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Cliff Hanger

Glenn Close finds comfort on the edge



Glenn Close as Joan and Jonathan Pryce as Joe in The Wife, “are like two great soloists playing together, uniting the story through their art,” says director Bjőrn Runge.

Photo by Graeme Hunter, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

She’s a legend—an award-winning actress who has mesmerized us for decades on stage and screen with her spot-on portrayals of multi-faceted women. Glenn Close first came to my attention back in 1982 when she made her film debut as Jenny Fields in The World According to Garp. In rapid succession, she followed with starring roles in 1980s classics like The Big Chill, The Natural, and the psychological thriller Fatal Attraction (partially filmed right here in Bedford). By the early ’90s, while continuing to churn out impressive television and film performances, she eschewed settling down in Hollywood and instead opted to make a home here with daughter Annie Starke, who enrolled at Bedford Village Elementary School. Close was so supportive of the local schools, that in 1996, she hosted a PTA meeting at Beanfield, her Bedford home, where she and music man (and neighbor) Paul Shaffer entertained fellow parents with show tunes before we turned our focus to the upcoming school-bond vote.

Petite, blonde, with freckles sprinkled across her face, she was disarmingly down-to-earth while greeting each of us as we walked through her front door. Despite what audiences were about to witness in the soon-to-be-released Disney live-action 101 Dalmations, in which Close would star as the villainous Cruella de Vil, this high-profile mother of one was friendly, engaged, and her quick laugh wasn’t even remotely terrifying.

Close is still very much at home in Bedford, where she recently hosted Starke’s wedding in her backyard. “I love its serenity. I love its privacy. And, I love the dirt roads. It’s a lot like where I grew up in back-country Greenwich,” she tells me on a steamy summer afternoon. “When I was little we always used to come over to the Bedford Playhouse to see children’s films, a lot of cartoons, and news reels.” An early supporter of the Playhouse’s new chapter, Close took to the stage with other celebrated neighbors in 2016 to help raise funds for the renovation of the c.1947 theater. “I love the idea of using a venue like that for the community, especially in a place like Bedford where there is an incredible population to mine for interesting things,” she continues. “I love the lectures, the documentaries, and the films, and it gives everyone a wonderful place to meet.”

Just last month, Close gave locals a chance to preview her latest film, The Wife, for which she is receiving serious Oscar buzz (she’s previously been nominated six times) at the Playhouse. The drama unfolded on screen as Close as Joan Castleman, a woman who set aside her own aspirations to support her husband, is rendered silent for years, and during a pivotal struggle, finds her voice. The actress tells me that watching marriages, including her parents’, over many years helped her to prepare for the role of a marginalized woman who is overlooked, in The Wife’s case, even by her own family. “My mother was someone I observed sacrificing various talents in order to support my dad.” 

Delving deeper into her family history, Close notes that she wouldn’t really have any advice to give her young adult self because “I’d come out of a weird childhood. My family had basically been in a cult group from when I was seven until I went to college. So, I think I did pretty damn well under the circumstances. I decided to not trust any of my instincts because they had all been dictated to me. The first day of college, I walked into the theater department and auditioned for Twelfth Night. My desire to be an actress helped me form myself as a human.” 

At the College of William & Mary, Close was lucky to bloom under the tutelage of theater department chair Howard Scammon, who understood the seriousness of what she wanted to do. Now, she pays that favor forward. “I always feel that if I’m the head of a company of any kind—be it “Damages” or Sunset Boulevard, that I’m in a mentoring position automatically, and I think it’s tremendously important how you hone that company. It’s like a living organism. Very chemical. You know the basic thing I do is I let everyone know that I notice what they do, and I appreciate it,” she says. 

At 71, Close shows no signs of slowing down. “I am still totally challenged and excited about exploring different human beings in these different characters that I take on. For me, it’s a fascinating exploration in behavior, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that,” she says. “I’m preparing for a new play at the Public called the Mother of the Maid, where I play Joan of Arc’s mother. I find that as challenging as anything I’ve ever done. I mean, I’ve never played a part like that. You get terrified, and you think ‘I hope I can do it,’ it’s that kind of going out on the edge of the cliff that I like.”

(Photo above left: Paul Shaffer with Glenn Close)

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