Interview: Glenn Close, Actress In 'A Delicate Balance' Close stars as a suburban matron in a revival of Edward Albee's 1966 play. She tells NPR about the timelessness of Albee's play and getting a nosebleed in the middle of a recent matinee.
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Glenn Close Ends 20-Year Broadway Hiatus With 'A Delicate Balance'

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Glenn Close Ends 20-Year Broadway Hiatus With 'A Delicate Balance'

Glenn Close Ends 20-Year Broadway Hiatus With 'A Delicate Balance'

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Twenty years ago at the Tony Awards ceremony, Marlo Thomas presented the award for best leading actress in a Broadway musical.


MARLO THOMAS: And the American Theatre Wing Tony Award goes to Glenn Close for "Sunset Boulevard."


SIEGEL: It was for playing the delusional movie star Norma Desmond. And it was her third Tony. Glenn Close, it feels like only yesterday.

GLENN CLOSE: (Laughter). Yes.

SIEGEL: Surely, I've done the subtraction wrong. Was that 20 years ago?

CLOSE: It was 20 years. The way I can remember is that my daughter was 6 when I left "Sunset," and she's now 26.

SIEGEL: It must be right then. Glenn Close joins us from New York, where she is back on Broadway in "A Delicate Balance," Edward Albee's 1966 Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Are you having fun taking part in a dysfunctional family imploding every night?

CLOSE: (Laughter). Yes, actually, it is great, great fun. It's an extraordinary company of actors. And the text, the play itself, is so challenging that we just go on every day trying to get it right in our own minds. So, yeah, we're having a great time.

SIEGEL: You play this suburban matron, Agnes, opposite John Lithgow, who's the husband, Tobias. And your character strives to keep the peace in a household that they share with her sister, who's an alcoholic, their daughter, who's a serial divorcee, their best friends, who've descended upon them in an inexplicable terror. It seemed to me that you could have play this character, Agnes, as a really insufferable, snarling character. And you seem to play her with a certain respect for her strength and her reserve.

CLOSE: Well, that, I think, is a pitfall of Agnes. I think Agnes is kind of the tricky character in the play. She is very much in the middle of everything. And she could be written as a control freak, really unpleasant woman. And I've played so many strong, unpleasant women that I thought I didn't want to play her like that. I wanted to try to find some sort of humanity. And also, I know a lot of those women. And they're very strong, you know, interesting women in their own right. And so I wanted to do them justice.

SIEGEL: This is a play from the 1960s, when the enemy of suburban life was a hot, cutting edge theme. The dream of '50s postwar America had gone sour. Is this a period piece?

CLOSE: I think the only way that it is a period piece is maybe the mention of a topless bathing suit. And we actually got permission to cut one - I said - at one point, I was criticizing Claire for her emancipated womanhood. (Laughter). I said, in this day and age, we just cannot say that. It's just - that would make it incredibly dated. The words that you hear all through the night, terror and plague, you know, decide - they're timeless. And certainly in our - in our society today, we know more about plague and terror than we ever have, really. It's - when you look at a play like this post 9/11, I think it's actually rather extraordinary what Albee was writing about.

SIEGEL: You know, I want to ask you about yourself a little bit. I had intended to say, being of the same age, frankly, I intended to say that you remember the 1960s, the time when the play was written. But the more that I read about your youth, the more I think you must remember a very unusual version of the 1960s. And I just - I just want you to tell us a little bit about your remarkable life and the days when, you know, Edward Albee plays - whether it was "A Delicate Balance" or "Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf" - were shocking Broadway theatergoers.

CLOSE: Yeah, I graduated from high school in '65 and for five years was on the road with a singing group - rather right-wing singing group, unbeknownst to me. I wasn't kind of cognizant of that kind of thing. It was an offshoot of a - kind of a cult group, I would say, that I'd been in since I was 7. So I had a very skewed view of the '60s, the Watts riots and Vietnam. And it was probably one of the most unsettled times, if you could say, in our history. And we were saying, you know, the world can change, and everything can be just fine. So I was - I was sheltered from all that.

SIEGEL: The group that you were in was sort of making that...

CLOSE: Yeah.

SIEGEL: That...

CLOSE: Oh, yeah.

SIEGEL: You have won Tonys. You've made some incredibly memorable movies, among them "The Big Chill," "The Natural." You've had a great career on television, in "Damages." But for all that varied success, I read that even your husband actually played a little bunny boiler joke on you...

CLOSE: (Laughter).

SIEGEL: At one time...

CLOSE: He did.

SIEGEL: We have to explain. You gave rise to a slang phrase in "Fatal Attraction" as a certain kind of woman, the bunny boiler.

CLOSE: Yes. My husband is from Maine. He lives in Maine. And the first time I went to visit, I walked into his wonderful kitchen. And there, on the stove, was a pot. And out of the pot was coming the head of a stuffed bunny - not a real bunny, I have to...

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

CLOSE: But a lovely, white, stuffed bunny. (Laughter). It was very funny.

SIEGEL: No animals were harmed in the making of that joke.

CLOSE: Exactly. I still have the bunny. It's very funny.

SIEGEL: I know - I mean, I realize that I'm fulfilling my own expectation here. But I guess you always get asked about the bunny boiler thing.

CLOSE: Well, not that much actually.


CLOSE: But I think it's a part that really resonates. And it's a - it's a movie that I don't - that is a good movie to still watch. And, you know, it's on a lot on cable. And it really kind of entered, I think, the bloodstream of our country and at a time when feminism had been around enough to really kind of have created some underground anger, you know, real anger between the sexes. And I think that this movie kind of was like the - the volcano that let all that anger out and focused it for a lot of - I was asked for three years after that movie to speak at the American society of psychiatrists or whatever - whatever it's called. (Laughter). And - because they said I had been responsible for bringing so many people to their couches.

SIEGEL: (Laughter).

CLOSE: Which was - it was fascinating to me.

SIEGEL: Bunny boiler syndrome.

CLOSE: The bunny boiler, yes.

SIEGEL: Is there more Broadway theater in your - in your future?

CLOSE: Well, yes, I would like to. I would like very much to not have another - well, I'd be dead - a 20-year hiatus between my next play.

SIEGEL: You'd only be about 87 then, in 20 years.

CLOSE: I know. There's a - yeah, and you can - we'll still be going. And you can interview me again.

SIEGEL: Absolutely, I can interview you. That's right.

CLOSE: No, there's something at - so elemental about live theater. I mean, yesterday, in our matinee, I started having a nosebleed just before my entrance. And I thought, oh, no, what am I going to do? And my entrance came, and I went on. And I had a whole - a thing of Kleenex. And I realized, you know, like, five lines in that it wasn't going to go. My nosebleed was not going to stop. So I made the decision to go down to the footlights and say, ladies and gentlemen, I'm experiencing a nosebleed. I need to have a couple of minutes. And they just loved it. And John Lithgow went down and said, well, maybe we can sing some Christmas carols. And then, the idea was to kind of bring down the curtain for a couple of minutes.

SIEGEL: Glenn Close, thank you very much for talking with us today.

CLOSE: Thank you, Robert, lovely to talk to you.

SIEGEL: Glenn Close is currently appearing on Broadway in "A Delicate Balance."

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