WATERVILLE — Glenn Close has starred in many commercial and independent films over her long and illustrious career, but independent film is where her passion lies.
“I really support independent film and will always do independent film and am always seduced by some of the scripts that come up for independent films and the actors,” Close said Monday.
The versatile film, stage and television actress and six-time Academy Award nominee will bring that enthusiasm to Waterville next month as she is honored at the 17th Annual Maine International Film Festival. On July 13, she will receive the Mid-Life Achievement Award at the Waterville Opera House.
“I’m happy to be there to further my passion for independent film,” she said.
The 10-day festival, to be held July 11-20 at both the Opera House and Railroad Square Cinema, features more than 100 films representing the best of American and international independent cinema and spotlights Maine and New England’s most innovative filmmakers, according to organizers.
Thousands of film enthusiasts from all over the world attend the festival which affords them the opportunity to interact with directors, producers, actors and writers through discussions and question-and-answer sessions.
The Mid-Life Achievement Award is presented to someone who has made significant contributions to the art of cinema. Past honorees are Ed Harris, Keith Carradine, Malcolm McDowell, Sissy Spacek, Bud Cort, John Turturro, Peter Fonda, Thelma Schoonmaker, Lili Taylor, Arthur Penn, Terrence Malick, Jos Stelling and Walter Hill.
Close, 67, who lives part of the year in Prouts Neck in Scarborough, has starred in films including “The Big Chill,” “The Natural,” “Fatal Attraction,” “The Paper,” “Dangerous Liaisons” and “101 Dalmatians.” Her television credits include roles in “The Elephant Man,” “Sarah Plain and Tall,” “Damages” and “The Shield.”
This fall she returns to Broadway for the first time in 20 years to star in “A Delicate Balance,” a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Edward Albee.
Close has seen a lot of changes in the film industry over her 40-year career, which started in 1974 with a stage performance in “Love for Love.” In 1982, she starred in the film, “The World According to Garp,” which netted her her first Oscar nomination.
“When I started my first job in 1974, I had just got out of college where I had written all of my papers on a typewriter,” Close said. “There were no cell phones. Television and the movie world were very separate and at that point if you worked in television, you basically wouldn’t have a career in film, and if you worked in film, you wouldn’t have lowered yourself to work in television. That has completely changed.”
When Close started producing shows for television, Hallmark was the place where one could see substantive movies. The BBC brought a whole generation of writers and actors, followed by HBO and long-form series drama. That form changed the face of television.
“In television, the writer is king — it’s called the show runner, the head writer,” Close said. “In movies, it’s the director/producer.”
A lot of writers who wanted to maintain their vision started moving into cable television. The legal thriller, “Damages” and “The Shield,” in which Close starred, were cable shows.
“Now I feel the long-form drama is a luxury and I, as an actor, think the perfect form is a mini-series because you have enough time to tell a story right,” she said.
Independent films are now tougher to make, for a variety of reasons, according to Close.
“My definition of ‘independent’ is a movie that almost doesn’t get made,” she said. “It takes a tremendous resilience, it takes creative financing. You have to love it enough to go through all the hoops you have to go through to do it.”
There will always be a demand for great stories, but there are financial implications associated with trying to tell them, according to Close.
“Studios can’t afford to put millions into a little movie,” she said.
Close’s film, “Low Down,” premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where she served on the board of directors for 16 years. The movie also will be shown at the Waterville film festival. Based on a book written by Amy Albany, the film is about a teen-aged girl growing up on the fringes in late 60s, 70s Los Angeles, Close said.
“Both her parents are junkies. Her father is an inspiring jazz pianist. It’s a story about a great gift and what addiction does. There are some very dark parts to it but it’s also about love and how people get through that — it’s about the resiliency of the human spirit.”
“Cookie’s Fortune,” a 1999 film also to be shown at the Waterville festival, gave Close the opportunity to work with the famed director Robert Altman.
“He’s kind of the essence of independent film,” she said. “He’s an incredibly inclusive person and got wonderful casts.”
“Albert Nobbs,” a film Close co-wrote, co-produced and starred in, will be shown July 13 before Close’s receiving the Mid-Life Achievement Award. She plays Nobbs, a woman who lives as a man in 19th century Ireland so as to procure work.
Early in her career, Close performed in an off-Broadway production of Nobbs; it was a character she had been interested in portraying for a while.
“The character was so different and so kind of haunting,” she said.
The film in 2012 earned her her sixth Academy Award acting nomination as well as Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.
“Dangerous Liaisons,” a 1988 film in which Close starred with John Malkovich, also is scheduled to be shown at the festival.
Shannon Haines, director of the film festival, said there’s a lot of excitement around Close’s coming to Waterville to be honored.
“With a distinguished career that spans decades and crosses genres as well as media — from film to TV to Broadway — Glenn is a remarkable, multi-talented powerhouse and we are beyond thrilled to honor her with our Mid-Life Achievement Award,” Haines said Monday.
Festival programmer Ken Eisen said what he admires most about Close’s career is her versatility and wide-ranging abilities.
“I think that she is, obviously, one of the few preeminent actors of her generation — I think there is no question if you had a short list of two or three most recognized actresses, she’s right up there with Meryl Streep, basically. I think she’s had an amazing, amazing career.”
Close‘s recently-completed films are “5 to 7,” “Anesthesia,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
She currently is working on the film “The Great Gilly Hopkins,” with Kathy Bates, Julia Stiles and Sophie Nelisse.
As a child, Close lived with her family in a stone cottage on her grandfather’s estate in Greenwich, Conn. where she roamed the countryside with her sister, Tina, whom she described as the “leader of the gang.”
There, they acted out their childhood dramas.
“We just played from dawn ‘til dusk and made up games and had a wonderful terrain to explore and make our own as kids,” she recalled.
Talking about the experience Monday reminded her of something Richard Eyre, director of the National Theatre, in of London, once said — that all great actors must maintain a childlike ability to play, according to Close.
“I think that’s very, very true. I think that, more and more as I choose things I want to do, I think, ‘Who do I want to play with?’ because it is about imagination. You have to be very open and nonjudgmental and operate in the moment.”
As a small child, Close was very shy and did not seek the limelight, she said. In kindergarten, when musical instruments were handed out, she was happy to get the triangle, as she knew she would not be the focus of attention.
Later, at her all-girls high school – Rosemary Hall — now Choate Rosemary Hall — she enrolled in the drama club and performed, she said, in a wonderful outdoor amphitheater with her fellow classmates.
“In my senior year I was Romeo,” she recalled. “It was great; it was fun.”
After high school she attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where she majored in theater and minored in anthropology.
“My first role was Olivia in ‘Twelfth Night.’ Over the years, I did Sally Bowles in ‘Cabaret.’ I did ‘Brigadoon,’ ‘You Can’t Take it With You,’ ‘Cleopatra.’ William and Mary was a very strong — and still is — liberal arts school but at that time the professors in the theater department were as good as any kind of official acting school. I really, really believe in everyone getting a liberal arts education before they start any career.”
What advice would she give to aspiring actors?
“I just think you need this crazy passion — you need this belief in your abilities. I think the only advice I’d give anyone who is serious is to learn your craft and you don’t learn it in front of a camera — learn it in theater.”
Close was speaking Monday from her home in Westchester, N.Y., which she shares with her husband, executive and entrepreneur, David Evans Shaw, and their dogs, Jake and Bill, The couple also have a home on Prouts Neck in Scarborough — a home she loves.
“I think Maine is incredible,” she said.
This will not be Close’s first visit to Waterville. Last year she attended the opening of the Alfond-Lunder Family Pavilion at Colby College Museum of Art. The Lunder Wing houses the $100 million art collection of Peter and Paula Lunder, who live in both Maine and Florida.
“The Lunders are good friends of ours,” Close said.
Close helped launch the organization Bring Change 2 Mind, which confronts the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. The idea for the organization grew out of Close’s first-hand observation of battles with mental illness within her own family, according to literature released by her publicist. Close’s sister, Jessie, lives with bipolar disorder and Jessie’s son, Calen, has schizo-affective disorder and the three are actively involved in spreading the organization’s mission.
A dog lover, Close also supports the Puppies Behind Bars, which helps train inmates to raise service dogs for wounded war veterans, as well as canines that detect explosives for law enforcement officials. Close said it is one of her favorite organizations.
“I love Puppies Behind Bars,” she said.
She also is a founding member of the Panthera Conservation Advisory Committee, an international nonprofit organization that works to conserve the world’s 36 species of wild cats.