WATERVILLE — Glenn Close, versatile star of stage, screen and television, accepted the Mid-Life Achievement Award on Sunday night at the 17th annual Maine International Film Festival.
The award, crafted in the likeness of a Maine moose by festival Director Shannon Haines’ mother, Laurel McLeod, was a hit with Close.
“This is the best award I’ve ever received,” Close said, to loud applause from a packed Waterville Opera House. “I’m not kidding. This is better than the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) award. Oh, my gosh, this is fantastic. I adore this.”
Close, 67, and a six-time Academy Award nominee, was given the award by Haines and festival program director Ken Eisen.
The ceremony followed a showing of “Albert Nobbs,” a 2011 film Close starred in and co-produced about a woman in 19th-century Ireland who dresses as a man in order to be able to work.
Close spent about an hour with film enthusiasts Sunday night, answering questions about the film and her acting career, which also has netted her Emmy and Tony awards.
But first, Close thanked the Maine Film Center, which hosts the festival, and of which Haines is executive director.
“Congratulations for what you are creating here,” Close said.
The prolific actress said her definition of an independent film is one that almost does not get made.
“I don’t think that there is a better definition,” she said.
While “Albert Nobbs” was 14 years in the making, it took 32 days to shoot, she said. The character of Nobbs was what drew her to the part, she said.
“She’s certainly not what she seems, and I’m fascinated by what’s behind the mask,” Close said. “I think we all are experts at walking through life showing about one percent of what’s underneath. I just found her a heartbreaking character. I love characters that have a dream.”
The movie, filmed in a Dublin hotel, was produced with a lot of dedication and hard work from actors who came on board and put their all into it, according to Close.
“It started having a life of its own, and we ended up with an extraordinary group of actors,” she said.
Janet McTeer, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Pauline Collins co-star in the film.
“Janet is a great actress,” Close said, the audience applauding immediately after the mention of McTeer’s name.
Close said McTeer was playing Mary Stuart on Broadway, and when Close saw her performance, she thought she was perfect for the part in “Nobbs.” Close went backstage, told McTeer she had a film for her and sent her the script. McTeer took the part, as did Taylor-Johnson.
Filming in Dublin was always Close’s dream because the story is Irish, but the location was not certain from the outset, she said.
“We looked at east Germany, certainly Budapest, everywhere — Montreal. I mean, it ultimately came down to what is right for the film and also, Ireland has very, very good tax breaks, so it became possible. It was wonderful that it actually worked out there.”
Close’s character required a significant makeup job, including enlarging her ears and adding a nose tip made of gel.
“There came a point where I looked up and it really wasn’t me anymore, and I started crying,” Close recalled. “I couldn’t believe it.”
She worked on the film in the editing room.
“The whole editing process is something that I love,” she said.
She prompted laughter several times during the question-and-answer session. When someone asked her if she had ever worked with directors who were difficult, she said she would not name names.
“Two I didn’t enjoy — ah, three — all for different reasons,” she said.
One director, she said, systematically cut off the audience from the emotional journey of the movie.
“I learned a lot from that,” she said. “It was a miserable experience for me. I learned that the most powerful aspect of any art is … to give your audience a real emotional journey so at the end you feel like you have been through something you can emotionally identify with.”
Another director was just a bad director, she said.
“He didn’t know how to block a scene, and so we just directed ourselves and made him think it was his idea.”
The audience erupted in laughter.
Close attended a reception at Amici’s Cucina restaurant downtown after the ceremony.
Close’s film “Cookie’s Fortune,” from 1999, shows at 3:30 p.m. Monday in the Opera House.
Amy Calder — 861-9247