con­quer­ing Hol­ly­wood at 71 – and still sexy

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY by BRIGITTE LACOMBE

Glenn Close is feel­ing fab­u­lous and it’s no won­der. In an exclusive in­ter­view in New York, the Hol­ly­wood icon talks to Juliet Rieden about how her mum in­spired the pow­er­house per­for­mance tipped for her first Os­car, work­ing with her daugh­ter An­nie and that, yes, you can still be sexy in your 70s!

“You don’t have to do any­thing – just lie there,” says Jonathan Pryce, his wiry grey beard rub­bing against Glenn Close’s back and shoul­der as she sup­presses a throaty chuckle, even­tu­ally turns over and will­ingly sub­mits to the re­quested “quickie” from her on­screen hus­band. “Just imag­ine I’m some young, inar­tic­u­late stud who’s found you naked, ly­ing on the beach,” he con­tin­ues as these two su­perb vet­eran film stars shat­ter taboos with an im­pec­ca­bly ac­cu­rate and de­cid­edly saucy por­trayal of sex be­tween con­sent­ing 70-some­things.

“That was the first scene we shot. It was great,” says Glenn, her eyes twin­kling at the me­mory. “It was kind of won­der­ful be­cause I’ve done them [sex scenes] be­fore but this was dif­fer­ent in a way, but still sexy. And what I like about it is that peo­ple are still sexy when they’re our age. It hap­pens, even though our grand­chil­dren will hate the thought of it. I hope it makes peo­ple who are of our age feel good.”

Glenn is a sex-scene mae­stro and says the se­cret is to just get stuck in. “I don’t think it’s hard. It would be if you were with some­body re­pul­sive, but I haven’t been asked to do a sex scene with some­body who is re­pul­sive,” she laughs. “You just have to go with it. You have to not be self-con­scious and [with this one] I thought, I’ve done this long enough that to be ner­vous and skit­tish about it is silly.”

We are sit­ting in a rather trendy café, one of the Hol­ly­wood icon’s reg­u­lar haunts in New York’s West Vil­lage. Other din­ers note our ar­rival with a know­ing smile, but none are so gauche as to make a com­mo­tion. For me, how­ever, this is def­i­nitely a pinch-me moment. The de­monic bunny-boil­ing Alex For­rest, The Big Chill’s benef­i­cent Sarah Cooper, the schem­ing Mar­quise in Dan­ger­ous Li­aisons, de­li­ciously wicked Cruella de Vil, ruth­less le­gal ea­gle Patty Hewes, faded silent-film star Nora Des­mond – so many ground-break­ing per­for­mances and all from this gi­ant of stage and screen who is now sit­ting next to me at her favoured cor­ner ta­ble. Glenn has just or­dered an Arnold Palmer – her favourite drink, a mix of iced tea and lemon­ade – a power juice and a kale, wa­ter­melon

radish (that’s a radish with del­i­cate stripes of pink, the waiter tells us) and chicken salad. She’s wear­ing trim black Capri pants, a T-shirt and fit­ted jacket, barely a sker­rick of make-up and her shock of snowy hair is el­e­gantly elfin. Glenn cer­tainly looks in her prime. “I feel the best I’ve ever felt in my life,” the 71-year-old tells me.

That con­vic­tion, I sur­mise, is not just the re­sult of her ob­vi­ous vi­tal­ity but also thanks to The Wife, which in­dus­try in­sid­ers are tip­ping to be the movie that fi­nally earns Glenn her long over­due Os­car. She’s been nom­i­nated for an Academy Award six times and some­how never made it to the podium. And if this were to be her golden statue role it will be dou­bly trea­sured, since her co-star in the movie, play­ing her char­ac­ter Joan Castle­man’s younger self, is An­nie Starke, Glenn’s 30-year-old daugh­ter and only child. An­nie’s fa­ther is John Starke, who Glenn is still friends with and first met when he was the pro­ducer on The World Ac­cord­ing to Garp. The pair then em­barked on a four-year re­la­tion­ship from 1987, and An­nie was born a year later.

“She made me so proud,” beams Glenn. “I think it’s re­ally hard for chil­dren of fa­mous peo­ple who want to do the same thing as their par­ents – but what made me so proud is she earned it.”

The cast­ing was ac­tu­ally Glenn’s idea. Direc­tor Björn Runge had been strug­gling to find some­one with the act­ing chops to com­ple­ment his star. “Björn said, ‘I’m hav­ing a re­ally hard time with this,’ and I thought: ‘Should I men­tion it or not?’ And then I did. I said, ‘You know, my daugh­ter is an ac­tress.’ He didn’t know that. So, then she met with him in Cal­i­for­nia and they had a long meal to­gether.”

Back in New York, Glenn was on ten­ter­hooks. “I didn’t know if she would be right for it, I didn’t know whether she’d give a good au­di­tion. I think peo­ple think that some­body like me would put pres­sure on the direc­tor to hire my daugh­ter. I did not do that, and I never would do that, never.”

An­nie knocked it out of the park, and the com­bi­na­tion of mother and daugh­ter forg­ing the same role on screen is elec­tric. Al­though they were never on set to­gether, An­nie tells me, “It was a very col­lab­o­ra­tive process.”

Their char­ac­ter Joan is a hugely tal­ented writer who sets aside her own am­bi­tions to sup­port those of her hus­band, and the film be­gins in 1992 with Joe and Joan Castle­man bounc­ing like naughty kids on their bed in cel­e­bra­tion when they hear that Joe has won the No­bel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture. An­nie’s por­trayal of Joan is seen through flash­backs to the 1950s when, as a naive young stu­dent, she falls for her univer­sity pro­fes­sor, Joe. The two marry and Joan comes to the painful re­al­i­sa­tion that even though she is the true writer, as a woman she will never be val­ued and it is her hus­band’s ca­reer that must take prece­dence. What hap­pens next, and then af­ter that, is as shock­ing as it is grip­ping, and all por­trayed with nu­anced bril­liance.

An­nie’s scenes were ac­tu­ally shot first, so Glenn fol­lowed her daugh­ter’s lead. No pres­sure! “I def­i­nitely had my mis­sion laid out in front of me,” agrees An­nie laugh­ing.

“When An­nie was shoot­ing I got out of town, I didn’t want her to even pass me in the cor­ri­dor,” says Glenn. “I said, ‘This is your thing and I’m out of here.’ I didn’t see her work un­til I saw rushes and I was so proud of her be­cause she shows it on her face. She has a great face. You can see her thought process. I thought that was won­der­ful.”

The film is based on the best-selling novel by Meg Wolitzer and the char­ac­ter of Joan is com­plex and of her time. She seem­ingly sac­ri­fices ev­ery­thing for her hus­band and yet in the con­text of her era, had no choice.

“One of my favourite scenes was where I was just in the back­ground hold­ing Joe’s coat and mak­ing sure his beard was okay [as he went out to

face the ac­co­lades]. I think women do that au­to­mat­i­cally and it be­came just how their re­la­tion­ship was. And yet there was some­thing still there. My chal­lenge was I didn’t want women in the au­di­ence to say, ‘Oh, why don’t you just leave him?’ and I think the com­plex­ity of the re­la­tion­ship does come out. It isn’t just black and white.”

For Glenn, the role was deeply per­sonal, a re­minder of her late mum, Bet­tine, who lived in the shadow of her fa­mous sur­geon hus­band, Glenn’s fa­ther, the self-ob­sessed and bril­liant Wil­liam Close. Wil­liam played a key role in stem­ming a 1976 out­break of Ebola in Zaire and was also the per­sonal physi­cian of the African na­tion’s then Pres­i­dent, Mobutu Sese Seko.

“My mother got mar­ried when she was 18 and she never fin­ished her sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion. My fa­ther was highly ed­u­cated,” ex­plains Glenn. “I think in the world to­day she would feel em­pow­ered to say, ‘You know what, I want to go and take some cour­ses, I’d like to do this for my­self.’ But it never re­ally crossed her mind. She had kids very early, 20, she was 22 when I was born, and she ba­si­cally felt that her mar­riage vow meant that she was go­ing to sup­port my dad no mat­ter what.

“I think she also was re­ally, re­ally in love with him. But she was very cre­ative, she could have done a lot of dif­fer­ent things but she was never nur­tured, never men­tored. The sad thing about that is that when it came to the end of her life, she said to me, ‘I feel like I’ve ac­com­plished noth­ing.’ She didn’t stew around in it, but she did feel it.”

Glenn based much of her por­trayal of Joan on her mum, who died aged 90 in 2015, six years af­ter the death of her hus­band. Glenn and her two

“She made me so proud. It’s hard for chil­dren of fa­mous peo­ple who want to do the same as their par­ents.”

sis­ters, Jessie and Tina, of­ten felt their mother was trapped in her mar­riage and longed to free her. “We said,

‘If you want to leave him, it’s okay with us, if you think you’ll have a hap­pier life.’ She said, ‘No, I’m not go­ing to go against my mar­riage vows.’”

Look­ing back at the women in her fam­ily, Glenn says it’s a fa­mil­iar story. “My grand­mother would have been a won­der­ful ac­tress; the other one would have been a won­der­ful singer. It’s not what you did!”

An­nie says she too chan­nelled Granny Close and also her fa­ther’s mother, Granny Starke. “My dad’s mum was a chemist way back then, which was in­cred­i­bly rare for a woman in the 1940s. But she felt the ef­fects of the glass ceil­ing very quickly in her ca­reer and she quit her job to be­come a mother, which she would al­ways say she loved and never re­gret­ted. But you know, in our quiet con­ver­sa­tions to­gether I think there was al­ways a ques­tion in her mind of what could have been. Joan is truly a nod to her and to my mum’s mum,” she muses. “She [Bet­tine] was one of the most in­tel­li­gent hu­man be­ings I have ever had the priv­i­lege of know­ing and she never went to col­lege. She was a per­son’s wife and we’ve al­ways as a fam­ily won­dered what she could have done if some­body had sup­ported her or en­cour­aged her in the world.

“In a huge way I think this char­ac­ter is lit­er­ally an homage to my grand­moth­ers.”

Joan’s son is played by Max Irons, the son of fa­mous Bri­tish ac­tor

Jeremy Irons, who co­in­ci­den­tally Glenn starred with back in the 1990s in The House of the Spir­its.

“I’ve known Max since he was four,” Glenn re­calls. “An­nie was four and Max was six when we did The House of the Spir­its. I have the fun­ni­est pic­tures of them. An­nie has grabbed on to Max’s arm and he has this lit­tle Lego jet, it’s so cute.”

In the movie Joan is quite ne­glect­ful of her son, bury­ing her­self in her writ­ing. “She made some mis­takes with him and I re­ally can re­late to that,” con­fesses Glenn, “be­cause when An­nie was three I was pro­duc­ing a lot, and even when I was pre­par­ing for a role, I was there but not there. And she came up to me one day and she said, ‘I want you, I want all of you!’ And I knew ex­actly what she meant. A child has to know that they’re worth your at­ten­tion, and I think the dan­ger is that a child feels that they’re not worth it, they’re not worth lov­ing, they’re not worth your at­ten­tion.”

I sus­pect Glenn is also think­ing of her own child­hood, which was painfully in­ter­rupted when her par­ents joined the re­li­gious group Moral Re-Ar­ma­ment [MRA]. Glenn was seven and she was con­trolled by the cult un­til she was 22. It’s a chap­ter she rarely dis­cusses and yet you sense it is al­ways with her.

Bet­tine and Wil­liam were fre­quently ab­sent from their chil­dren’s lives, en­grossed in mis­sion­ary work around the globe, leav­ing Tina, Jessie, Alexander and Glenn in the hands of the MRA. They gave their money to the or­gan­i­sa­tion and the chil­dren were moved around to dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing spend­ing two piv­otal years in a vast ren­o­vated ho­tel called Moun­tain House in

Caux, Switzer­land.

In her youngest sis­ter Jessie’s 2015 mem­oir Re­silience: Two Sis­ters and a Story of Men­tal Ill­ness, which in­cludes chap­ters writ­ten by Glenn, she writes, “What I re­mem­ber most about liv­ing in Caux is be­ing iso­lated and lonely. I hardly saw my sib­lings.”

As a teen and adult, Jessie strug­gled with re­la­tion­ships, se­ri­ous drug ad­dic­tion and was fre­quently sui­ci­dal. It was only when she was fi­nally di­ag­nosed with bipo­lar dis­or­der that she started to get the help she so des­per­ately needed.

Glenn was obliv­i­ous to her sis­ter’s ill­ness when they were grow­ing up. The cult, she says, left her with­out “the tools” to help her lit­tle sis­ter.

But once she dis­cov­ered Jessie’s pain, she threw her celebrity weight be­hind rais­ing aware­ness for men­tal ill­ness, co-found­ing the Bring Change to Mind char­ity with Jessie in 2010, as well as con­tribut­ing to her mem­oir.

“When Jessie asked me for help, if she hadn’t said, ‘I need help, I can’t stop think­ing about killing my­self,’ if she had said, ‘I need help,’ I’d have said, ‘For what?’ I hon­estly had no clue,” Glenn tells me. “I al­ways was her spe­cial cus­to­dian, I al­ways felt that about Jessie, and yet that group [MRA] had me in such a place that I couldn’t say, ‘I’m sorry, I think I have to stay here with my sis­ter.’ That is a moment of guilt for me.”

While they were at­tend­ing the Zurich Film Fes­ti­val, Glenn took her daugh­ter An­nie to Caux to see the Moun­tain House, where she and her sib­lings had lived with the cult. It was the first time she had re­turned to the man­sion.

“I think it was just cu­rios­ity,” says An­nie. “I hated it. You could feel it in the air, you could smell it. I could not wait to get out of there. It’s the most hideous place I’ve ever been to in my life and Mum felt the same.

She was remembering which win­dow was hers; it was in­cred­i­bly creepy and the fact of my dear fam­ily be­ing in that hor­ri­ble place is a thing that makes my voice quiver. What a dis­gust­ing place.”

An­nie says her grand­par­ents rarely dis­cussed those years. “It was a very painful sub­ject and it re­mains very painful,” she ex­plains. “I think that both of my grand­par­ents went to their graves with an enor­mous amount of guilt and re­gret. I am very sad and sorry that they felt that way but I un­der­stand why.”

Ten days af­ter our in­ter­view, Glenn is host­ing a very spe­cial event on her coun­try prop­erty as she and An­nie’s fa­ther, John Starke, watch their lit­tle girl marry her long-time part­ner

Marc Albu.

“They’ve been to­gether for 11 years,” Glenn tells me. “They are very good to­gether. I hope she’s learned from all my mis­takes,” she jokes, re­fer­ring to her own four mar­riages.

“It’s the house where she grew up so it re­ally is spe­cial,” she says, her voice break­ing with ex­cite­ment. “It’s out­side and we have two ar­eas, one to go through these old ap­ple trees and then round the back there’s a big­ger field and I’ve planted wild­flow­ers, so the whole field is full of wild­flow­ers.”

An­nie is thrilled and says it’s go­ing to be “ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful”.

“We both are na­ture women – we’re the hap­pi­est when we’re sur­rounded by beau­ti­ful land­scapes and na­ture and our dogs in the out­doors,” she laughs.

Will the dogs be com­ing?

“Of course – my dog has a bow tie and ev­ery­thing,” she gig­gles.

An­nie is due to ar­rive this evening, a few hours af­ter our in­ter­view, and Glenn has her daugh­ter’s wed­ding dress, which An­nie bought in Los An­ge­les, laid out ready “on one of the guest beds at home. She’ll be very beau­ti­ful,” she sighs, brim­ming with pride.

The Wife is in cin­e­mas from Au­gust 2. See Kate Rodger’s re­view on page 161.

“My grand­mother would have been a won­der­ful ac­tress; the other one a won­der­ful singer.”

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: Glenn wth sis­ter Jessie in 2015, and in 1987; with mum Bet­tine and daugh­ter An­nie in 2000; Glenn and An­nie are elec­tric in The Wife; Glenn and An­nie in 1999.

FROM TOP RIGHT: Glenn with co-star Michael Douglas in Fa­tal At­trac­tion; as le­gal ea­gle Patty Hewes in Dam­ages; along­side Jonathan Pryce in The Wife.

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