Oscars 2019: Unlike her character in The Wife, Glenn Close's professional fulfillment rises above awards
With the most nominations without a win at the Oscars (of any living actor), Glenn Close proves yet again why an actor must act.
In the recent Glenn Close-starrer, The Wife, a phone call informs her character, "It is my great honour and pleasure to inform you... that you have received this year's Nobel Prize in Literature." Close's pale face is eclipsed by her searing eyes that remain as unstirred as the voice on the phone. Seconds later, she snaps out of that state when the voice addresses her as "Mrs Castleman". The Wife then reminds herself that the call is meant not for her, but for her spouse Joseph Castleman.
Close's performance as Joe Castleman, a soulful writer who ghost-writes for her novelist-husband, was hailed unanimously as one of the best in her 39-year-long film career. After winning the top honour at the Golden Globe Awards and SAG awards among others, Close's triumphant run fell short of an Oscar. Donning a shimmery golden gown, Close looked as resplendent as the golden statuette she was most likely to receive. The moment when Olivia Colman was announced as the Best Actress, Close's face registered an expression of acceptance (more like a "not this one either") as she began clapping, gracefully. When Colman took to stage, she confessed that she did not want to win her first Oscar at the risk of her idol not winning one for herself. While Close shrugged it off with a laugh, it must be bittersweet indeed to hold the record of "the living actor with most Oscar nominations (seven) without a win".
In the days leading up to the ceremony, Close weighed in on the same. "I'm not bitter or vindictive. It's totally okay. I think there are Oscar roles. Not all roles allow to show what you're capable of. I'm grateful to get a role that people deemed worthy enough to be nominated for. Because that means I've shown something because of this character that they think is worthy of note," she said. Close, thus, maintains that more than the awards, she values the nominations for they are only reserved for meaty roles. For her, that is the acknowledgement that she seeks as an actor.
Here, interestingly, she comes close to her character of Joan Castleman in The Wife. Without paying heed to where the applause is directed, Joan willingly agrees to ghost-write for her husband. "A writer must write... to feed her soul," she says, as a young ambitious writer (played by Glenn's daughter Annie Starke), only to be told, discouragingingly, "A writer must be read, honey" from a senior female novelist. She soon learns about the tricks of the trade in the patriarchal publishing industry of the 1950s. "Don't ever think you can get their attention, the men... who write the reviews, who run the publication houses, who edit the magazines. The ones who decide who should be taken seriously and put on a pedestal for the rest of their lives."
Believing that no one appreciates reading "bold" prose from a woman, Close succumbs to the idea of writing in the closet and release her work through her husband's novels, since he was more dynamic and well-versed with making his presence felt in the publishing circles. She chooses to recede for "a writer must write... and must be read". However, the void of not having her name on the novels she has written hits her only once her husband is named the Nobel Prize winner. Though she struggles to be happy for him like every wife should be, the writer in her soon gets the better of her. Her resentment initially reflects in casual yet loaded statements like, "Everybody needs approval" and "Don't paint me as a victim; I'm much more interesting than that". But she explodes only when her husband ghosts her during the pre-ceremony functions in Stockholm. She trembles with rage as Joseph dedicates the award to her during his acceptance speech, a superficial gesture that she asked him to refrain from. The convenient gratitude acts as an insult to injury, prompting Joan to storm out of the ceremony.
Her acrimony stems less from the lack of acknowledgment (because "a writer must write"), and more from the lack of genuine reciprocation of her love. She consented to ghost-write for Joseph because he threatened to dump her since he could not take harsh words of criticism from his wife, a better writer. However, when he wins a Nobel Prize for the work that effectively she was solely entitled to, he does not even acknowledge her contribution as he immerses himself in the pre-ceremony revelries while she looks on from a distance. "Thank god my wife doesn't write otherwise I'll suffer from a permanent writer's block," he jokes, much to the chagrin of Joan. Just like a writer must be read, a lover must be loved back.
Close brought alive the gnawing sensation of not being acknowledged for her craft through her expressive eyes. It was a tough tightrope to walk as her body language and smile defied the truth that resonated in her eyes. She masked her pain with a pleasant demeanour that could go only as far as her saturation point at the Nobel Prize ceremony. That ache, however, is absent in Close, who has cruised past seven Academy Award nominations, without winning even one. An actor must act, but must an actor of her caliber not be acknowledged? Close admitted that she had reservations about her character, whose submissive nature is unbecoming of a bonafide feminist. But she drew liberally from her mother, who confessed to her that she did not achieve anything in her life, at the age of 80.
Close claimed that this ability to take cues from real people and the empathy for her characters constitute the most fulfilling part of her job as an actress. "Being an actress is all about exploring the human conditions of all these characters. And in your journey, you have to find a tolerance for other human beings. You cannot judge your character, to be fair to them. What these characters have given me is valuable. I'm so interested in knowing why people do what they do," she said.
In our attempt to decode why Close continues to ace her roles despite repeated stubs, we find an artist who is willing to be humbled by her characters. Her fulfillment does not lie in an Oscar win, but in the joy of living a diverse range of lives. Her satisfaction does not reside in the Academy's nod, but to be able to tell a much-needed, resonant story after a struggle of 14 years. "It was a film titled The Wife. Nobody wanted to fund it. Most of the funds came from Europe," she said. Unlike her character Joan, who failed to live her husband's life, Close enjoys the luxury to live so many, and own each one of them.
As the 2019 Oscars once again brought Glenn 'close' to winning the Best Actress prize, losing out on the honour will not deter her from bringing her A-game once again. Unlike her character in The Wife, who claims she is a 'kingmaker', Glenn Close proves yet again why she remains a queen.
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