Some actresses might view playing a woman who passes herself off as a man as a chance to not worry about beauty or vanity, but Glenn Close — who dons intricate drag in “Albert Nobbs,” as an Irish woman working as a butler in a Dublin hotel — insists such disregard is nothing new for her. “I’ve played a lot of roles where I haven’t had to be pretty, so it’s not something I spend a lot of time on,” she says with a laugh.
The role of Albert Nobbs has been a favorite of Close’s since she first played it onstage 20 years ago, and she feels the film version has been a long time coming. “I did it onstage, and it packed a huge emotional wallop — this simple story about this rather strange creature — and in theater, when something like that happens, you don’t forget it,” she says. “So as the years went by, I started thinking that if we could figure out how to do it, it could make a really powerful movie.”
The challenge of turning a woman with Glenn Close’s looks into what could pass for a man was a particular challenge, as the audience has to believe that the people around Albert buy it. “It was really important to us that the people in the movie didn’t look like idiots,” she says. “It’s not the ‘Victor/Victoria’ — or even the ‘Yentl,’ you know?” The answer? Some subtle makeup and prosthetics, including adding to Close’s nose and earlobes. “It’s just all very, very fine tuning and very, very subtle,” she says.
While she’s drawing plenty of acclaim — and awards attention — for her performance, what most excited Close about the project was the work she got to do behind the scenes. “I loved being a writer,” she says. “I loved the days when we had to do rewrites and I’d be in my Albert costume at my computer. I loved solving problems at production meetings because we couldn’t afford to rent certain rooms, so could we change this scene to another room? Or just stuff like that. I loved the editing process.”
Being so involved behind the scenes also meant dealing with the struggles that came with bringing the film to life. “The part that was the hardest was just finding the money,” she says, admitting that “Albert Nobbs” was “a very hard story to sell, because I walk in and they think, ‘You as a man? I don’t want to see you as a man.’ It was a long road.”