In the 1990s, the musical got small, but Glenn Close was big. Playing delusional former film star Norma Desmond in the 1994 Andrew Lloyd Webber tuner Sunset Boulevard, she delivered a commanding, full-throttle diva performance that earned her a Tony. Now, after an acclaimed West End production last year, she’s returning to Broadway to give Norma a second look. We checked in.
Has your approach to Norma changed?
I think so. Before I played her as somebody caught back in the 1920s and trying to maintain that look. She was sort of a gorgon. I was inspired by Carol Matthau, who was married to Walter Matthau. She’d been a great beauty, but as she got older she apparently put on so much white makeup that there was powder everywhere. [Laughs] This time around I think Norma’s more human, and of her time.
People may not know that several of your early roles were in musicals. In 1980 you played the title character’s wife in Barnum.
Barnum was a great experience, but also a lesson for me, because my character was the party pooper. She wore a gray dress in a show full of color. I worked my ass off trying to make people believe in their relationship and blah blah blah, but ultimately I was wearing a gray dress!
At least you won’t have that problem in Sunset.
I’m wearing my original fabulous costumes! They’re 22 years old. I mean, my figure’s not the same, and we’re making some pieces simpler to get in and out of. And I don’t wear as many turbans. I wanted to get away from that feeling. But I have my 22-year-old wigs that have been refronted!
Norma is about 50, and you’re older than that now. Does that change how the character registers?
I think you’re more aware of the strange older woman–younger man relationship thing that [Norma and would-be writer Joe Gillis] fall into. Joe has a line, “Nothing’s wrong with being 50 unless you’re acting 20.” Everybody knows I’m not 50, so we thought, Should we change the line? But no! It’s set in 1950, and back then 50 was way over the hill. It meant a woman was done, especially in Hollywood.
In Hollywood, isn’t that still true?
There are more parts now because of Netflix and Amazon and other cable networks with a voracious need for content. However, truly great parts will always be at a premium. There are independent films, but they can be hard to finance. I was lucky to be in Guardians of the Galaxy, but in the studio movies, there are very few parts with real strength and interest for women my age. So, as far as that’s concerned, Sunset has not lost any of its potency.
Sunset Boulevard opens February 9 at New York’s Palace Theatre.
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