“I think any man, if someone comes in the room—gay or straight—their first thought is ‘would I fuck them?’” Glenn Close had been talking about murder mysteries for a while before she delivered this dose of gender essentialism. She told me a nice story about her great aunt, who was sent home in a passing car after getting knocked out by a horse in the 1930s. We were here to talk about her latest movie, an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Crooked House. While on set her fluffy white dog Pip leapt into an algae-covered fountain because he thought it was solid ground.
In Crooked House Close plays an aunt named Edith, alongside Gillian Anderson and Christina Hendricks and Terence Stamp and Jeremy Irons’s son Max Irons. They’re all members of a sprawling and horrible family who live in a country manor (the same one that’s in the aerial shots of The Remains of the Day). The patriarch of the family has died. Was he murdered, and if so, why? In those plot basics, Crooked House is classic and undististinguished Christie. The ending is where the movie’s value lies, and Close helps land it spectacularly.
The whole production, however, carries the unmistakable whiff of holiday television. Close is just too good for it, something that we’ve learned again and again when she makes her co-stars look like toddlers in a school play. Rose Byrne (her co-star in Damages) is a good actor, but she’s not good enough to seem good next to Glenn Close. Those dalmation puppies? Totally outshone. But Edith is still a solid role for Close. Her best turns always hinge on concealment, so she’s suited to murder mystery.
In Fatal Attraction, all the horror is contingent on her performance: the charm of her initial seduction campaign, the reasonableness of her initial demands, the bloody denouement. In the superb Albert Nobbs, Close played a waiter “living as a man,” as the old phrase went, buttoning all Albert’s fears and identity struggles and traumatic past under a stiff shirt and a blank face. Her Gertrude in Mel Gibson’s Hamlet was another triumph of implication, loving her son with a suggestive incestuousness buried under warmth.
Close’s inscrutability is a part of what makes her beauty so unique. Her face is dimensional the way that a cut gem has facets. When I close my eyes and recall our interview now, my memory is of her jaw and the way it met her cheekbone.
She has had an extraordinary life, too: Her father was personal physician to Mobutu Sese Seko, dictator of Zaire, and helped to stem an Ebola outbreak in that country in 1976. Her second cousin is Brooke Shields. When she was seven, her parents joined a controlling cult called the Moral Re-Armament (MRA), now called Initiatives of Change. She travelled with an MRA musical group called Up With People in the late 60s, eventually forming her own group called the Green Glenn Singers.
Close left MRA to attend William and Mary College at 22, where she discovered serious acting. She acted on the stage and television through her twenties, but didn’t participate in a movie until The World According to Garp, when she was 35, playing the 31-year-old Robin Williams’s mother. Her next role was in The Big Chill, and the 80s continued to be kind to her. Fatal Attraction came in 1987, and cemented her position as a rare artist in Hollywood.
A woman like Glenn Close ought to know a thing or two about the human condition. So, though I was wilting a little under the Close gaze, I managed to bring up Hollywood’s sexual harassment scandal. She looked up sharply, with a face totally different to the one she’d been using to discuss British aristocracy and Agatha Christie. “It’s been going on so long.” Close has spent 35 years at Hollywood’s coalface, auditioning and vying for roles and getting them done and promoting them. The casting couch was an occupational reality. “I never was preyed upon,” she said, but “I had a very uncomfortable audition once where someone put his hand on my thigh.” The man was not doing anything with the hand. It was just sitting there like a dead thing on Glenn Close’s leg. Actually, she recalls, it happened twice.
The man was trying to provoke “what they’d call sexual chemistry,” Close thinks. If she’d laughed and pushed him away and shown that she wasn’t intimidated, she said, that would have been a desired reaction. She said such behavior is boundary-testing, but also thinks it is animal, essential. “It’s like putting a dog in with a bitch and seeing if he wants to hump her.”
That behavior, Close feels, “is part of the male DNA.” Men’s sexual aggression is “just the way it is.” Now, “after all these centuries,” men don’t “act on that; most of them don’t.” And exposure is the way towards progress: “I think if it’s blown open and they know it’s not acceptable anymore and there will be consequences.”
It’s counterintuitive these days to refer to DNA when talking about male behavior, almost taboo or retrograde. Most young people talk about socialized masculinity, and the expectations placed on men and boys to act up to power dynamics established long before their birth. But Close is clear on this. “I think it’s in the DNA,” she repeats.
But women must be supported, and their paralyzed response to harassment understood. “I think what happens to these women who are powerless, whom people ask, ‘Why don’t you just say fuck you and walk out?’—they’re frozen,” she said. “It’s easy to judge, but no. I can really understand. You don’t know what to do.” But there’s no surprise: “I’m not shocked.”
The future looks redeemable, however, to Glenn Close. “I don’t think we can go back. I mean, what’s the alternative? There’s no alternative.”