Glenn Close – You wouldn’t know or recognize it from looking at frizzy black hair or Reebok rectangular sneakers, but Hillbilly Elegy’s Mamaw fits perfectly into Glenn Close’s comfort zone. The actress loves a good transformation: Cruella De Mon’s black and white evil, Albert Nobbs’ male stoicism, Norma Desmond’s fading greatness.
At least this is not who is here today. From her home in Montana, one morning in early September, Close comes comfortably in a blue plaid shirt, with the mountain landscape creeping into the frame through the glass of a side door. She fumbles around with her Zoom a bit, trying to get it to go full screen – when asked if she’s become a video chat pro in recent months, she asks, laughing, “Does that sound to you?” – before settling down to talk about her next significant movie role.
Is there a more skillful living actress – more eager – to remove all traces of herself from her roles? Last year, in nearly 40 years of nomination, Close came closer than ever to winning her first Oscar, for her relatively real twist on The Wife; she was eventually ignored for Olivia Colman’s scandalous The Favorite Queen Anne. I know Close remains winless, more than any other living artist. It just seems fitting that Elgy, perhaps her most significant movie makeover – certainly the least glamorous – to date, could get her across the finish line.
As the cliche goes, the actress disappears in the vividly realized character, not probably because of differences in her normal appearance. Before the production began, director Ron Howard and Close enlisted his makeup artist Albert Nobbs, Matthew W. Mungle, to experience the interpretations of the Appalachian matriarch; another Nobbs Oscar-nominated collaborator, Martial Corneville, is responsible for the signature hairstyle. Close recalls the cosmetic conversations, “How big should my fake breasts be?” How heavy?” She tore through baggy T-shirts and oversized glasses.
While Mamaw passed away long before filming, her loved ones were alive and around set, armed with vivid anecdotes. “I found that he sometimes drank two cigarettes at the same time, and she loved to provoke people,” Close says.
The result is undoubtedly a testament to his talent, without a doubt. But Close, looking back on decades of metamorphosis, doesn’t want all the credit: “I’ve been working in this industry for 45 years, but it inspires and still amazes me to see this beautiful and detailed and intricate work. “Costume designer Virginia Johnson (Patriots Day, Spenser Confidential), who had searched thrift stores and hired a graphic designer to draw the prints on Mamaw’s shirts, found Close to be an unusual collaboration, as she instructed the star to ‘go in the most unglamorous visual productions and directions.
And it is, for Close, work. She didn’t find Mamaw hard to shake off when she got home after shooting. Another job, a different process and structure, albeit one of the good ones — “fulfilling.” Partly because this character creation went more than an outfit.
Also closely related to Mamaw’s vulnerability – perhaps the most lasting impression of the performance. Her sick side, his family in distress. The character is no doubt, resilient but also wounded—a complete human being. Close remembers the day Mamaw’s real son visited the production, the day the cast filmed the emotional scene of J.D., who left home for the army. Art, so to speak, had reflected life. “He had to walk away because he was so moved by seeing me as Mamaw,” Close recalls. “He thought that it was her.” Crazy wig and all.