Both broke into Hollywood about the same time; Close with her Oscar-nominated film debut in 1982’s “The World According to Garp” and Pryce as the embodiment of evil in 1983’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” Both have enjoyed heralded stage careers, scooping up Tony Awards — three for Close, two for Pryce.
Based on a novel by Meg Wolitzer, “The Wife” is an intimate and searing portrait of a long-term marriage in all its secrets and compromises. The pair portray Joan and Joe Castleman (in flashbacks they’re played by Annie Starke, Close’s real-life daughter, and Harry Lloyd), who are forced to confront some tough truths when Joe is awarded a Nobel Prize for his latest novel. The pair spoke recently after a screening of the film, before Close had to return to New York for rehearsals of “Mother of The Maid,” penned by “The Wife” screenwriter Jane Anderson.
What attracted you to the story of “The Wife”?
Pryce: Glenn. (Laughs) I read the script and I really liked it, I thought it was a good story well-told. It came not without problems of how to tell that story and maintain credibility with this relationship and keeping secrets for as long as they do. It was really about a long relationship and all the ups and downs, the anger, the sadness, the joy.
Close: I thought it was so interesting and put my name on it pretty early on. With all independent films, my definition is a film that almost doesn’t get made. It took some time but when Björn came on, things began to fall into place.
Did you meet with any other directors?
Close: I didn’t. He came over and we had a nice breakfast and it was a wonderful process. We were working totally on instinct because I wasn’t overly familiar with his work. I loved that he was also a stage director and a writer. My instinct said: this guy would be great to work with.
You two have such great chemistry, this really feels like a long marriage. Did you know each other prior to working together?
Pryce: What’s great about being an actor is you meet people and form a relationship very quickly. I obviously knew of Glenn over the years, we met a few times – I saw two versions of “Sunset Boulevard”! You know you want to work with people who up your game. When you’ve been in this business as long as we have, you have a mutual trust that comes quickly. We enjoy each other’s company, we make each other laugh. We shared a makeup trailer where we battled over whose music to play. We had fun.
Close: I have to say something about him, my partner in this film. Not every actor is comfortable being in a movie called “The Wife.” Especially somebody with the stature of Jonathan Pryce. The fact that he came on board and did such extraordinary work that made this couple so complex…it would not be the same movie without Jonathan.
Pryce: Well, they wouldn’t listen to me and change it to “The Husband.” (Laughs)
The film features actors playing younger versions of your characters. Glenn, Annie has obviously known you her entire life, did she watch you to help build her version of the character?
Close: Actually, Annie is the one who establishes the character so in many ways, I was very much working off what she sets.
Pryce: And Harry did a great job of a younger, slightly more handsome me. But I did have black hair once! And Harry told me he watched a lot of films of me over the years. He watched how I walk and listened to my speech patterns.
You both come from strong theater backgrounds, as much of this cast and the director do. Do you think that has something to do with how well you all worked together?
Close: I always think it’s a huge benefit to start in the theater, it teaches you a certain self-reliance and you truly learn your craft. I think it’s an incredibly rich background to come from.
Pryce: We did a week of table work which was very important. Even during filming we’d meet and look at scenes coming up and talk them through. So there was really no time wasted on set asking: what does this mean, what do you think we’re doing here?
What was the most challenging part of making the film?
Pryce: It was easy for me to play someone with a massive ego. It’s actually really fun to have the freedom to be that person. In terms of acting, you’ve got somewhere to go but also somewhere to come back from when you get to show his moments of vulnerability. I honestly didn’t think of it in terms of difficulties. They’re challenges, but they’re creative challenges you want to fulfill. Which is what attracted me to the script. In some ways it’s like a stage script. In ways, it reminds me of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and it was a privilege to get to explore it.
Close: In fact, two of my favorite moments to do were fight scenes. You can be fighting about something so intensely and then real life comes in and you fall back into these relationships.