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She's Just Playing De Vil's Advocate

That's why Glenn Close, confirmed animal lover that she is, fought to make sure her villainess in '102 Dalmatians' gets a measure of respect.

November 12, 2000|PAUL LIEBERMAN | Paul Lieberman is a Times staff writer

NEW YORK — When word comes that Glenn Close has a new puppy in her life--her real life as opposed to her reel life--you can't help hoping that she'll have it with her, and not because you need reassurance that she isn't, in fact, a dog skinner. We all understand the difference between reality and film fantasy, so we trust that she is, in actuality, the furthest thing from the sort who would plot to make a fur coat from the pelts of tiny spotted canines, as she did in 1996's "101 Dalmatians" and does again in the sequel, "102 Dalmatians."

Yet there is something about her ability to play such a villainess that invites further inquiry, even if it defies explanation in the end. No actress plays evil better. None is--pardon the pun--close.

So how did she get from here to there? Point A is her upbringing amid the WASPish wealth of Greenwich, Conn., her teenage start in show biz with the incredibly bouncy Up With People--the evangelical singing troupe launched in the '60s--and her emergence in films portraying sweet innocence. Point B is where she winds up, at 53, as Hollywood's most accomplished oracle of darkness.

Her first three Oscar nominations: playing paragons of virtue in "The World According to Garp," "The Big Chill" and "The Natural," serving as Robert Redford's haloed vision in that one.

Her last two nominated roles: as the obsessive Alex Forrest in "Fatal Attraction," boiling Michael Douglas' pet rabbit in a pot, and as the Marquise de Merteuil in "Dangerous Liaisons," plotting with--and against--John Malkovich.

You can't push this inquiry too far, because her new movie, opening Nov. 22, is, after all, a Disney romp for kids, another playful animal story that youngsters may well watch, like the first, as many times as there are Dalmatians. They'll likely squeal with delight, again, when the puppies get their revenge, again, on the aptly named Cruella De Vil. And while Cruella may be the Devil, she's more about over-the-top costumes and hairstyles (see story, page 46), than any serious take on good and evil.

Yet it's tempting to dip a toe into those waters, with a simple question, when you see that Close has indeed brought along her tiny dog, Petey.

His full name is Petey Petit, and he's a papillon, meaning he has a toy-dog body with big furry ears that look--thus the name--like butterfly wings. He's not any old papillon, either. He's the son of the great Kirby, who won best of show at Westminster. Close picked him up from the breeder a few days ago after deciding she was ready to replace her beloved Gaby, a white Coton de Tulear who was her road companion before she died, at 12, in February.

"I just miss her," Close says. "I thought if I have another little dog companion when I'm away from home, I won't be quite so homesick. I wanted a little dog I could carry on the airplane, so I wouldn't have to put him in a crate."

Petey is resting regally on a red-and-black checkerboard blanket atop the sofa in the living room of the Greenwich Village duplex that serves as a city crash pad for his mistress. Her main spread, in the countryside of New York's northern Westchester County, has other dogs and cats and fish. Horses too, though her Morgan mare, Rosie, is in an animal hospital down in Pennsylvania, undergoing surgery this morning to save her life.

When the phone rings, it's a friend eager for an update. "She came through like a trooper," Close reports, much relieved.

Rosie had a degenerative hoof disease, leaving the actress with two choices, "either put her down, or try the hospital." She didn't give it a second thought, whatever the cost. Rosie has been with her nine years, since her daughter, Annie, was 3. Though hot-blooded by nature, she'd make like a gentle plow horse whenever Close hoisted her daughter on top for a ride.

"She hadn't given up, and if she hadn't, I wouldn't," Close says of the hospitalized mare.

*

So here we are, firmly at Point A, awash in mushy animal-lover talk of Peteys and Gabys and Rosies. Close is curled up next to Petey, displaying a fluency about pure dog breeds and horsemanship worthy of a refined Greenwich matron.

Yet images of Cruella peer down from the walls. They're her keepsakes from the filming of "102" in London. There's a portrait of Cruella in her trademark spiked hair, half black and half white. Another shows one of the "ancestors" Cruella has been given for the sequel, modeled after a famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth I in a frilled-collar dress--except the face looks like you-know-who, complete with two-tone hair. There's also a rendering of the set designed by Assheton Gorton as Cruella's palace.

"This is modeled after a private museum in London. Look at that staircase!" Close says, and she's right, it's worthy of Scarlett O'Hara.

As she rises from the sofa to point out the details, her assistant hurries off to a nearby Mexican restaurant for chips and guacamole.

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