Glenn Close on playing The Wife and being a mother
Hollywood veteran Glenn Close talks about her new drama The Wife, the title character of which she shares with her own actress daughter.
With a title like The Wife, it’s hardly surprising Glenn Close’s latest film – out in the UK this week – is a family affair.
Yet this story of a woman whose writer husband is chosen to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature puts family relations to the fore both on and off the screen.
For one thing, the younger version of Close’s Joan Castleman character is played in flashbacks by Annie Starke, the actress’s 30-year-old daughter.
In addition, Joan’s son David is played by Max Irons, whose father Jeremy starred opposite Close in Reversal of Fortune and The House of the Spirits.
Close says she deliberately stayed away from set on the days her daughter was shooting her scenes.
“I didn’t want Annie to feel her mother was hovering around,” the actress says. “It was important she worked independently of me.”
It was Close who suggested to her Swedish director, Bjorn Runge, that Starke take on the role, which became available after a previously cast actress withdrew from the project.
She did so with the firm conviction Starke would more than hold her own against such actors as Downton Abbey’s US star Elizabeth McGovern and Britain’s Harry Lloyd, known for Game of Thrones and Wolf Hall.
“Being my daughter is something Annie has had to contend with her whole life,” she reveals. “I’ve always been aware of how difficult it has been for her sometimes.
“The thing that gives me great joy is that I think she’ll have a phenomenal career. I’ve thought from when she was very little that she had a natural talent.”
Phenomenal is an apt word to describe Close’s own career, which spans four decades and straddles television, film and the stage.
The recipient of six Oscar nominations, she is the winner of three Primetime Emmys, three Tonys, two Golden Globes and a SAG award.
Her many successes include Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, TV drama Damages and the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Sunset Boulevard.
Now 71, she has reached the age where lifetime achievement awards are coming her way. (Her visit to last year’s Zurich Film Festival, for example, saw her presented with its Golden Icon Award.)
“It’s nice to have a body of work that’s worthy of a lifetime achievement award,” she smiles. “I’m at a point in my career where there’s a lot to look back on.
“What is important is you do work that is authentic to you and feel fulfilled and challenged by… and that you spend your creative life with people who are worth leaving home for.”
One of those people is Britain’s Jonathan Pryce, who plays Joan’s far-from-perfect husband Joe.
A much-feted author with a formidable literary reputation, he is also a self-absorbed philanderer who adores being the centre of attention.
“I was thrilled to work with Jonathan and I was very grateful he supported me in a movie called The Wife,” his co-star gushes. “We couldn’t find an American actor who would do that.
“Jonathan had the courage not to ask for the audience’s pity or even their understanding. What he does in the film breaks my heart.”
Set in the days preceding Joe’s Nobel presentation, The Wife sees Joan begin to question the 40 years she has spent supporting her husband at the cost of her own dreams and ambitions.
“Joan is a complex woman,” says Close. “It was a real challenge for me to try to understand her and where she is at this very crucial point in her life.
“I didn’t know when I said yes to the movie if I could find a reason why she stayed with him for so long. That was my first question, and I knew all women would ask the same thing.”
Compared to some of the other demands that come with her job, though, playing Joan was a breeze. “For me the most painful part of what I have to do is finding something to wear on the red carpet,” she sighs.