Fighting for her movie: I’ve been trying to film Albert Nobbs, the story of a woman who poses as a man so she can work as a butler in 19th-century Ireland, ever since I played Albert Off-Broadway 29 years ago. She’s just a really unusual character. There aren’t a thousand Albert Nobbses out there in terms of roles, and that’s pretty special. I never could quite get her out of my head and I just felt that with the right team it would make a really impactful film. But it was a very hard sell. The humor of the piece and the huge emotional impact of the piece just wouldn’t come out when you were talking about it.
I define an independent film as a film that almost doesn’t get made and that’s what Albert Nobbs was for me. I’ve had such a feeling of joyous closure after finally getting it done.
Identity confusion: I never was playing a man as Nobbs. I always felt I was in the disguise of a man, but in the skin of a woman. So this was not a gender thing for me. But I know how gender things can come up as you grow up. When I was young my nickname was Glennie and I was very much a tomboy. I wasn’t the type to be teased, so they didn’t bully me. But when I arrived on the campus of William and Mary, there was confusion because they couldn’t find my papers until they realized they had been filed with the Dean of Men. And I used to get letters trying to recruit me into the marines. It doesn’t happen anymore!
Getting into the role: Movement was very important, my way into Albert. I watched a lot of Charlie Chaplin to help me with that. I felt there was a big quotient of clown in Albert. A lot of great clowns have a sadness about them. I looked at Chaplin and the length of his pants and the size of his pants. Albert has pants that are baggy and shoes that are very long. You only focus on that at the beginning, when you are meeting him; he has shoes that are just short of clown shoes.
Childhood dreams: I had a very active imagination when I was young and that helped guide my interest in acting. I was brought up on the great cartoons and movies of Disney, like Snow White and Bambi and Old Yeller and The Little Outlaws. I remember wanting to run away and knock on Walt Disney’s door and say, “I can do that. Won’t you put me in your movie?” I also had a fascination with fairy tales, especially the morbid ones. So when I was asked to play Cruella de Vil in the 1996 101 Dalmatians, I was thrilled. I got to play a witch, and I got to play it for Disney.
Cruella, you’re a sham! Actually, dogs are one of my great passions. I grew up with dogs and I adore them. At the moment I’m walking with Bill and Jake, my two terrier mixes, on the rocks outside my home in Maine now. I’ve even blogged about dogs [on Lively Licks at fetchdog.com].
Anything nice to say about Patty Hughes in Damages? What I like about Patty is how she keeps people off balance. I think that’s her talent. I like that way she has where underneath she actually fights the right fight. Her battles, no matter how she wages them, are worth it. They are against people who are actually kind of bad. I think of her as a very problematic crusader. When I was trying to get a handle on her character in the pilot, the crucial scene for me was when I told Ellen, “Don’t be a mother. It will ruin your ambition.” And I thought that it was important that Ellen not really know if I meant what I said or not. That’s the essence of Patty. She says something that might be her truth, but she doesn’t want you to be sure if it really is.
Do you have a secret dream? I’ve gotten to do Blanche Du Bois [in A Streetcar Named Desire] and Nellie Forbush [in South Pacific], dream parts I’ve always wanted to do. My first childhood memory of music was looking up at the record spinning on the turntable and hearing Mary Martin sing “Cockeyed Optimist.” But dancing is something I would love to do better. I wish I were a great ballroom dancer. I think that’s so cool. Or a great swing dancer.
After we finished filming Jagged Edge, we had one of the great rap parties. Jeff Bridges is a great swing dancer and Mary Kay Place came by for fun, and she’s a great swing dancer and the two of them were just unbelievable. I’ll never forget it. I started in ballet, but you know how opinionated little kids are. I didn’t like those clothes. I also wanted to get on toe as soon as possible but it doesn’t work that way. I remember my teacher, Mr. Olney. He kept calling me Glenna and I hated it. So I told my mom that I didn’t want to go back. But in thinking back, it would probably have been something very good for me to have done because I’m naturally pigeon toed. It might have helped me turn my feet out sooner.
The skin she’s in: I’m very different than I was at 20, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel like a finished person. Does anyone? I certainly have learned a great deal about my craft, and I’m very proud of that. I really think of acting as a craft. It’s not about being a star or about anything other than just getting under the skin of somebody who will make an emotional connection with other people. Life is hard for everyone. But I think I’m at a very good time of life. My daughter is grown, I have a wonderful husband, I am very happy in my personal life. And I am professionally very happy. What I like about life now is that there are a lot of possibilities. But I’ll only choose something that will be interesting and challenging and worth leaving home for.
Want MORE? Check out our story on another Golden Globe nominee, Elizabeth McGovern.
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