When you consider her impressive resume, it’s hard to believe that actress Glenn Close was inordinately shy as a kid. She’s still battling timidity, she admits.
“I was incredibly shy when I was little, outside of my family group. So it’s always been not a terribly natural thing for me to feel comfortable walking into a big room of people. But I’m trying to overcome it because it seems so self-centered. But I think it’s kind of genetic, it’s just something you’ve grown up with.”
Being shy might be one reason for being an actor, she says. “Finding an expression that’s so different from what you are personally is actually very freeing and a very fulfilling exercise,” she says in the lobby lounge of a hotel here.
Close has certainly had her fling with characters unlike her. She grew up in patrician Connecticut, attended prep school, spent part of her youth in Switzerland and Africa where her physician father ran a clinic.
She has played everything from the unbalanced ex-lover in “Fatal Attraction” to the cartoonish villainess in “101 Dalmatians.”
She says she’s still fearful when she approaches a role. “Because there’s no formula, I don’t think. And you never know what element is going to open up that character for you. And a lot of times it’s intimidating to be faced with doing somebody like the Marquise de Merteuil (“Dangerous Liaisons”) or Patty Hewes (“Damages.”)
“My shyness can come out in front of a character that I’m being asked to play, and you’ve got to get through that,” says Close, who’s dressed in beige slacks, a navy blazer and a beige and navy sweater.
“Until you find what that key is - whether it’s the voice or sometimes it’s how she presents herself. Sometimes it’s not until you get into the full look, which is why I think of the costumer as a really important collaborator as they’re putting together the look. It’s very much a part of who that person is.”
For someone who has mastered Broadway, TV and film, it was a critical decision when Close, 61, agreed to star as the resolute litigator in FX’s series “Damages.”
“I had compunctions because you have to say you’ll give six years of your life to it, and that’s major, it’s a major commitment,” she says.
“But I thought about it very carefully. I’m married now, and you have to be there. I don’t take my marriage casually, so I didn’t want to be away from home huge chunks of time. I’ve done that for 34 years, and I just don’t want to do it anymore. It was (filmed) in New York and a great character under any criterion, and 13 episodes, which is basically about five months - which would leave time for the other things,” she says.
“What was the alternative, NOT to do it? Also, I was inspired by Helen Mirren and Judi Dench, who’ve done TV series their whole careers.”
Close has been married for two years to her third husband, David Shaw, a venture capitalist in biotechnology.
“I find what he does very creative and really fascinating,” she says. “On the biotech side he finds really interesting cutting-edge science and builds companies around it. He’s done a lot of stuff in the field of genetics. We met through a mutual friend. I was a little aware that I was being fixed up. He didn’t know much about me. I was the first actor he’d met. I liked that, and what’s fun is that he likes my friends and I like his friends because they are all basically interesting creative people. We’ve been married for two years, together four years.”
Still the world of make-believe and finance are miles apart, she confesses. “It’s hard for him to comprehend an actor’s life because in his world it’s due diligence. They know exactly what they’re getting into. If you plan something it actually happens. It’s very hard, I think, for somebody of that discipline to understand the random quality of what I do.”
Her most arduous challenge is balancing her work and her personal life, she thinks. “I’ve done it. I was a single parent. My daughter’s now 19, almost 20 - that’s a hu-u-u-ge balance so that’s the major consideration.”
Though Close’s career is studded with exemplary work, her most difficult time was when she starred in a little comedy called “Maxie.” The critics buried her for it.
“It really kind of got me in my engine because I think to survive in this business you have to have a balance of crazy belief in yourself, also a very informed objectivity about yourself, in order to have staying power,” she says.
“But for some reason that silly movie, and how people reacted to it, kind of gutted me for a while because I thought, `Do people know something I don’t know? Am I just a sham?’”
It helped when she read a book of criticisms aimed at other famous actors. “You realize everybody has had a moment when they go through that. I think a lot of people don’t think that actors are sensitive to it, for some reason. But of course, you are. In the theater I never read criticism because you have to go out the next night, but in movies where you’ve been through for six months, you tend to do it.”
She says she’s more cautious now. “It’s like being inoculated, because then you just say sometimes people will like it and sometimes people won’t like it, and in the scheme of things it doesn’t matter. What’s most important is if you’ve done work that you think is the best you could possibly do - at the time, with the tools you have, you do the best you can.”
Filming on the new season of “Damages” begins in June. It will air next January.
Lisa Edelstein, who plays the sexy hospital boss lady, Cuddy, on Fox’s “House,” says that tossing around medical symptoms and terms has a lasting side-effect. “When anybody I know has any symptoms at all, I have a thousand things that run through my head. A friend of mine has a rash that won’t go away, and I’m asking her if she had her immune system tested to make sure it’s not an auto-immune problem. It definitely gives you more information than you want most of the time. But most of it goes in and out of our heads because we have to compile so much stuff per episode. We have to let it go.”
Taking advantage of the popular horror movies of cable, this summer NBC is offering “Fear Itself,” an anthology series employing some of filmdom’s top horror movie directors and featured stars. The show premieres June 5.
Elisabeth Moss, who was so good as the naive Peggy Olson on “Mad Men,” stars in the “Eater” episode. It’s about a rookie cop who is left alone with a serial killer on - what else? - a dark and stormy night.
Stuart Gordon (“Masters of Horror,” “Dagon”) helms the project. “You’ll find that these directors and filmmakers who make these films that are absolutely terrifying and sometimes filled with horrible images are actually the sweetest, nicest guys and have families and are, incredibly intelligent and well-versed and literate,” says Moss.
“And Stuart is sort of the epitome of that. He’s like a big teddy bear and so sweet. And we had a lot of fun, actually. It was great. He kind of became a buddy of mine while we were shooting because it was basically just - in my storyline it’s a lot of just me. And if there are other people, they’re either trying to kill me or not being helpful. So Stuart was kind of my only ally, although he was responsible for putting me in these situations.”
If you’re quick, you’ll spot Kate Winslet in one of her very first screen roles in “Anglo-Saxon Attitudes,” a TV adaptation of Angus Wilson’s satire about Britain’s special brand of hypocrisy, coming to DVD July 1. The series stars Richard Johnson, Tara Fitzgerald and Daniel Craig.
That may have been her first, but not the hardest. Winslet thinks the most courageous role she ever did was the part of Ruth Barron in Jane Campion’s “Holy Smoke.” “The gutsiest thing I did in that film - possibly the gutsiest thing I’ve had to do in my life - was to walk around a red sand desert in the middle of the night, naked and peeing on camera for the whole world to see,” she says.
“The equivalent for anyone else is sitting in a restaurant having dinner, standing up, taking all your clothes off and getting on the table and having the whole room stare at you. That plus a trillion times over, completely terrifying still. Now I think to myself why on Earth did I do that? God knows why I did that? How did I manage that? God knows I’d never do it now. But I was 22, and I’m such a believer in going through life and having fantastic memories - no matter how good or bad or sound or strong or weak they might be. And I just knew in acting out that scene I was going to have that memory forever.”