A barely audible ”Wow” is the first thing out of Glenn Close’s mouth — followed by a throaty laugh — when she looks at a printed-out copy of her own filmography over lunch at a West Village café on a recent weekday. She rifles through her purse for reading glasses, comes up empty, and settles for holding the papers at arm’s length and squinting with a dumbstruck grin. ”I never would’ve thought I had done so many,” she marvels in that voice, still commandingly patrician at 64. ”I don’t keep count. It goes on for three pages?” It does indeed — starting with her movie debut as the headstrong Jenny Fields in 1982’s The World According to Garp and extending to her most recent turn as a cross-dressing Irish waiter in Albert Nobbs, the wistful R-rated period drama. Garp brought Close the first of her five Oscar nominations, and Nobbs — which has already earned her SAG and Golden Globe nods — may be her best shot ever at finally winning the elusive prize.
The movie is the end of a decadelong drought of starring film roles for Close, who has kept herself busy racking up Emmys as the viperish lawyer Patty Hewes on TV’s legal series Damages. Albert Nobbs has also been the actress’ passion project ever since she played the role Off Broadway in 1982 — she co-produced the film, co-wrote its script, and gushes like a new mom about its arrival on the big screen. But with a little prodding, Close agrees to leave Nobbs behind momentarily for a tour of the iconic roles that led up to it. Individually, the performances are near-magical feats of transformation. But together they make up one of the most respected — and reproachably under-awarded — careers in the business. ”Wow” is right.
The World According to Garp (1982)
After spotting Close on Broadway in the 1980 musical Barnum, director George Roy Hill knew he’d found his Jenny Fields for the movie adaptation of John Irving’s oddball coming-of-age novel. But for the actress, jumping from stage to screen wasn’t so simple. ”I talked really loud because I was used to projecting from a stage,” says Close. ”And also my energy — I thought I would blow out the camera because I didn’t know how to pull it in.” The movie also marked the dramatic film debut of spark-plug-brained comedian Robin Williams, who starred as Jenny’s son, Garp. ”People would say, ‘Is Robin always like that?’ But when he wasn’t ‘on,’ he was very soft-spoken, and very vulnerable.” From the beginning, Close wasn’t afraid to go to the mat for her characters’ best interests. ”I fought for a look that I thought was convincing when [my character] aged. My best friend, Mary Beth Hurt, was also in Garp, and her wig was terrible. And she never did anything about it. Sounds like I’m all about wigs — well, I think any actress will be nodding her head in agreement.”