Mon, Apr 09, 2012 - Page 13 News List

Close opens up

Glenn Close’s new film about a cross-dressing butler has been 30 years in the making. She explains what ‘Albert Nobbs’ means to her

By Catherine Shoard  /  The Guardian, London

US actress Glenn Close stars in a scene from Albert Nobbs.

Photo: EPA

There is no crackle on the line to Glenn Close. No echo or delay. No hiss or interference. “Yes! I can hear you! I can hear you fine!” She sounds almost alarmingly near, sat in her flat on Central Park West, New York. Not boomy, exactly, but big on crisp diction (it was she they called to dub Andie MacDowell’s duff twangs on Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes). “It’s a little bit of a chilly day here, but all the blossoms are out, all the trees are blooming. It’s raining there? Oh dear.”

Close is all about the good connection. On Lively Licks, the dog blog she co-authors with her terriers Jake and Bill (they share the byline), along with the celebrity questions and answers, and the serious reads on Puppies Behind Bars, Close herself offers counsel to concerned mutt-lovers. “Betty Wigglesworth must continue to sleep with you, especially now that she is getting older,” she advises one. To another: “The important thing to remember when cleaning up an accident is to use a cleaning product that removes all the odor.”

Close opens up (there’s candid snaps, shaggy stories) and she reaches out. “Thanks for asking,” she tells a reader who inquires as to Jake and Bill’s favorite toy (squeaky monkey). “Thanks for writing” is her sign-off to Barbara, whose molt woes might, she thinks, be alleviated by a “fantastic de-shedding tool” called the Furminator.

“People desperately need connection. There’s a danger now of getting further and further away from two human eyes looking into two human eyes. The thing that I love is that we have evolved to be empathetic. We have these neurons called mirror neurons, which reflect what you see in other people’s faces. But now people think communication is texting and tweeting. On TV, too, you see something horrific on the news and then you go to an ad and then to something else and it becomes this amorphous jangle.”

She laughs abruptly, then continues. “It’s an emotional disconnect. Movies are so powerful because you get this big screen with a close-up and you basically are being connected to another human being. It’s as powerful as looking into a live human face. And that’s something shared with no other art form.”

Her new film flirts with withheld eye contact. It teases the audience with a lead whose extreme self-effacement presents something of an empathy test. “The biggest challenge for me was: how much do you show in her face? Because she’s so used to having nothing there.”

Albert Nobbs is based on an 1895 novella by George Moore, via a 1982 stage production in which Close also starred. It’s the story of a taciturn butler in a Dublin hotel who just happens to be — not really a spoiler, this — a woman. Albert’s cover is blown when a flea invades her corset the one night she is forced to share digs with a strapping decorator, Hubert. But as luck would have it, Hubert, too, turns out to have a feminine secret — Janet McTeer’s bosomy reveal, puffing proudly on a cig, has picked up something of a cult following.

Once content melting into the wallpaper and squirreling shillings beneath the floorboards, Albert is inspired to try to replicate Hubert’s domestic setup, complete with seaside cottage and even a wife. Problem is, Albert is a naif, an orphan who went into disguise at 14 partly to fend off further sexual assault, partly to find work. Her pursuit of Mia Wasikowska’s perky housemaid (herself smitten with Aaron Johnson’s boiler boy) looks unlikely to pan out as planned. Typical date chat: “I think you are the strangest man I ever met.”

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