In what is undoubtedly her most unusual role, Glenn Close is getting significant critical attention and numerous award nominations, including for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She discussed the long process of creating the part on film at the Telluride Film Festival.
In “Albert Nobbs”, Close gives a masterful portrayal of a woman for years living as a man in Victorian-era Ireland and working as a butler in a hotel. Men in that time had far more employment options. Close’s transformative makep was also Oscar-nominated. Close has been attracted to the character since she first portrayed Albert Nobbs in an Off-Broadway production in 1982 for which she received an Obie Award.
In 2001,Close, who had become writer and producer on the project, had a draft of the script with which she was satisfied and began to scout locations. Shooting was delayed due to funding. Financing the offbeat film was difficult and Close said it did not get off the ground until Orlando Bloom (“Lord of the Rings”) had agreed to be in the cast. He left the film for the birth of his child. Close had found the location in Dublin of the hotel where Albert works ten years before actual shooting began.
Unlike the flamboyant lawyer Close portrays in “Damages” on TV, the furtive Albert Nobbs stays in the background. Close described her character as “an invisible person in an invisible position”. Close is remarkable in subtly showing Albert’s fear in being exposed and the conflicting emotions she tries to hide.
Close said the most difficult part of portraying Albert was on “how to act repressed…how much to show on the face”, adding that was “why I wanted the challenge”. Glenn Close said Albert was “like a clown” with slightly too-large pants and shoes, reminiscent of tramp clown Emmett Kelly who was “so sad and funny at same time.” Close said that “the power of the film is Albert’s innocence” in her naïve reactions others, particularly toward a young maid (Mia Wasikowska, “Jane Eyre”).
The screenplay, co-written by Close, has several well-written characters portrayed by a strong ensemble, including Brendan Gleeson (“Harry Pottter”) as a doctor, Pauline Collins (“Upstairs, Downstairs”) as Albert’s devious employer, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (“Match Point”) as an aristocrat hiding his own secrets.
Janet McTeer (another Oscar nominee from the film) stands out as Hubert, another woman living as a man, but more spirited that Albert and comfortable in her identity. In a memorable scene, Albert and Hubert, in long dresses and bonnets, happily run at the seashore. Albert has an ecstatic smile, for once out of disguise, but still not quite fitting in.