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THE ENVELOPE

Give Glenn Close a juicy role, and just sit back

'At any point in the game, you want her pitching,' says 'Damages' co-creator Todd A. Kessler of the actress.

August 03, 2009|Rebecca Ascher-Walsh

Glenn Close should be a little bit scary. After all, she's made a career illuminating the dark side of humanity, whether boiling bunnies, fleecing Dalmatians or playing lovers who remove any association of endearment from the word. Her latest turn, for which she has already received an Emmy and may yet score another, seems no great stretch: starring as "Damages' " Patty Hewes, a formidable attorney who thinks attempted murder is nothing to come between friends.

But on this summer day in New York, the petite 62-year-old -- dressed in a white linen shirt, navy blue blazer and jeans, her short buffed nails offsetting a Gobstopper-size diamond ring -- could be mistaken for an affluent soccer mom. With an easy laugh and a voice so quiet one has to lean in to hear her, she seems almost shy, a contrast from her character she insists is startling only to strangers. This is, after all, a woman who films many of her harshest scenes with one of her two beloved terriers snuggled up at her feet, tucked out of camera range.

"I like all my characters!" she responds with surprise when questioned about Hewes' Q rating. "In fact, when I signed on for the series, the only thing I needed the writers to understand is that I didn't want to play someone about whom everyone says, 'Oh, she's so evil.' I've done it before, and that's not interesting to me."

Close's career, especially of late, has been anything but expected. While other feature actresses shied away from what was seen until recently as the ghetto of television, Close began adding TV dramas -- and Emmy attention -- to her resume of Oscar-nominated film and Tony-winning theater performances more than two decades ago.

"I'm a sucker for good material, and I didn't allow myself to be snobbish about it," she says. "I kept saying, 'The British do it, why can't we? Look at Helen Mirren and Judi Dench.' "

It was her 2005 Emmy-nominated turn as Capt. Monica Rawling on FX's "The Shield" that made her consider the network's proposal of doing "Damages," especially since the New York location meant she could work near the home she then shared with her daughter Annie, now a college senior. "I was away from home for 5 1/2 months for 'The Shield,' and that was just too long," she says. "That couldn't happen again." When friends and colleagues William Hurt -- with whom she costarred in 1983's "The Big Chill" -- and Ted Danson agreed to join the series as well, the fun really began.

"We laugh a lot in between takes. That said, it can be very challenging when you're shooting something at 4 a.m.," says Close of the pace on "Damages," which received its second outstanding drama nomination this year along with Close's acting nod and five others.

"Our writers write very organically, which means you can have 10 rewrites before you have the scene you end up shooting. I've learned not to bother memorizing the lines until I'm basically sitting in the chair having my makeup done, but it's made my brain very acute in terms of short-term memory," she continues. "Doing this show is like brain food for me."

Adds the show's co-creator and showrunner Todd A. Kessler, "It's common in television to have the writers changing what's happening all the time, but what is not common is to have an actress with Glenn's work ethic. To make a bad baseball analogy, she's the ace starter, the ace reliever and, at any point in the game, you want her pitching."

With a six-year commitment if the series continues to get picked up, Close is settling in to the first real routine of her professional life. Free from work and related appearances until the Emmys and the September start of filming "Damages' " third season, Close is enjoying a summer vacation at the Maine home she shares with her husband, David Shaw, a biotech entrepreneur. She's staying busy reading, planting her first perennial garden and blogging on Fetchdog.com, a company she and her husband created that donates part of its proceeds to animal charities. She's also working on improving her swimming skills, since Shaw and his family are inveterate triathletes. "I hyperventilate," she admits of her amphibian adventures. "And I'm not very good at the part where you lose sight of the bottom and everything gets dark."

Professionally, however, Close has never had a firmer sense of her bearings. "Of course I'd love to do some more wonderful films," she says, "and I hope that happens. I'd also love to get back to the theater. But I like the pace of television. Chris Walken always says when he's not working he feels like a fighter sitting in the corner. When I'm not working," she adds, "I feel like a Ferrari in the garage. You have all this potential and you just want to break out."

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calendar@latimes.com

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