Glenn Close: Close Call

Among actresses of a certain age, there's no one but Susan Sarandon who can rival Glenn Close for career vitality. After triumphing on Broadway in Sunset Boulevard, Close returns to a starring screen role as the biggest bitch in motion picture history, Cruella de Vil, in 101 Dalmatians. And she does a cameo as the first Lady in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! for good measure.

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Right away when I meet Glenn Close, I realize that not just her career, but everything about her is a surprise. For one thing, she's tiny--small-framed and just a shade over a hundred pounds. How can this be? Onscreen, she always seems so imposing. I think of her plotting with John Malkovich in Dangerous Liaisons or seducing Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction--the word "waif" does not come to mind. Close is also gorgeous. I'm used to hearing her described as someone who's tremendously talented, but not sexy enough to cast as "the girl." Trust me on this: anyplace else in the world, anyplace sane, Close would be considered a stunner.

I settle in with Close in the library of her home in upstate New York, which she shares with her eight-year-old daughter, Annie, and Steve Beers, who she met when he was the head carpenter for her Broadway hit Sunset Boulevard. On the shelf across the room sit three Tonys (for Death and the Maiden, The Real Thing and Sunset Boulevard), and an Emmy (for Serving in Silence: The Marguerite Cammermeyer Story). Close hasn't won any of the five Oscars she's been nominated for (The World According to Garp, The Big Chill, The Natural, Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons), or any of the Grammys she's been nominated for (the album from The Real Thing and a couple of children's recordings for Rabbit Ears Productions), but there's room on the shelves for those, too.

''I can't think of anyone in history who's been nominated in all these arenas," I say.

Close thinks about it for a good minute or two. "Maybe Rita Moreno?" she asks with a chuckle.

What a career Close has had. She didn't start acting in films until she was 35. Garp wasn't just the first film we noticed her in... it was her first film! In the 14 years since then, she's been in a string of remarkable movies and in between she's done remarkable television--besides Serving in Silence, she starred in the beloved Hallmark Hall of Fame special Sarah, Plain and Tall, plus its sequel, Skylark. Then, in the face of everyone's doubt and Faye Dunaway's dismay, she stunned both coasts with a Tony Award-winning star turn in Sunset Boulevard.

Now she's playing the most demented bitch ever to appear on-screen, Cruella de Vil, in the live-action version of the Disney animated classic 101 Dalmatians. "'I found a great quote from you when I was reading up for this interview," I tell her, leafing through pages of background material. '"When you were talking about what a shrew Alex Forrest was in Fatal Attraction, and how cruel the Marquise de Merteuil was in Dangerous Liaisons, you said. 'I can't think of a role that has this kind of size, unless you're talking about Cruella de Vil.' Is this a role that you've always been dying to play?"

"Let me see that." says Close, grabbing the papers out of my hand. "My God, I had no idea Cruella de Vil was even in my consciousness! Surely 101 Dalmatians was one of the scariest books I ever read, but no, I didn't think I was working up towards playing Cruella."

"It seems like you're always playing the Saint or the Sinner. In your first films, The World According to Garp and The Big Chill, you were an earth mother. Then, after Fatal Attraction, you became the man-eater..."

Close is laughing. "It's true," she admits.

"People will never forget that scene in The Big Chill where you're sitting on the floor in the bathroom, naked and sobbing..."

"Thank God for that scene. It set her up as someone with real emotion, real pain,"

"Personally, I'll never forget the scene where your character kisses her husband [Kevin Kline], and then asks him to go have sex with her best friend so the friend can get pregnant. I thought that said a hell of a lot about who that character was. I forgot how cool the early '80s were till I watched that again."

Close leans back and takes a deep breath. "I haven't seen The Big Chill for so long, but the further I get from that time in history, the cooler it seems to me, too."

"You were nominated for an Academy Award for your first three films... "

"I lost Garp to Jessica Lange in Tootsie, so that didn't make me feel bad. Then I lost for The Big Chill to Linda Hunt. I remember that I didn't have a speech prepared, because I was just going to get up there and thank everyone--I mean every single person involved in the project. Those are the speeches that people just hate. But Linda Hunt won, and she got up there and said. 'This is like water from the moon.' And I thought, holy shit, what a great thing to say. I would never have said something so great. For The Natural, I honestly think they should have nominated the lighting guy [instead], because I was backlit the whole time like I was an angel--all that was missing was a halo!"

"The Stone Boy, which you did with Robert Duvall, sort of got lost in the shuffle."

"Yes, it did. Duvall and I play parents of two sons, and our youngest boy accidentally shoots our oldest son when they're out rabbit hunting. And..."

I'm laughing, thinking of Close cooking the bunny in Fatal Attraction.

"I know. I know," she says, laughing too. "Rabbits are a strong theme in my films. Thank God Cruella doesn't want to wear a rabbit coat."

"Jagged Edge is one of my favorite films. I'm totally wild for Jeff Bridges," I admit.

"Me too," Close says.

"I watched it again last night, and I found something very strange. The movie is about a man who slashes his wife to death with a jagged-edged knife. And the murder in the film took place on June 12, 1985. Coincidence?" Close looks confused.

"June 12th,'' I repeat. "The same date that Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were killed, slashed to death with a knife."

The color has drained from Close's face. "Are you sure?"

"Positive. And the husband in the film gets away with it. How many times do you think O.J. has seen Jagged Edge?"

"Stop it, you're really scaring me," says Close, so I do.

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