Glenn Close: Close Call

I'm rolling my eyes. "Boring" is the one word I come up with.

"Well." says Close, unrepentant, "it was a great experience."

"OK, fine. But you really do have some explaining to do about The House of the Spirits."

"I know, I know. It was a very tricky character. The truth is. I was miscast,"

"You were all miscast..."

"I agree. It should have been Hispanics, and it should have been all about the passion. It was too cold. In the book, these people were highly emotional--always screaming and loving and haling. But Bille [August, the director] didn't like screams, so nobody screamed."

Annie has been listening to all this with rapt attention. Then the door opens and Steve Beers comes in. There's talk about who will drive Annie to her riding lesson, a few kisses, and then they're off.

"He's cute, your boyfriend," I tell Close, as if she hasn't noticed,

"My fiancé," she sighs, holding out her hand to show off a small but pretty diamond ring.

"You're getting married again?" I remind Close that she's been married twice before and has often said that she's never going to do it again.

"I know, I know," she says. "But, yes, we're going to get married."

"Third time's the charm," I say. We both knock wood, and turn our attention to The Paper, Ron Howard's film about a New York City newspaper.

"I love Ron Howard, he's a wonderful director, incredibly prepared. But I have to criticize my performance in that movie. It all took place in one day. My character was having a bad day, so she's having a bad day throughout the whole movie. But this was a comedy, and I think I was too serious, too dense. Yes, I think that describes my failure there."

"You had a small pan in Mary Reilly..." I begin. This should be interesting.

"I called Stephen Frears, who had directed me in Dangerous Liaisons, and I said, 'C'mon, everyone from Dangerous is in this film, I want a part.' I felt left out. So he gave me the part of a bordello owner, and I thought it would take a week--go to London, have some fun, and come home. But it was hard. They wanted this Liverpudlian accent and Stephen was great, because he kept pushing me to do stuff that I didn't know how to do. The character, I think, was quite interesting. But she's in only three scenes."

"Well, those three scenes were not nearly enough to save it. I'm used to Julia Roberts being dreadful, but John Malkovich was certainly giving her a run for her money in the dreadful department."

"Oh, I don't think so ..."

"Sorry, but you're wrong. It was a complete fiasco."

Close sits quietly. There is absolutely no way that she's about to say anything negative about her Hollywood cohorts. Suddenly it occurs to me that Close managed to have a part in both of Julia Roberts's two worst movies, Hook and Mary Reilly. But I know I'm not going to get anywhere with this particular surprise of Close's career, so I go on.

"You also do a cameo in Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!"

"Oh, I had a ball. I play the first lady to Jack Nicholson's president."

"What a thought. Jack Nicholson as president..."

"And my character is a compulsive ditz who's much more interested in redecorating the While House than what's going on in the world. And the Martians are attacking. That wonderful Natalie Portman is our daughter, and she's very alienated--we're a most dysfunctional family. A lot of what I do is just watch the Martians on television in the oval office. And one time we were sitting there and I had tea and all Tim said was, 'I want this to be a spit take.'"

"What's a spit take?"

Close pretends to spit all over me. "That's what Tim wanted, for you to see the surprise on my face and I just spit the tea all over the place."

"I bet Cruella de Vil would never do a spit take."

"Not on her life, Cruella's the devil. She has no redeeming qualities about her. I mean, people ask me if she's like Norma Desmond [Close's character in Sunset Boulevard]. Absolutely not, She's at the other end of the spectrum, because Norma was this fragile creature, and Cruella is a manipulator, gleefully evil, and getting a great kick out of being destructive. I found it quite sobering to have to follow in the footsteps of that wonderful animated creature, because I think she really is an icon of sorts. And her style is so fantastic. Cruella makes Norma look like something from the Salvation Army. Endangered species are her favorite, so she has this snow leopard cape. I modeled my voice on Joanna Lumley, the wonderful British actress [from "Absolutely Fabulous"]. It's a slightly nasal, upper-class voice. I think your first instinct is to distort, but what really worked, in the end, was to try to make her basically as glamorous as possible. Because she's the head of a house of fashion. And then to just let the character distort the face, not do it with any kind of makeup. I'd have to say that Cruella is one of the most wonderful characters I've ever played. I think she's going to scare the shit out of people."

"Did you have to think a lot about skinning puppies to get into your role?"

Close laughs at my question, "Annie was over there with me [in London] for the shoot, and although Cruella doesn't have a lot of scenes with the dogs, there were 200 dalmatian puppies on the set. Both the Dalmatian Society of England and the production department were very concerned that the dogs be treated right. So to go in and see the puppies, which we liked to do a lot, you had to walk through a chemical bath and wash your hands."

On the way out of Close's house, after we finish talking, I notice a very strange thing in her kitchen: the knife from Fatal Attraction is framed and hanging in a spot that's hard to miss.

"What's with the knife?" I ask, thinking immediately of puppies, rabbits, men and other living creatures.

"It's the first thing that people usually see when they come in the house," says Close with a wicked smile. "I want them to know just who they're dealing with."


Martha Frankel interviewed Bruce Willis for the August issue of Movieline.

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