RICHMOND, Va. (January 21, 2018) – When award-winning actress Glenn Close took the stage of The Richmond Forum on Saturday night, it was the outcome of a lifetime of decisions, circumstance, and chance. Not just in her life, Close explained, but in the lives of each and every person in the room.
“So, hello,” she said to an audience of 4,500 in the packed Altria Theater.
In a very personal presentation, laced with a few songs and mementos she had carefully packed for her trip to Richmond, Close shared the story of her life: from the hay fields of her childhood to her family’s involvement in the Moral Re-Armament cult to attending the College of William and Mary, where she learned the art and craft of acting that would become her life’s work.
Despite the acclaim she has received, “I still haven’t peaked, so life continues to be exciting,” she said. “When I’m not working, I feel like a Ferrari in a garage.”
Her story begins with her earliest memories of the cast album of South Pacific and her childhood ambition of being a horse while growing up playing in the wide-open hay fields of Greenwich, Connecticut.
Close’s most vivid memory is one of meticulously plucking the heads off of clovers when she was five years old and realizing that her hand wasn’t actually her; she was whatever was making that hand move. Close recalled a strong feeling of separateness from herself in that moment.
“I wonder if that moment, which has stayed vivid in my mind all these years, is the reason I was compelled to become an actress at such an early age. Perhaps it’s a particularly acute feeling of separateness that fuels an actor’s engine; that creates an impulsive need to connect to a character and ultimately through that character to the audience.”
That balance between separation and connection became a cornerstone of Close’s life. It was how she found a way into characters like Alex Forrest from Fatal Attraction and Patti Hewes from Damages.
When asked by an audience member if there are pieces of herself in each role or if some are pure invention, Close replied, “I like to use my imagination…to think of things that might have happened in their life that leave either a subliminal or subconscious thing.” But, she said, it’s important to imagine a character without having any judgment. “If I judge, it’s impossible to find a place where we share a common humanity.”
Her life experience has shaped the way she approaches her characters. After first playing the role 22 years earlier, Close was given the opportunity to reprise Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard for a 2016 West End production. In doing so, she “threw out everything” from her previous interpretation of the character. Close realized a fragility and longing in the character that she says she would not have recognized without the loss and hardship that came to pass in her personal life in the time between 1994 and 2016.
In that time, her sister Jessie was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and her nephew Calen was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Mental illness was never a topic of discussion in the Close family, and the revelation that Jessie was contemplating suicide came “like a bullet out of the blue.”
In 2009, Close co-founded Bring Change to Mind, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness. Her goal, she said on Saturday, is to help her sister and nephew to live safe and productive lives.
From stage, Ms. Close also commended the work of the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation and how the local community has rallied to support the Richmond non-profit’s work to help those affected by teenage mental illness.
There is an inherent reluctance towards using the language of mental illness, she said. “I know the great power of the spoken word,” Close explained. “If we say the words enough, it will help normalize the words and minimize the power of those words.”
Close likes to measure her life in change. She likes to see where she’s been, and where she’s going. She acknowledged the change happening through the marches occurring across the country and through the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. But when asked how she decides to spend her time lately, she responded with a simple, “At this point, I don’t want to leave home and not have a good time.”
Written by Thomas Breeden for The Richmond Forum
January 20, 2018