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Oscar Watch: Glenn Close Talks Gender Bender Albert Nobbs

Awards
by Anne Thompson
September 3, 2011 12:44 PM
7 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

Albert Nobbs is a 30-year labor of love for Glenn Close, who won an Obie for Simone Benmussa’s 1982 stage play based on a story by George Moore about a straight woman who passes as a male butler in a Dublin hotel in order to survive. Ever since, Close has been trying to turn the story into a movie, and finally pushed it through with actors’ favorite Rodrigo Garcia (Mother & Child) at the helm, thanks to some Fort Worth investors who were impressed that Close had some of her own skin in the $8 million venture. The film shot in chilly Dublin in 32 days. "The story seemed so psychologically modern," says Close, who is radiantly happy as writer-producer-star of the finished movie. "There's a comedic element. I think of Albert Nobbs as a clown, comic and tragic at the same time. it's about people surviving poverty, what people will do to survive."

The only person Nobbs can talk to, really, outside of work, is herself, alone in her room, counting her shillings to buy a tobacco shop. When she encounters another similar woman, a house painter passing as a man (the fabulous Janet McTeer) who actually has a wife, she gets the idea of wooing one of the pretty lasses in her hotel (Mia Wasikowska), who is already involved with a footman (Aaron Johnson). Istvan Szabo wrote one draft for himself to direct, and Orlando Bloom, Amanda Seyfried and Michael Gambon were going to star. It's just as well. The movie is a good, not great period piece bolstered by Close's subtle, contained performance as the heartbreakingly lonely waiter.

Before Close could commit to making the film --decades after she played the role on stage--Close did extensive make-up tests, inspired by a National Geographic article about Albanian women who lived as men. She added flesh to her nose and ears, put pluggers in her mouth, and added a short wig.

Over the years she had to become proactive about finding roles for herself, more in television (like the Emmy-winning Damages) than film. "Really strong or interesting women's parts are rare," she says, still angry that her Mary Stuart movie never got off the ground. "That would have been fucking incredible," she says. On Albert Nobbs, "it was so much fun being the writer." She didn't put pen to blank page, but rewrote other drafts. "It was a perfect artistic experience for me."

During her movie heyday in the 80s Close nabbed five Oscar nominations. Two were for best actress: Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons. She is long overdue for her first Oscar win. Roadside Attractions and Mickey Liddell are releasing Albert Nobbs into the Oscar fray this season, with hopes that Close's performance as the gender-bender might give Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady) some competition. The two companies also mounted a successful Oscar push for Biutiful, landing Javier Bardem a best actor nomination; and Roadside also scored four Oscar nominations for Winter’s Bone, including best actress for Jennifer Lawrence.

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More: Awards, Oscars, Interviews , Women in Film

7 Comments

  • Will | September 4, 2011 9:13 AMReply

    Hopeless Pedant was clearly talking about Streep's chances.
    As for Close, I hope she finally wins this year. She's America's greatest working actress and I hope we will see more from her soon.

  • hopeless pedant | September 4, 2011 6:58 AMReply

    Name calling now Ben? Doesn't speak well for you.

    My post was clear. First, it specifically referred to Streep in the line I quoted. Thus, obviously what I was writing referred to Streep.

    Then for those who were confused, I said specifically "her" film had not been screened. Since obviously Albert Nobbs has been screened, even more clearly I was referring to Iron Lady.

    You make a mistake. It happens, no biggie. And certainly no need for you to resort to make yourself look like a nasty name-caller protected by internet anonymity.

  • Ben | September 4, 2011 6:10 AMReply

    Hopeless Pendant: Don't blame your poor writing skills on us. If you were indeed referring to Streep and not Close in your first post, you should have made that clear. What a douche.

  • hopeless pedant | September 4, 2011 4:14 AMReply

    I was of course referring to the conclusion that Streep is going to be nominated. It's curious, reinforcing my point, that both of you missed the obvious questioning of Streep's, not Close's chances of being nominated. The Iron Lady is still a complete unknown in terms of quality of performance.

    Thanks for proving how easy it is for people to make the unsubstantiated assumption that Streep is an automatic nominee for this film. She is certainly a real possibility, but the idea that Close is the only person standing in the way of Streep winning (not what Anne said specifically, but to some extent implied) is way too common an error out there these days.

    Viola Davis is Close's competition at this point. We'll see about Streep, Williams, Mara and who knows who else in the next few months.

  • Zeus | September 4, 2011 2:50 AMReply

    "I just don’t get why this conclusion is so leaped easily to."

    Because it's Glenn Close playing a man. There have been other movies where a woman played a male role and the actresses were nominated for Oscars. "Victor/Victoria", "Transamerica", and winners in "The Year of Living Dangerously" and "Boys Don't Cry".

    It's assume that Meryl Streep will get an Oscar nomination, because she already has 15. Why not another? It doesn't hurt to nominate her for something she hasn't won in my entire life-span (29 years).

  • Ben | September 4, 2011 2:44 AMReply

    Hopeless Pedant: Did you somehow miss the use of the phrase "with hopes" in the sentence about Close possibly giving Streep competition or is your reading comprehension actually that poor?

    Not in any festivals? How about doing a bit of research before pretending you know the facts? ALBERT NOBBS just screened at Telluride last night and it's going to be screened again at the Toronto Film Festival. The movie will then be given a theatrical release this fall by Roadside Attractions.

  • hopeless pedant | September 4, 2011 1:55 AMReply

    "Give Meryl Streep some competition" ??

    How do we know she is going to be nominated, let alone competitive herself? The film hasn't been seen to my knowledge, for whatever reason is not in any fall festivals (which likely means nothing, but might indicate issues), we don't know how good the film is (critical for someone to win a 2nd lead Oscar - they always have been in big time Oscar contenders, virtually without exception.

    I just don't get why this conclusion is so leaped easily to.

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