Glenn Close’s long awaited passion project Albert Nobbs is now shooting in Dublin, with Rodrigo Garcia directing an all-star cast including Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
Synopsis: A woman pretends to be a man in order to survive ultra-conservative 19th century Ireland.
Director: Rodrigo Garcia
Writer: Script by Glenn Close, along with Man Booker prize-winning novelist John Banville and Gabriella Prekop, adapted from a short story by Irish author George Moore.
Cast: Glenn Close, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Brendan Gleeson and Janet McTeer
Producers: Glenn Close, Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn and Alan Moloney
International Sales: WestEnd Films
Award-winning actress Glenn Close has spent 15 years trying to bring Albert Nobbs to the screen…and finally she has succeeded. The $6m film is currently shooting in Dublin with Rodrigo Garcia as director and a cast including Jonathan Rhys Myers, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson and Brendan Gleeson.
The film is based on the short story by George Moore about a woman in Victorian-era Dublin who impersonates a man in order to get a job as a waiter. Close not only plays Albert Nobbs (reprising a role she first took on the stage in the early ’80s), she is also a producer of the film and co-wrote the screenplay.
“Having done it on stage in front of a live audience, I really believe in the power of this story and the originality and wonderful challenges of this particular character,” Close says. “We love characters who have no self-pity and become believers in a dream.”
The actress-producer reveals that she came very close to making the movie around 10 years ago with Hungarian director Istvan Szabo at the helm. She and her team had even started location scouting in Dublin when the financing unraveled.
“The nature of an independent film is that…it almost doesn’t get made,” she reflects ruefully as she looks back on her long fight to bring Albert Nobbs to screen. “You have to find someone who will believe in your vision and will have enough faith in the story and people involved to actually invest in it.” She adds that putting together the finance is “like building a very delicate house of cards.” If one card falls, the edifice collapses.
Close’s fellow producers are Bonnie Curtis (Spielberg’s long-time coproducer) and Julie Lynn. Alan Moloney of Parallel Films is the Irish producer and The Irish Film Board has invested. WestEnd Films is also a partner and has already closed a number of pre-sales on the very long-gestating movie.
After working with Rodrigo Garcia on Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her and Nine Lives, Close decided he could be a “good fit” as director. Then, when she had appeared in The Chumscrubber, produced by Bonnie Curtis, she enlisted Curtis as well. “That really ignited the project again. We’ve been at it for five years!”
For his part, Garcia points out that Close “having done my movies back when I was starting as a director had been instrumental in getting my movies made. I wanted to help in any way I could.” Once he read the screenplay, he was further enticed. “I had never thought I would do a period drama, a costume drama, but this is such an unusual one and the themes are so contemporary.”
The screenplay has been through various metamorphoses. Gabriella Prekop (Szabo’s translator) wrote an early version. Then, Booker prize winning novelist John Banville came on board. “I needed somebody who really knew the Irish idiom and the period. I called up my friend Stephen Frears (who directed Close in Dangerous Liaisons) because he is great with writers. I said who would be good for this and he said John Banville. So I called John out of the blue.”
After Banville wrote two versions and a brush-up, Close “took it back” and made her own additions and tweaks. Banvillle has continued to contribute.
The irony is that while financiers have sometimes shied away from Albert Nobbs, actors have clamoured to be involved. Close and her team have assembled an ensemble cast that includes top Hollywood and Irish talent.
Close was in Cannes last year, sitting in the back room of WestEnd’s offices, explaining to distributors just what the movie was about. “I wanted to meet with distributors in person. I know that this is a story that’s hard for people to comprehend. What’s so exciting about finally having something on film is that you see the penny drop. That was the conundrum. Wait till you see it but you need money in order to see it.”
Various potential financiers, among them Participant, circled the project without committing. Close credits Julie Lynn and Bonnie Curtis with the “out of the box thinking” that finally pulled the budget together. One of the investors (whose name Close won’t disclose) is a businessman from Fort Worth, Texas. “Alan Moloney has been fierce and fabulous and so have the Irish Film Board,” she enthuses of her Irish partners. And, no, she’s not an expert on the minutiae of putting together coproductions and using Ireland’s Section 481. “Julie is a real black belt with all of that and Bonnie is learning the ropes with that. I know that that is never going to be my forte…I have not been looking over the spreadsheets.”
For Close, the challenge throughout has been combining her creative role as writer and actor with her producer duties. “First of all, it’s incredibly cheeky to try to pull off a period movie with our budget. 10 years ago, we never got it (the budget) below $12 million. Now, we’re doing it in a much worse financial climate for $6 million. We have brilliant people who are solving the problems,” she enthuses. “The problem solving has only led to something stronger. That’s also the nature of a low budget film. You have to be more creative than when you have tons of money.”
Back in the early ’80s, when she played in Simone Benmussa’s theatrical adaptation of the story, Close recalls that the production was minimalist and with some mime elements. Returning to the role on screen is very different. “It’s a different chemistry to do something on stage than on film. Film brings you right into somebody’s face. It took me at least the first week to begin to be comfortable in Albert’s skin in front of the movie camera. Also, this is a very complex character.”
As she points out, there have been plentiful movies in which women have pretended to be men without convincing anyone. Here, it’s vital to the story that she is a plausible “he.” She credits her make-up and costume artists with helping her pull off a credible transformation.
Once Albert Nobbs is done, Close is due to return to TV series Damages, for which she has won huge plaudits for her performance as ruthless lawyer Patty Hewes. Two new 10 epsisode series of the show have been commissioned by DirectTV.
Are there any overlaps between the tough-as-flint Patty Hewes and the equally resourceful Albert Nobbs? Close brushes aside the question. “They’re both women!” is all she will say.