worked with actors who'll only let me in this far..." as she holds her right hand like a brick wall in front of her ear. "They were frightened," she says with a little incredulous laugh, "I don't know why."

Close has played many characters who have had little or no chance to explain themselves to the audience. She recalls great lessons in this, "especially from director Mike Nicholls, when I did The Real Thing on Broadway with Mike directing and Jeremy Irons was my co-star. That was a VERY difficult part, because Jeremy played the Tom Stoppard character and had these AMAZING words, and so articulate even when he was wrong, and I played this basically inarticulate woman who wasn't always wrong but never had a chance to explain to the audience why...why she was behaving the way she did and it KILLED me, because I wanted the audience to LOVE me.... like everyone else in the world...."

" . . . couldn’t explain herself to the audience…"

The lesson, she says, is to stay true to the character, and to love the character. "Without that love of the character you become judgemental and that makes you separate from that character. That's not fair. The actor has no right to judge."

Even when you play the extraordinary, rabbit boiling, revenge mistress from hell in Fatal Attraction. "Absolutely. The first thing I did when I got that part was to go to two psychiatrists and I gave them the script. I said I want to know why she behaves this way. First of all, I said, is this behaviour real. Especially boiling the rabbit. Would somebody really do that. Secondly, what would create that behaviour. That research led me to that character I really loved and had great pity for, because she was ultimately a victim...and she was impeccably written. She'd been sexually abused at an early age, probably by her father. All of the behaviour came from that; it was clinical, classic...except the ending which was tacked on. But the rest, she was a self destructive, abused woman. And of course that was another character who couldn't explain herself to the audience."

And what about Adrienne Pargiter? "Her great contribution to the camp was her sense of perfectionism; there they are in this squalid, horrible nightmare, this hell, and she'd say to the women practicing, "no, no, no, do it again, you were a bit sharp there..." The thing is, it MATTERED to her. FABULOUS! If she hadn't that sense of perfection, nothing would have mattered."

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as Adrienne Pargiter at the dinner dance

with Bruce Beresford on set


See Andrew L. Urban's exclusive interview on set with BRUCE BERESFORD

as Adrienne conducting

climbing through the mangroves

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