"That's when I was cast as Albert on stage in New York," says Close. "So I've known him for a long time."
Throughout the first half of her award-laden career — winning acclaim for films like Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, and Sarah, Plain and Tall — Close never forgot her triumphant stage turn as Albert. And starting around 1997, she began pitching the idea of a film based on the story.
The ads for Albert Nobbs make no secret of its central premise: "Albert" is actually a woman, who, from the time she was young, has been living her life disguised as a man in order to work as a hotel waiter in Victorian era Dublin.
"She's a very unusual character," says Close. "She's not what she seems.
"Everybody has a story. There's a story that people perceive outwardly for each of us, and there's the story that is our story, the one that we're aware of looking at from the inside out."
Of course, 30 years ago Close played Albert as a young woman. Now in her mid-60s, she brings a whole new perspective to the role. Albert has now lived virtually an entire lifetime pretending to be someone she is not — who has created for herself an entity that hovers somewhere between the sexes, working and living in close quarters with others, yet in a very real sense profoundly alone.
After three decades, Close has become comfortable mixing the name "Albert" with the pronoun "she" — a trick that kept tripping me up during our conversation. It's just one indication of how deeply she probed the character's psyche while preparing for the screen version.
"Somebody like Albert, who is not used to real human contact, and been invisible for 30 years, talks to herself, and that's about it," she says. "It's always fascinating to me, as an actress, to try to figure out what those private thoughts are, and whatever else is going on, no matter what is perceived by the world.
"Albert Nobbs talks about isolation and survival, and the types of connections that people need in order to lead a fulfilling life. It's an unexpected way to tell what I think is a very deeply human story."
In the film, Albert confides her secret to just one person — a hotel handyman who, it turns out, is likewise a woman who has disguised herself as a man in order to make her way in the world. She's played by Janet McTeer, who like Close received an Oscar nomination for the film.
"Glenn spent 15 years trying to bring Albert Nobbs to the screen," McTeer said. The magic of her performance, she added, came in "how she places us on both sides of Albert's curtain of secrecy. We witness Albert's assured impersonation of a painfully reserved little man — and also her perpetual fear of discovery."
Although the broad outline of Albert Nobbs' story seems like the recipe for a sad film, "There's a lot of unexpected humor," says Close. "And I also think that with the film's epilogue people understand that Albert has not lived in vain, that people will be saved and connections will be made because she existed.
"The film is about someone who many of us would say has a very little dream. But one thing this journey has taught me: There is no such thing as a little dream."
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