News Column

Glenn Close's Singular Pursuit Leads Her to 'Albert Nobbs'

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Glenn Close, legendary actress, star of Albert Nobbs, is on the prowl in a black leather pantsuit. She smells Oscar.

The party at the sprawling home of Fort Worth, Texas, real estate magnate John Goff and his wife, Cami, is nothing if not deluxe: Waiters smoothly circulate around the bejeweled, carefully coiffed guests, carrying trays of drinks, lobster rolls and mini empanadas.

In the living room, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his wife, Gene, look relaxed and in good spirits. Although Van Cliburn hasn't yet arrived, the buzz in the room is that he will be turning up imminently.

But down one flight of stairs, in a small, luxuriantly decorated room just off the Goffs' wine cellar, actress Glenn Close is sitting in a white leather chair, wearing a black pantsuit and an expression of purposeful determination. This entire party might be in her honor, but Close isn't necessarily here to have a good time.

Seven days before the Golden Globes, 16 days before the Oscar nominations will be announced, she's instead engaged in the serious business of guiding her new movie, Albert Nobbs, through a highly competitive awards season.

"You have to show up, because that's part of it," she says of the film, which received a quarter of its $8 million budget from the Goffs.

"You want it to be successful, so I'm here in Fort Worth."

This week, Close earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for playing the title character in Albert Nobbs, a 19th-century Irish woman who, after years of dressing as a man to maintain employment at a hotel, falls in love with a young female co-worker (Mia Wasikowska).

It's Close's sixth nomination overall (she has never won the prize), and it's the culmination of an arduous awards campaign that began at the Telluride Film Festival, where Albert Nobbs premiered in September, and that has had the actress jetting from New York to Toronto to Spain to California in recent months.

That one of the stops on the Albert Nobbs tour was Fort Worth -- where, for five or so hours Jan. 8, Close hobnobbed with her investors and their well-heeled friends, and then attended an invitation-only screening at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth -- speaks volumes about the sometimes strange ways independent movies get funded these days.

It perhaps says even more about the fierce will of a 64-year-old actress who first played the role of Albert Nobbs 30 years ago off-Broadway and was determined at all costs to bring it to the big screen.

"I did actually stop myself about five years ago," says Close, talking about the film's epic gestation period. "There's the moment of not wanting to give it up, and then there's the moment where maybe I'm not right to play this part anymore. But I just wasn't willing, after all this time, to throw in the towel."

Stage roots

Close won an Obie award in 1982 for her performance in Simone Benmussa's The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs, a play based on a short story by the late Irish author George Moore. She was so taken by the role -- a woman who has dressed as a man for so long that she no longer has a handle on her own gender -- that she optioned Moore's story, with the hopes of turning it into a movie.

She shopped the idea around to writers, but eventually decided to co-write the screenplay herself. She brought on director Rodrigo Garcia, with whom she worked on the indie films Nine Lives and Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her.

But again and again, no matter to whom she turned or where she brought the project, she was turned down for financing.

"I never resented the fact that people didn't get it," Close says now. "Because I knew that it was one of these occasions where you won't get it until you see it. You just won't. There are too many subtleties. There are too many things that I knew would be powerful visually, but you didn't necessarily comprehend them when you read them on the page."

Here's where the story takes a curious turn: One of the film's producers, Bonnie Curtis, is the niece of Dallas businessman John Amend, who decided to host a dinner party for Curtis and Close and invite a few folks who might be interested in investing in their film. Two of the guests that night were John and Cami Goff, who eventually agreed to put up money to make the movie, on the condition that Close match them dollar-for-dollar. (Although the Goffs didn't cite a specific figure, estimates put their contribution at around $2 million.)

"I invest in a lot of business projects and real estate projects, and so to do something that's completely new and different for me has been a lot of fun," says John Goff. Credited as executive producers, the Goffs gave notes on the script and visited the set of Albert Nobbs in Ireland with their children. They were even planning on attending the Oscar ceremony.

It sounds like a recipe for disaster, or at least a forgotten episode of Entourage -- the wealthy neophytes who know nothing about the movie business force themselves onto a set and create havoc. But for Close and her team, the money meant that the movie would finally be made. And Hollywood, after all, is all about the art of compromise.

"Sometimes you get financiers who are difficult," says Garcia, who also traveled to Fort Worth for the party and screening. "But it was a good match -- everyone was level-headed. There was not a crazy among us." He adds that the Goffs "asked for nothing but to watch us work and to ask us questions."

When we talked at the Goffs' home, Close came across as focused and deliberate, an actress on top of her game. She said exactly what you're supposed to say when you're embroiled in the half-shameless act of promoting a potential Oscar nominee ("Whether you win or not, when you're in that kind of company ...").

She said extremely polite things about the Goffs, comparing the experience of meeting them to finding "a pearl" on "a vast beach of white pebbles."

On the carpet

A few hours later, at the red carpet event at the Modern, she was indefatigable, posing for photographers, stopping to talk to student journalists, smiling as audience members introduced themselves.

Introducing Albert Nobbs inside the Modern's auditorium -- to an audience that included not just Jerry Jones and Van Cliburn, but also former Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, current Mayor Betsy Price and TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini Jr. -- she repeated the anecdote about finding a pearl in the Goffs.

But if you were paying careful attention, you could occasionally catch glimpses of a less-rehearsed Close.

You got a sense of the psychic toll it might take to sustain a career for decades in an industry mostly indifferent to adult-minded movies, and arguably even more indifferent to 60-something actresses. You saw hints of how exasperating it must sometimes be, after multiple Oscar nominations and Golden Globes, after nearly four decades acting in iconic movies such as The World According to Garp, Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons and Reversal of Fortune, to still have to traipse around the country singing for your supper.

"At this point in my life, it's how I use my time," she says during our interview. "That's the most important thing to me. If I'm not with a top team of people, with a script that I don't have absolute belief in, then I'd rather be at home with my husband. Because it's too costly. I've spent too much time being away from the people I love in this profession. I just won't sacrifice that anymore." (Close married her third husband, businessman David Shaw, in 2006.)

And then, a little later, she lets loose with a brief expletive -- all the more startling because her manner until now has been so properly ladylike.

"If you try to choose some movie because you think it's going to win you an award, or because it's going to make you a lot of money, that's when you start chipping away at who you are," says Close. "And you can lose your way so f---ing fast in this business."

At the Modern, the audience cheered rapturously for Close, as she spoke for about five minutes before the film. But then the lights came down, and the actress was on her way to her next stop. She was flying to New York, where she lives, and where she was expected to be on the set of her DirecTV series Damages the next morning.

A few days after that, she would fly to Los Angeles for the Golden Globes, where she lost the best actress in a drama statue to Meryl Streep (for The Iron Lady). Close will return to L.A. for the Academy Awards on Feb. 26, where most prognosticators see the prize going to either Streep or The Help's Viola Davis -- with Close once again playing the role of Oscar bridesmaid.

Mixed reception

Indeed, if there's an irony about the actress's Albert Nobbs journey, it's that the film itself -- a sometimes twee, dramatically underpowered story -- hasn't been especially well-received by critics, and that Close's deeply interior performance leaves a lot of people cold.

More than one review has noted that the film gets stolen by Close's co-star, Janet McTeer, who plays another woman who dresses as a man, and who earned supporting actress nominations at the Golden Globes and the Oscars.

But when Close talks about Albert Nobbs, questions of good or bad -- or whether her performance ranks alongside her turns in, say, The Natural or The Big Chill or Sarah, Plain and Tall -- suddenly seem crude and beside the point. She has thought about this role for 30 years. The film got made. It's almost like it became an obsession that she had to work out of her system, by whatever means necessary.

Sometimes prizes matter a lot less than simply getting it done.

"There won't ever be another Albert Nobbs for me," Close says, and there isn't even a hint of romance in her voice.

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