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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Glenn Close's vindication in The Wife: Joan Castleman -- not Shakespeare -- in Love

I saw The Wife on a long airplane trip yesterday, and was totally blown away by everything about it, but most of all the astonishing performance by Glenn Close (and Jonathan Pryce was pitch perfect as her unworthy husband). A film based on a screenplay by a woman, adapting a novel by a woman, starring a woman.   

As I watched it, the film that first came to my mind was Shakespeare in Love -- While Shakespeare in Love is an excellent film, it is ultimately the celebration of a gifted woman's life being reduced to fodder for a man's literary achievements, The Wife reverses that unfortunate message, and is ultimately about the celebration of a woman's literary achievements, "fixing" what a man was incapable of, because of that woman's greater humanity and genius.

It was only while writing this post that a second film came to mind -- Fatal Attraction -- a film entirely written and directed by men 32 years ago, in which Glenn Close played the ultimate female monster of the cheating male id -- a monster who must be killed more than once to prevent her from killing the hero. What a satisfying irony to consider the ending of The Wife (I won't spoil it for you) alongside that earlier sexist abomination. 

The following excerpt from a recent interview of Glenn Close after she won the Golden Globe is wonderful, and renews my own commitment to A.G.E., and the advance of gender equity through the arts:

"Speaking via phone from her mountain home far from California, Close looks back on the making of the Björn Runge-directed film, and the emergence of a cultural climate that allowed it to be truly seen.

Congratulations on the Globe win. It felt in that moment almost like your character in The Wife getting the Nobel Prize she earned.

Oh, my God. I never thought of it in that way, but I suppose you could say that. That’s not a bad analogy.

Had you read the original Meg Wolitzer book? What was the process of getting involved?

I attached my name to the project five years before we actually gathered and got to film it. I thought it was intriguing. I met Meg Wolitzer for the first time backstage after she came to a performance of A Delicate Balance, which I was doing on Broadway with John Lithgow.
One of my co-stars had set up a little lending library, she was a voracious reader, and on the shelf of that lending library was The Wife and I think I read it then. At that time I didn’t hear about a movie version. That was later when my agent Franklin Latt and Kevin Huvane got the script, and even though I couldn’t answer all the questions about her, I was intrigued enough to say, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll put my name in that and see what happens.”

It was some years in the making. How has the nuance of this character changed for you during that time?

Oh my gosh. I think it was 14 years ago. Now it’s been 15 years from the book, and I think Jane Anderson wrote the screenplay not long after the book came out. We did it in the fall; it was end of the year 2016. The #MeToomovement hadn’t broken yet. It was only after we finished it, and before it made its world premiere at Toronto in 2017, that what happened in the world gave it such deeper nuance, I think.

From the minute he wakes her up at the beginning of the film, I wanted to kill him. And then when he died I wasn’t really sorry. That’s wrong isn’t it?

Oh, I have a little bit of a different take on him. I think it’s because of what it means to be an actress, but I’m always trying to figure out why people behave the way they do. And usually in that quest, I find I get great empathy for them. I feel that for him. It goes back to the scene where he says, “How can you love me if I’m a hack?” And then it moves on to where she says, “I know how to fix this. Do you want me to fix it?” And he lets her come in, and basically her talent takes over his life. And I think he never felt that he was worth loving because that’s the way he thinks. And the fact that the last question he asks her is, “Do you love me?” It really was so hard to answer that question, even in the scene. In fact, I think I stopped and said, “Do you have to ask me that right as you’re dying? That’s so unfair!” But his question is really, “Do I love myself?” Of course he didn’t. And so he was still saying “Do you love me?” and then, “You’re such a good liar.” I think he’s always beholden to her emotionally. And a lot of the behavior came out of that. It was a very difficult moment.

Joan made me think of my grandma always saying, “You’ll spend your whole life stitching a man’s testicles back on.” I thought, “This is what she meant.”

[Laughs] Oh my god, that’s incredible! It was just, we didn’t know anything different until the world started changing. There were times in my life when I was in college, I actually was married for the beginning of it. And that’s a whole other story we won’t go into, because he was a good guy. But I was making lunch for us, doing all the laundry, cooking the meals, working 18 hours, and saying to him, “You can do it! You can do it!” And then you say, “You know what? I can’t do this anymore.”

Did you draw on your own life then? The scene at the Nobel prize dinner where he thanks Joan and searing rage is just coming off your body without you even having to speak. It’s incredible.

Well, I work in my imagination, really. I grew up running rampant around the Connecticut countryside with our little gang, and we were pretending all the time. And I think to be an actress, it’s creating this character in your mind so you can think her thoughts. And I don’t substitute my life or anything else. I try to be so totally in the moment that I will think her thoughts, and that feeds the emotional apparatus."

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