Glenn Close: You lose power if you get angry

From vengeful mistress to Agatha Christie matriarch: the actor talks about Harvey Weinstein, mental illness and growing up in a cult

Glenn Close and I sit at the corner of a large boardroom table in an intimidatingly minimalist office on the 14th floor of a Los Angeles talent agency. Its the kind of environment in which Patty Hewes, the ruthless lawyer Close played in Damages for five seasons, would feel at home and Im almost waiting for her to stand up, slam both hands on the table and shout, Ill rip your face off or any of the other terrifying put-downs that defined her double Emmy award-winning performance.

But Close is in high spirits and radiates such warmth I barely notice the chill from the tower blocks air-con. After we fiddle with the settings on our swivel chairs, which are so high they make anyone under six foot kick their legs like a child on a swing, the 70-year-old, six-time Oscar nominee and star of stage, television and film starts telling me about her dreams. I have had a lot recently, full of this wonderful love for a younger man. The dreams just keep coming and I wake up thinking, that was wonderful! It wasnt necessarily us doing the sexual act, just the feeling of love.

With her white hair cut to a sharp crop, and wearing a relaxed navy blazer, chinos and black scarf on account of the arctic corporate temperature, she looks stylish and fit. I have never felt better in my life, and I am, like, 70, she says. Im really a late bloomer.

She says she feels a disconnect between how she sees herself and how people may view me when I walk down the street, like: Theres an old lady. You know, there is now this cult of the model. Everyone on the red carpet is made into a model. That is very hard to not play into I have a bit of podge I am trying to get rid of, but its hard. I just think, Oh fuck, Ive been doing this my whole life! But the irony is, you just get better and better with age. You dont feel less alive or less sexy.

In Agatha Christies Crooked House. Photograph: Nick Wall

We are here to talk about Crooked House, the Agatha Christie adaptation debuting on Channel 5, before its theatrical release, in which Close plays Lady Edith, a matriarch of a very dysfunctional family. Close says, Christies grandson came to the set and he validated the fact that it was her favourite book, and the one that had never been adapted. He said when she handed it to the publisher, she was told she had to change the ending, because it was too upsetting and controversial. She refused. Its still pretty controversial.

This production, co-written by Julian Fellowes, might not be as spendy as Kenneth Branaghs $55m Murder On The Orient Express, but the ensemble cast is equally starry: joining Close are Gillian Anderson, Max Irons, Terence Stamp and Christina Hendricks. Close presides over her co-stars with gravitas and grace, in an understated performance that finds the humour in an otherwise bleak setup. But youd expect nothing less from the actor whose 40 years in the business started with star turns in Broadway productions (she won a Best Actress Tony in 1983 for Tom Stoppards The Real Thing). Her first film role, at the age of 35, was with Robin Williams in The World According To Garp, for which she received an Oscar nomination as she did for her supporting roles in The Big Chill and The Natural. Her performances in Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons and Albert Nobbs, about the life of a transgender butler in late 19th century Ireland, which she also co-wrote, racked up further Oscar nominations but still no win. This is seen by many as a travesty: Close brings a precision to her film work, honed through her years on stage. She has that rare taut quality Jack Nicholson also has it where you believe that beneath the steely control she is capable of snapping at any moment.

It was this that led Andrew Lloyd Webber to cast her in 1993 as the tragic silent movie star Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard on Broadway. Close reprised the role 23 years later, getting her old costumes out of storage (she has kept all her costumes and recently donated the collection to a university in Indiana) for its revival in Londons West End.

As Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction: Clearly she had mental health issues. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

But it was her Oscar-nominated turn as Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction in 1987 that proved career-defining. Thirty years on, Close still counts Forrest as the character of whom she feels most fond; she has admitted to fighting tooth and nail against the films eventual denouement, which turned the character into a bunny-boiling psychopath and Close into the casting directors go-to woman on the verge for years afterwards. Now we have the vocabulary to talk about these things, clearly she had mental health issues, she says.

Close sits regally still as she speaks, emphasising her points by leaning forward and locking eyes. Shes comfortable with silences and often takes a theatrical beat or two before answering questions. Shes all poise and control, but does she ever lose her temper?

I express my feelings quietly. I am not afraid of confrontation, but I am not particularly good at it. If I get attacked, I am not good at attacking back. There is fight, flight and freeze and I tend to freeze. That is not a strength of mine. I love the fact that my daughter Annie [Starke, an actor] is more of a fighter than I am. She doesnt let people get away with shit. While she agrees that women have a harder time being angry, publicly, than men, she says, I have played a lot of characters, and actually anger makes you lose power. Patty Hewes [in Damages] she hardly ever lost her temper, but when she did, it was very specific. I have always felt you lose power if you get that angry.

The collective outpouring of anger among women in Hollywood right now is something of which Close is acutely aware. She says that sexism in the industry has shifted more slowly than it should have done throughout her career: It took Harvey Weinstein and someone calling him out [for real change to happen]. I know Harvey, and he has never done that to me, but people would say he was a pig. I never knew that it was that bad and I dont personally know anybody who has endured that. I would like to think that I would have done something about it.

We discuss whether its possible to separate the work from the personalities involved in it. News has just broken that House Of Cards will be back for another series without Kevin Spacey, after it was originally canned because of harassment claims brought against its leading man. Close wraps her scarf around her chest and fixes me with her electric eyes. Artists, to make a huge generality, walk on a very thin line. Sometimes, like my beloved friend Robin Williams, who was one step away from madness, whatever makes them a great artist also makes them very complicated human beings. Again, that doesnt mean they can prey on and abuse people.

With Harvey Weinstein in 2013. Photograph: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

At the root of the problem of sexism in Hollywood right now is, Close says, biology. I think the way men have treated women, from the beginning of time, is because they have different brains to women. So I am not surprised by it at all. I say to a guy, Tell me the truth, if you see a woman walk into a room, what is the first thought that goes through your head? His answer, always, is, Would I fuck her? It doesnt mean they act on it. If you can evolve into a society where men know that they should not always act on it then there has been a positive revolution. But you cant just say that theyre not going to have the thought that is ridiculous. It also has to be the women, who are not powerful, to be OK to say no and leave the room. I think its unrealistic to say were going to change but we have to evolve.

I ask Close who she thinks is a great man today. She is silent, thinking, for what feels like a full 60 seconds in which I am so tempted to throw out some options: Barack Obama, the Pope, the friendly security guard on reception who let us in

Nelson Mandela, is her final answer, but Im not sure shes convinced. I guess for me, she says, greatness is taking your humanity and still doing the good thing. Its sad to say that there are very few men, who are leaders, who have some sort of moral code that they dont deviate from because of popular opinion.

She thinks we are undergoing a crisis of masculinity: In the public mind, yes. I was outraged when I heard that there was a war against men I was like, are you joking? What do you think has been happening against women for centuries?

Close knows all too well about the misuse of power, because her own upbringing was, as she puts it, complicated. When she was seven, her parents joined a cult. Moral Re-Armament or MRA was a modern, nondenominational movement founded by an American evangelical fundamentalist which extolled the four absolutes: honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. Her father, a physician working in the Congo, sent Close with her brother and two sisters from the family home in Greenwich, Connecticut, to live at the MRA HQ in Caux, Switzerland (Closes mother, Bettine, was a socialite).

She is vague on the details but clear on the impact this experience had on her as a teenager: I was repressed, clueless and guilt-ridden. The timeline is patchy, but Close travelled with MRA in the 60s as a member of their musical groups, and spent time back in Connecticut at an elite boarding school. I had a wonderful time at Rosemary Hall, a girls school, she says. I was in a renegade singing group called the Fingernails: A Group With Polish. But she remained, as she calls it clueless. A lot of my friends knew boys youd have these horrendous dances with boys schools and they would get the guys they wanted and I would just stay with the person I was with.

As Patty Hewes in Damages. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

She was briefly married before going to university. It is a complicated story for me. I was married before college, and kind of in an arranged marriage when you look back on it, and my marriage broke up when I went to college, as it should have. I was 22. But my liberal arts school had a wonderful theatre that was my training, my acting school.

Was that where she finally learned about sex, popular culture, the ways of the world? Not really, she says. I still am learning.

Close has two sisters, Tina the eldest, and Jessie her younger sister; and two brothers, Alexander, and Tambu Misoki, who was adopted by Closes parents while living in Africa. At the age of 50, Jessie spent time in a psychiatric hospital and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a weight that had been hanging over the family, undiscussed, for years. Talking about mental illness just wasnt done, Close says. You dont have a vocabulary for it and youre also very aware of appearances. You dont want to appear a crazy family.

In 2010 Close founded Bring Change to Mind, a charity that aims to end the stigma around mental illness by talking openly about it and its effect on families. It was my nephew who was first diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. This is basically schizophrenia with an ingredient of bipolar. And when that happened, it was like, What? My sister Jessie, his mother, didnt know what was wrong. He went to the hospital for two years and that saved his life. Then Jessie was, finally, correctly diagnosed herself.

With sister Jessie in 2009. Photograph: Getty Images

Close felt a duty to her family to give them a high-profile person who is not afraid to talk about it publicly. It affects the whole family. We always knew my grandmother and mother had depression my sister does, I do to a certain extent. But I didnt know my great-uncle had schizophrenia. I knew my half-uncle died by suicide. There was a lot of alcoholism addiction, self-medication. Nobody ever talked about it. I knew my grandmother was depressed, but at first I thought she lived in a hotel, not a hospital, because she always said how good the food was.

Close says she and her siblings are of one mind politically, but admits she does have members of her family who voted for Trump. I tried to understand that. Theyre not crazy people who have been brainwashed by Fox News, but I try to understand the anger, because I think that has been building up ever since Watergate. It was watching that scandal unfold that made her realise Americans have always been naive, we just take for granted what we have, and we always thought of our leaders as good people. With Watergate, people became cynical about government.

Today, she says, Washington is a bunch of self-serving She searches for an expletive and after a second settles on men. She says, Its hard to believe that people are so out for themselves. It goes against what you would like to believe about your country. I feel eloquence is incredibly important for a leader, and we had that with Barack Obama, who made his initial impact because he gave that incredibly eloquent speech, but he lost his eloquence in his presidency. We always need someone to say, I hear you, someone who can put their words into unity and hope and we dont have that. I think the last person may have been Robert Kennedy.

And now you have Trump tweeting nonsense.

Its devastating. Social networks are now like our nervous system, and if you keep pumping that kind of crap into the nervous system, it is going to have an effect on a population.

With Kevin Kline in The Big Chill. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Close doesnt talk politics with her friends because she doesnt really have many friends. I have always forced myself into situations I am not comfortable in. I am an introvert, and I was painfully shy as a child. I think I still have a big dollop of that in my persona. I read a book called Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Cant Stop Talking and it was a real comfort to me I realised I was that person I had always been. And it was at that point I told myself to stop pushing myself into situations that I dont enjoy. I dread cocktail parties.

She tells me shes pretty reclusive and can count her closest friends on two fingers. I ask if shes still good friends with Meryl Streep.

I have never been close friends with Meryl. We have huge respect for each other, but I have only done one thing with her, The House Of The Spirits.

I apologise for assuming they were pals, being of a similar age and stature in Hollywood, and admit this negates my next question: Who would win in an arm wrestle, you or Meryl?

Close laughs. Oh, I would, because I am very strong.


The tightest bond Close has is with her only daughter Annie, 29. Annies father is the film producer John Starke whom Close dated for four years from 1987, but never married. Annie was never a door-slamming, difficult teenager. Close tells me: When my Annie was three, she looked at me, and said, I want you. I knew what she meant. I, at the time, was a single working parent, sometimes even when I was home, working or producing something, I was there and not there.

With daughter Annie Starke in 2010. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

She doesnt think its any easier for working mothers today and acknowledges, I had it easy because I could afford to have help think of the women who cant afford it and have to put their child in some shaky childcare centre. No, I think it is incredibly hard for women. Any person, in any profession, feels that tug [of guilt]. We discuss the intimacy of the single-parent, only-child bond. Once, I went to vacuum Annies car seat as we were moving house, and a lot of life had happened there, so I was crying. She said, Mummy, are you OK? I said, Yeah, Im OK. And she said, Here I am.

She was married to businessman James Marlas from 1984 to 1987 and then, following other relationships, including that with Starke, she married again, in 2006, to venture capitalist David Evans Shaw, divorcing him nine years later.

Would she marry again?

I dont know.

Does she think marriage is important?

I think it is a positive evolutionary component that we are better with a partner. I think to have a partner that you can go through life with, creating a history with, that you can find a comfort with, have children with there is nothing better. This is an opinion I have come to very late in life, at an ironic moment, where I dont have any of that. I dont know if I will again. But I do think its a basic human need to be connected.

Despite this, shes happy on her own right now. This is a good time in life. I do think, what would it be like to have a partner again? But it would have to be very different from what I had before. Then I have that great dream and wake up happy.

Crooked House is on Channel 5 at 9pm on 17 December.

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Read more:

Crooked House - Official Trailer

In Agatha Christie’s most twisted tale, the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of a wealthy patriarch is investigated by spy-turned-private-detective Charles Hayward (Max Irons), who is lured by his former lover to catch her grandfather’s murderer before Scotland Yard exposes dark family secrets. On the sprawling estate, amidst a poisonous atmosphere of bitterness, resentment and jealousy in a truly crooked house, Hayward encounters three generations of the dynasty, including a theater actress (Gillian Anderson), the old man’s widow 50 years his junior (Christina Hendricks), and the family matriarch Lady Edith de Haviland (Glenn Close).

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