Albert Nobbs is a 30-year labor of love for Glenn Close, who won an Obie for Simone Benmussa’s 1982 stage play based on a story by George Moore about a straight woman who passes as a male butler in a Dublin hotel in order to survive. Ever since, Close has been trying to turn the story into a movie, and finally pushed it through with actors’ favorite Rodrigo Garcia (Mother & Child) at the helm, thanks to some Fort Worth investors who were impressed that Close had some of her own skin in the $8 million venture. The film shot in chilly Dublin in 32 days. “The story seemed so psychologically modern,” says Close, who is radiantly happy as writer-producer-star of the finished movie. “There’s a comedic element. I think of Albert Nobbs as a clown, comic and tragic at the same time. it’s about people surviving poverty, what people will do to survive.”
The only person Nobbs can talk to, really, outside of work, is herself, alone in her room, counting her shillings to buy a tobacco shop. When she encounters another similar woman, a house painter passing as a man (the fabulous Janet McTeer) who actually has a wife, she gets the idea of wooing one of the pretty lasses in her hotel (Mia Wasikowska), who is already involved with a footman (Aaron Johnson). Istvan Szabo wrote one draft for himself to direct, and Orlando Bloom, Amanda Seyfried and Michael Gambon were going to star. It’s just as well. The movie is a good, not great period piece bolstered by Close’s subtle, contained performance as the heartbreakingly lonely waiter.
Before Close could commit to making the film –decades after she played the role on stage–Close did extensive make-up tests, inspired by a National Geographic article about Albanian women who lived as men. She added flesh to her nose and ears, put pluggers in her mouth, and added a short wig.
Over the years she had to become proactive about finding roles for herself, more in television (like the Emmy-winning Damages) than film. “Really strong or interesting women’s parts are rare,” she says, still angry that her Mary Stuart movie never got off the ground. “That would have been fucking incredible,” she says. On Albert Nobbs, “it was so much fun being the writer.” She didn’t put pen to blank page, but rewrote other drafts. “It was a perfect artistic experience for me.”
During her movie heyday in the 80s Close nabbed five Oscar nominations. Two were for best actress: Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons. She is long overdue for her first Oscar win. Roadside Attractions and Mickey Liddell are releasing Albert Nobbs into the Oscar fray this season, with hopes that Close’s performance as the gender-bender might give Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher (The Iron Lady) some competition. The two companies also mounted a successful Oscar push for Biutiful, landing Javier Bardem a best actor nomination; and Roadside also scored four Oscar nominations for Winter’s Bone, including best actress for Jennifer Lawrence.