“I never wanted to play a woman who, running away from the alien, falls and the other people have to go back and haul her up,” says Glenn Close, who’s gone her entire career rejecting such parts in favor of formidable leading-lady characters in such films as “Fatal Attraction” and “Dangerous Liaisons.”
Recently, the actress has brought the same strength to FX’s smallscreen lineup, where her role as fiercely independent-minded lawyer Patty Hewes on “Damages” has earned Close career-high critical praise, a Golden Globe, a spot in the Emmy history books (her 2008 victory marked the first for a lead dramatic actress on a basic cable series) and now a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Adding to her larger-than-life persona, Close has effectively become the face of FX, between the recent wrap-up of the net’s flagship series “The Shield” (on which she did a seasonlong, Emmy-nominated arc four years ago) and the second-season premiere of “Damages” earlier this week.
“It’s not easy to find a show that will follow in ‘The Shield’s’ footsteps,” says FX president and general manager John Landgraf, “but I think ‘Damages’ has so far demonstrated that it will, and Glenn carries the banner.”
According to Close, she found her stint as a police captain on “The Shield” creatively stimulating enough that she was open to headlining a series of her own on FX, provided the material was right, an idea reinforced by her initial, three-hour meeting with “Damages” co-creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman.
“There was a certain amount of nervousness, but she put us at ease very quickly,” remembers Zelman, who, coincidentally, had met Close before when she was honored as 1990’s Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year at Harvard. “She was open to what we had to say but also didn’t hold back her opinions.”
Close, who had never played a lawyer before, left the meeting intrigued but held off committing to the project until she read the pilot script.
Patty Hewes didn’t disappoint. “She’s smart, and you never quite know what’s going on with her,” Close says. “She’s a complex character that people can conceivably really hate or say she’s a bitch, and yet you start to begrudgingly respect what she’s trying to do.”
Quality material has always dictated her career choices, the actress says. Over the course of a four-decade career, Close has conquered not only film and television but stage. Along the way, she’s earned five Oscar nominations; two Emmys (including one for the NBC TV movie “Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story,” which she also executive produced); and three Tonys, including one for her portrayal of Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard.”
“My feeling’s always been, if the writing’s really good and challenging, I don’t care where it is,” says the Connecticut-born thesp, who says she grew up admiring English actresses, who often shift among all three arenas.
“Early on, I decided that I wasn’t going to buy into what at that time was a snobbism about television,” continues Close, who says she was warned when she started acting that doing TV would ruin her movie career. “I’ve always had a huge respect for the power of television and the potential audiences that it can command.”
Throughout the years, she’s worked frequently in TV movies, including 1984’s landmark “Something About Amelia” and three “Sarah, Plain and Tall” installments, but Close feels that it’s the perfect time to be headlining her first series. With the success of TNT’s “The Closer” and “Saving Grace” as well as Showtime’s “Weeds,” cable television has proved particularly receptive in recent years to building shows around multifaceted women who happen to fall outside the “Gossip Girl” demographic. It’s a fact Close proudly acknowledged when she appeared on the 2007 Emmy telecast as a presenter alongside Kyra Sedgwick and Mary-Louise Parker.
“Patty is a rare portrait of a woman in power, and I take that seriously because women are proving more and more that they are capable of great leadership,” says Close, who remembers refusing to film a scene in 1997’s “Air Force One” in which her vice president character broke down in tears, because she felt it was a cliche. She points to soon-to-be Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the Huffington Post’s Arianna Huffington and future first lady Michelle Obama. “Even though Patty’s leadership might have its dark side, she’s still a woman who is basically in control of her own destiny.”
Close has often gravitated toward playing characters who forge their own fates — maybe because she is one herself. “I never wanted to play a woman who, running away from the alien, falls and the other people have to go back and haul her up,” she says. “Patty is not somebody you’d ever have to haul back up.”