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In the upcoming movie ‘Albert Nobbs’ the primary character, and the central point around which the story turns, is of course Albert Nobbs; a woman posing as a man to work as a servant in nineteenth century Ireland. Glenn Close who plays the title character notes that she’s able to carry off the role because of Albert’s position in the hotel.
“The key is that Albert is a very good servant,’ Close says. ‘Servants weren’t supposed to make eye contact so that was very much in her favour. There’s comportment, the way of moving, with pants that are a bit too long and shoes that are a bit too big, but I think the biggest challenge for me is lowering the voice and the accent.”
Alongside Albert is a clutch of workers at the hotel, many of whom find their lives affected by the quiet, withdrawn butler.
When looking for the right person with whom to share her life, Nobbs is drawn to the character of Helen in the movie, a maid working in the hotel, someone with whom Nobbs believes she can share a better a life, a partner to share dreams of running an independent business. Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, whom director Rodrigo Garcia cast in her first-ever American production, “In Treatment,” plays Helen.
“I opened up my email and there in the inbox was an email saying it was from Rodrigo Garcia saying “Albert Nobbs job offer”, and I just thought, “Yes, I’ll do it”,” says Wasikowska. “I didn’t even need to read the rest of the email! I knew I was going to do it straight away, but then I read it and it just got better and better, especially hearing that Glenn Close was so involved.”
“My character, Helen, is a young maid working in the hotel,” continues the actress. “She’s a spirited person and kind of cheeky but also there’s a soulfulness about her. She’s in her early 20s and has probably been working in the hotel for years. She definitely has aspirations to work up the ladder in the hotel.”
When Nobbs begins gently courting Helen, the young maid is encouraged to show interest by her boyfriend, Joe. “Helen goes on these dates with Albert with the idea or intention of helping her and Joe get out of the hotel,” says Wasikowska. “Albert and Helen’s arc really grows, however, and their relationship changes as they go on these dates. Albert wants to form a partnership with her that can be safe and secure; Albert is courting her, while Joe is encouraging her to go on these dates to get gifts like chocolate and whisky and money.”
“Helen reluctantly goes to please Joe. They get to know each other and Albert reveals himself the most to Helen, and he, or she, has never done that before to anyone, and Helen takes that on board. She’s doesn’t like the idea of conning someone but she is in love with Joe and wants to do the best by their relationship.”
The bond between Helen and Joe was a feature of Moore’s original story, but here the producers note that the relationship is ‘boosted a little.’ Julie Lynn explains, “Our ensemble is insanely good and we have such fantastic chemistry between the characters of Helen and Joe.”
“Joe’s youth is a real boon, too,” she says. “It means that despite some of the unpleasant things he does, you can understand him a little more and why he is making his mistakes. And it makes us much more likely to forgive him. And when you have an actor who is just 20 years old, it gives him a vulnerability and allows us to forgive him, in a way in which I’m not sure we could with an actor who’s way into his 30s.”
Joe, played by English actor Aaron Johnson, arrives at the hotel early in the piece. “Joe is going from job to job and stumbles across Morrison’s Hotel, blags his way into a job as a boiler man, and ends up taking a job there as a handyman,” explains Johnson. “Joe is ambitious and has high hopes and dreams that one day he’ll get out, go to America and make a life there. He’s not educated, can’t read and write but in his mind he thinks he can get to America and there might be an opportunity to do something great.”
As the story transpires, Joe is revealed as having suffered a troubled upbringing. “Joe has real ambition. He is a very clever boy, but is caught up in a cycle of abuse,” explains Johnson. “He was abused by his father and will become an abuser if he leaves it the way it is. He desperately tries to break that; he doesn’t want to become like his father. That’s what he’s fighting against. He can’t advance himself or his family.”
One of the most boisterous characters in the film is Doctor Holloran. Irish actor Brendan Gleeson takes on the role “Holloran, a medical doctor,” explains the actor. “He came down from Belfast where he’d been living his with wife and having an affair. He loved both women but they wanted exclusivity and so he bailed out. He reveals that part of his life to Albert at one point. He may be drinking himself to death. I have a feeling he’s someone quite bright and brilliant but never wanted to work too hard on anything, so had reached that place where he hadn’t achieved a lot.”
All the main characters in Albert Nobbs find their lives affected by the quiet, retiring butler, and while the film unfolds as a tragedy it plays with levity and lightness of touch. “The piece is not showy — Glenn’s not that way — and there’s an awful lot of fun going on,” says Gleeson. “You can knock quite a lot of laughs out of something that is supposed to be very poignant and sad and tragic.”
Close says that she recognized the humor in the story from the very outset. “Through all these years of working on Albert Nobbs I knew that there was humor in it, even if other people didn’t see it,” she says. “It’s not leaping off the page – it’s not that kind of humor – it comes through the character and nuance and situation. I knew when people saw all these characters together that it is really fun. There are some beautiful moments.”
Producer Bonnie Curtis agrees. “Nobbs is so endearing,” she says. “The piece is a witty drama, a human comedy, and it’s also a love story. As a producer you’re trained to keep the message simple and sell it as one thing, but with this it is so rich and complex.”
Close concludes: “I’ve always thought that, if I could do the Albert of my dreams, without major compromise, with an impeccable team, then I could retire! The fact that this particular group of people finally gathered together to tell this particular story is truly wonderful. For years I struggled to make it happen but the time was never right. Then it happened. It was just meant to be — the perfect time with the perfect team. We made it!”
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