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 favourite of Close’s since she first played it on stage 20 years ago, and she feels the film version has been a long time coming. “I did it on stage, and it packed a huge emotional wallop — this simple story about this rather strange creature — and in theatre, 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.”
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.
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. “And it’s just extraordinary how much it actually changes your face.”
While she’s drawing plenty of acclaim — and awards attention — for her performance, what most excited Close 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.”