A close encounter with Glenn Close

Actress Glenn Close
Glenn Close has built a devoted following over the years from her many memorable movie appearances. Now she's finding new success in her own cable TV series. Anthony Mason goes behind the scenes in a Sunday Profile:
These are the final days of shooting for "Damages," the legal drama which just started its second season on FX.

The show stars Glenn Close, a familiar face after nearly three decades on screen. But this is her first leading role in an ongoing series, playing Patty Hewes, the deliciously wicked attorney who delights in taking down powerful opponents and eviscerates anyone who gets in her way

"You can be kind of scary," Mason said.

"Yeah," Close said, "And it's kind of starting to disturb me that people seem to like it when I'm scary!"

Does it come naturally to her?

"It doesn't come naturally," she said. "Patty was a character that I myself was intimidated by when I first read the script - because if I met her in real life, you know she's much smarter than I am."

"But after all the parts you've played, you can still be intimidated by a character?" Mason asked.


The show's trio of creators - brothers Glen and Todd Kessler, and Daniel Zelman - say they never considered anyone else for the part.

"On the page, she thought, Oh, this person might be smarter than her," said Glen Kessler. "But it turns out that this person, Patty Hewes, is probably smarter than all three of us put together, which is why it takes the whole team to write it."

"We're intimidated by the character,' said Zelman.

"And no other actress ever read it, or we never had any other conversations," said Glen. "So it was hers from the minute she said she wanted to do it."

Her performance as Hewes has won Close both an Emmy and a Golden Globe. At 61, Close looks even better in person than she does on screen, and roams the set with two uncredited co-stars: her terriers, Jake and Bill. They go with her everywhere.

"It really changes, you know, the chemistry of the set," she said.

Close, who has never committed to a TV series before, has signed on for 6 seasons of "Damages," if it endures:

"Keep thinking of Angela Lansbury," she laughed, referring to the star of the long-running "Murder, She Wrote." "I'll be doing my version of 'Murder, She Wrote.'"

During rehearsals, Close says, she'll sometimes hide the obedient Jake in discreet corners of the set. He will not bark.

"Did you train him to do that?" Mason asked.

"He just wants to do whatever I want him to do," she said. "Jakey, you're such a gorgeous piece of art. Look, he's just totally happy there."

Close seems altogether at home in the sprawling studios along the Brooklyn waterfront, in-between scenes scootering down its corridors.

"It's more fun than walking!"

Never attracted to the Hollywood scene, the actress, who is married and has a daughter in college, only committed to the series because it was being shot close to home.

"I grew up in the Connecticut countryside pretending I was Hopalong Cassidy's sidekick. My sister was Hoppy, so she would get to ride the little pony we had and I would gallop beside her kind of whipping myself with a stick!"

From an early age, she always wanted to be an actor.

"I have lived in New York since I came to seek my fortune in 1974, straight out of William and Mary."

A drama major at Virginia's College of William and Mary, she would spend nearly a decade in the theater before landing her first film role at age 35, after director George Roy Hill noticed her in the Broadway musical "Barnum."

"The first moments I had in the show, we're sitting in a little kind of balcony and knitting. George told me later that I had a certain kind of stillness and straight-backed quality that he was looking for for Jenny Fields."

Playing feminist nurse Jenny Fields in "The World According to Garp" also won Close her first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1982.

"Well, I still remember when I heard that I had been nominated for 'Garp.' I was in the cellar of the house where we were shooting my second film, which was "The Big Chill." It was so far out of my realm of even thought, and all of a sudden to be told out of the blue … the wonder of it! You know. I can put myself back there and still think, you know, how extraordinary it was at the time."

"And then you had quite a run," Mason said.

"I did for awhile, didn't I?" she laughed, putting on an elderly voice: "All those years ago!"

She followed "Garp" with the role as the maternal Sarah in the college classmate reunion comedy "The Big Chill. Next in "The Natural," she was the angelic Mary, who inspired Robert Redford to literally tear the cover off the ball. The two films won her two more Oscar nominations.

But Close was growing sick of playing strong, nurturing women, when she saw the script for a new project called "Fatal Attraction." She went after that part.

"Yes, I thought it was a fantastic part. The only thing I had a question about was the boiling of the bunny, but I couldn't get it out of my mind. 'Cause I thought it was the kind of role that can be, you know, if you do it authentically, it's a fantastic part!"

The part was Alex Forrest, a book editor, who is dumped after a fling with the married Michael Douglas and becomes every philandering man's worst nightmare. But as much as Close wanted the role, the producers did not want her.

"They were so sure that I was so wrong, that they didn't even want to meet me," she said. "They didn't want to have anything to do with me."

Close convinced them to let her read for the part, determined to show her seductive side:

"What was asked of me from Jenny Fields, all the way through to 'The Big Chill,' to 'The Natural,' were kind of, you know, good, nurturing, slightly iconic women. To break out, to be a sexual predator wasn't 'appropriate.' So you get the reputation, 'Oh, she can't be sexy.' And to me that never made sense. I wasn't asked to be sexual."

Phi Beta Kappa in college, Close researched the role extensively. She even took the script to several psychiatrists: "I wanted to understand her behavior."

In the original cut of the film, Close's character commits suicide.

Test audiences wanted a more crowd-pleasing finale, so the producer's ordered a rewrite. Close didn't like it, because she felt it wasn't true to her character.

"It wasn't, it wasn't," she said. "I thought it was a real betrayal of her character to have her become a murderer. Because I think she would have killed herself before she killed anyone else."

Close reached out to her "Big Chill" co-star, William Hurt, for advice:

"I was resisting, fighting against doing the reshoot. For two and a half weeks, I fought against it. It was a profound problem for me. And I finally called up Bill. And I said, 'I don't know what to do. They're asking me to do this. I think it's --" And he said, 'You've made your point. You've fought your fight. And now, you know, for the movie to be released, you gotta do it.' So I did it.

"I was very angry through the whole time, which probably added to my performance!" she laughed.

When it was released in 1987, "Fatal Attraction" become a phenomenon and earned Close another Oscar nomination, her first for Best Actress. In all she scored 5 nominations in the 1980s.

"It was great, it was great," she said. "Can't wait for the next one."

She has yet to win the gold statue. But on "Damages," she has earned some of her best reviews in years. And this season she is reunited with William Hurt, who plays a scientist from her past on the show. She says working with him again is "fantastic."

As the crew was wrapping up shooting for the season, Close was working until 2 a.m. this past week.

"You probably don't need to do this anymore - why are you doing it?" Mason asked.

"In some ways I probably do need to do it," she said. "I think it's what I best. And I think I'm still compelled to tell stories or, you know, participate in creating something that will really connect with people."

Describing Close's striking grey green eyes, her old co-star Michael Douglas once said: "She always looks like she has a secret."

There's no secret to her endurance in the acting business.

"You have to be resilient. That is for sure."

But after more than three decades on stage and screen, Glenn Close is still on a roll.