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Originally published Monday, January 23, 2012 at 11:14 AM

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Glenn Close on a 'once-in-a-lifetime thing'

An interview with Glenn Close, who played the character Albert Nobbs off Broadway in the '80s and now stars in a film version of the story.

Seattle Times movie critic

Coming soon

'Albert Nobbs'

Opens Friday at several theaters. Rated R for some sexuality, brief nudity and language. For a review, go Thursday to www.seattletimes.com/movies or pick up a copy of Friday's MovieTimes.
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Don't think I'll be seeing this one. Her face really creeps me out, kind of like Bruce... MORE
LumpyF - Couldn't agree with you more. She is starting to look like a middle age... MORE
In two of those pictures she looks like Robin Williams. That's weird. MORE

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Glenn Close first met Albert Nobbs nearly 30 years ago. He, originally created in a 19th-century short story by Irish author George Moore, was the main character in a play called "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs," running Off-Broadway in 1982. She, then primarily a stage actress but about to make her movie breakthrough in "The World According to Garp," played the role — and fell in love. Albert is a butler at a Dublin hotel who's hiding a secret: She's actually a woman.

Since then, there have been many movies — "The Big Chill," "Dangerous Liaisons," "Fatal Attraction," "Reversal of Fortune," among numerous others — but Albert stayed with Close. "The play was very austere — it was just a bare stage with a little platform that was Albert's workstation, and then a revolving door that represented the people coming in and out of the hotel," Close remembered, in an interview last fall at the Toronto International Film Festival. "I felt every night, from the stage, that the story for all its simplicity was incredibly powerful." There was something poignant, she thought, in Albert's story; the way the character had made herself invisible, yet still dared to dream — of love, of an independent life, of happiness.

"Albert Nobbs" the movie opens in Seattle Friday; the end result of Close's 30-year journey. Many hands have touched it over the years: Hungarian filmmaker Istvan Szabo (with whom Close made "Meeting Venus") wrote a treatment about 20 years ago; writer Gabriella Prekop did a first draft of the script; Irish novelist John Banville did a revision (to "Irish-ize" it, said Close) and remained close to the project; and Close herself wrote many versions of the screenplay until it finally felt complete. Ten years ago, she traveled to Ireland with Szabo and production designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein, to scout locations. Financing was a struggle and eventually Szabo had to leave the project, but "Albert Nobbs" finally began filming a year ago in Dublin, with Rodrigo Garcia directing and the historic home Cabinteely House — found by Close and von Brandenstein 10 years ago — standing in for Morrison's Hotel.

Bits of the play (written by Simone Benmussa) made their way to the film, reflecting the character's history. In the play, said Close, "you heard the voice of George Moore as an older man, and that's how the story starts — thinking about when he was a little boy and they'd go up to Dublin and stay at this family hotel, where there was a very strange waiter that scared him." In the movie, we briefly see things through the eyes of a small boy, called "Master George" by Albert, and whose parents are Mr. and Mrs. Moore.

Close, in her years of researching the story, said she found that history is full of Alberts. Women disguising themselves as men, she said, "was much more prevalent than people could ever think. For example, about a thousand women fought as soldiers during the Civil War." Some women, if they were wealthy, would "take off in disguise and have adventures"; for others, like Albert, it was a way to survive independently. Ireland in the late 19th century — the time in which the film is set — experienced abject poverty, Close said. A woman like Albert (an orphan without education) would struggle to survive, but as a man she could earn a higher salary and even receive tips. Albert carefully saves the bits of money doled out by the hotel clientele, hoping for a better life some day.

Now that the "Albert Nobbs" story is finally told, Close's focus is moving elsewhere: She's currently shooting the fifth season of the FX TV series "Damages" in which she stars, and her next film project looks likely to be another period drama, "Thérèse Raquin." But she knows that the "Albert Nobbs" experience was unique.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me," she said. "What was so gratifying to me is that you struggle and you struggle and you try to get things done, and then all of a sudden the time is right. It kind of took on a life of its own. When we started [production], I didn't feel proprietary. We were all here to have this fabulous experience creating something, and we did. So that to me was the greatest gift of all."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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