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Award winning actress Glenn Close plays a woman passing as a man in order to work and survive in 19th century Ireland. Some thirty years after donning men’s clothing, she finds herself trapped in a prison of her own making. Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson and Brendan Gleeson join the prestigious, international cast that includes Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Janet McTeer, Brenda Fricker and Pauline Collins in ‘Albert Nobbs’, opening in cinemas all over the U.S. on January 27.
Rodrigo Garcia directs from a script that Glenn Close, along with Man Booker prize-winning novelist John Banville and Gabriella Prekop, adapted from a short story by Irish author George Moore.
Glenn Close’s connection to the character of Albert Nobbs stretches back almost three decades to her 1982 performance in Simone Benmussa’s theatrical interpretation of the short story, Albert Nobbs, by nineteenth century Irish author George Moore. ‘I think that Albert is one of the truly great characters, and the story, for all its basic simplicity, has a strange emotional power,’ begins Close, whose turn in the Off-Broadway production prompted rave reviews and garnered the actress an Obie Award.
Even as Close’s career skyrocketed the character remained with her. “There’s something deeply affecting about Albert’s life,” the actress continues, “She never stopped continuing to move me. I became very busy in my career, but always thought that Albert’s story would make a wonderful movie.”
Close has worked continuously on story ideas across the intervening years, developing a passionate attachment to the character of Nobbs; a woman living in 19th century Britain, who has survived by disguising herself as a man and becoming a waiter. As the story begins, we find her working at Morrison’s, a reputable hotel in Dublin, where she has been for past 17 years.
“Albert doesn’t want to end up in the poorhouse,” explains Close. “At that time Ireland was extremely poor. Around the corner from the hotel was abject poverty. She knows that without her job that’s where she could end up. And she knows anyone can get fired at any moment. There is a sense of fear among all the hotel workers.”
When the audience meets Albert, the character has played her role as a male servant in Morrison’s Hotel for so long that she has lost her own, true identity. “She doesn’t even know her real name,” Close says. “She was an illegitimate child, raised by a woman who was paid to take care of her and who never revealed Albert’s true identity. I figure the woman was paid to not tell because family didn’t want the child to, one day, show up on their doorstep. So Albert, who already didn’t know who she really was, disappeared into the guise of a waiter when she was fourteen years old. When we meet her thirty years later, she is isolated and invisible, albeit an impeccable servant, having lived in hotels her whole life.”
Benmussa’s play adaptation of George Moore’s Albert Nobbs, was minimalist, with a considerable amount of mime used to tell the story, but, even so, Close believed that the tale’s poignancy, heartbreak and humour — the latter realized by a wonderful collection of characters who people Morrison’s Hotel — would fuel a film adaptation.
“The play was very austere,” concedes the actress, “The power of the story is like a simple glass of water,” she continues, “When light reflects in a glass of water, it creates something extremely complex. The story is simple and linear, but it touches on complex human issues that reflect on everyone’s own life and everyone’s own baggage, and gives them something to take away as well. I’m hoping it will be universally appealing.”
Certainly producers Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn agreed, with Curtis responding to Close’s passion for, and knowledge of, the character and the story. ‘One of the elements that interested me as a producer was Glenn’s hands-on, nightly experience in the theatre with the story,’ Curtis explains. ‘Making this movie with Glenn made a lot of business sense to me.’
Curtis met Close on the 2005 comic drama The Chumbscrubber. ‘It was day two of her time on set,’ recalls Curtis, ‘and Glenn walked up to me, gave me a script, and said, “I must play this part on the big screen before I die.” She was looking me right in the eye and I said we should do it right there and then.’ Curtis laughs, ‘She suggested I might want to read it first.’
The producer read the script that very night, ‘and it got inside me in ways I didn’t even understand,’ she says, ‘and I knew it would be right. When someone like Glenn says that they must play a part before they die, you figure it’s a good character and script. Albert has that struggle for identity and purpose and yet she hasn’t been equipped with the tools to get there. I think that it is a really universal life experience.’
Fellow producer Julie Lynn concurs. “The story is about a woman who is naïve, and is in her own bubble of loneliness because she’s lived with her face hidden from the outside world for decades, as a means of survival and self-protection. When we first meet her, she has been separated emotionally from the rest of the world.”