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Sunday Times STLive By ©Marianne Gray, 2012-04-08

What I've learnt: Glenn Close

The actress on playing the bunny-boiler, wearing borrowed diamonds and avoiding LA

Actress Glenn Close, 65, with her gamine looks, good cheek-bones and slight Roman nose, is a 12th-generation New Englander, born into an old-money family, who was part of the evangelical Christian group, Moral Rearmament. She sang in a group for five years before going to university to study theatre. She acted on stage until she was in her mid-30s and took her first screen role, The World According to Garp, which earned her the first of her six Oscar nominations.

She has been married three times and has a daughter from a relationship with producer John Starke. She writes a blog for Fetchdog.com, is involved in big cat conservation, and launched BringChange2Mind.org, which confronts the stigma associated with mental illness.

In 1982, she starred in Albert Nobbs, an Off-Broadway play about a woman who masqueraded as a butler in 19th-century Ireland, and has finally brought the role to the big screen, playing the title character herself.

It's not a role about pretending to be a man, it's about disappearing, because women had no rights then, if you had no money and no family. You were a prostitute or in the workhouse, and she became this invisible person who was an extremely good, extremely secretive hotel butler. Through all these years of working on Albert Nobbs, I knew I had to play this part on screen before I die.

People still come up to me, saying: Oh you look so much better in life than on screen. They ask: how could you play such horrible characters, like Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction or the Marquise de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons? It makes me smile. I explain that I think they've behaved badly, for which there are reasons. These reasons, usually secret, are the engine of their behaviour and that's why I choose to do these roles. Now they are part of my molecules.

I am a passionate romantic in real life. And I'm sort of sensitive with a Yankee kind of resilience.

I think I've been a good mother, to the best of my ability. My daughter and I have a real love for each other and we have fun together. Given that I have been a single mother since she was two, it's a case of so far, so good. Who knows what she'll heap on my head when she's older.

I don't feel like I'm an adult when I'm with my daughter. She seems much more grown up, so much more sophisticated than I ever was when I was her age.

I love New York. I could never live in LA. We are very New England and that does not mix well with California. New Englanders like the seasons!

My father, a surgeon, had a great influence on medical things that I have taken on. On The World According to Garp, I'd ask him "would you bandage that?" and in The Big Chill I asked, would I twitch, because the director wanted my hand to twitch in a pool of blood - and he said no. In Jagged Edge, when I shot someone, I was covered in blood. My father said if I shot someone point-blank in the stomach, the blood would come out the back. So we did it all over again.

My icon of perfection in childhood was Snow White. I always believed I could go to Walt Disney and knock on the door and say: "Please put me in your movies." It took me a while, but I finally got there, with 101 Dalmatians (playing Cruella de Vil).

On leaving college, I hit the road singing with a conservative folk group. They were interesting years, but now they feel like my "lost years". I still love to sing and I adore working in big musical comedies.

There's nothing more frightening than hearing your voice disappear in stage fright. Everybody thinks because you're an actor, you're not affected by it. Of course you are. It is part of the territory. I am still terrified when I go on stage.

I was first noticed playing a clutch of nice serene roles. Until Fatal Attraction I had this nauseatingly sweet, angelic image. Then it turned round 180 degrees - the woman that scared the living daylights out of every married man in the world, the bunny-boiling Alex Forrest. I've earned my baddies.

I'd much rather play an interesting "baddie". I love to put the shadow in these dark roles. I also like to watch myself on screen being this strange person and then go home and be my boring old self.

There are some parts I would never play. I do not like anything sadistic, or anything where children are hurt or abused, and there are certain things I wouldn't do, just because I would not want my daughter ever to see them.

What I remember mostly about my roles is in my home.I have an amazing costume collection. I wear them sometimes. I am a terrible shopper. I haven't a clue about what to buy. If I had my way, I would never have to dress up.

The times I was at the Oscars, I was wearing borrowed diamonds. I thought it was gaudy and I did not feel comfortable. Given the history of Africa, you do not want to wear things coming from a conflict zone. Hollywood demands that you look rich and sexy. I don't think Hollywood knows what to do with me.

In my opinion, time is the most precious thing we have. If I can't be with family and friends, when I work I just want to be with people by whom I will be inspired and challenged and who will make it worthwhile to leave my home.

To be in acting, you have to have talent. Otherwise you're miserable. It's a hard and tough profession, but I love it. I love it because it is so much about the landscape of the human heart.

Every job makes me feel like I've still only scratched the surface. In every film I still feel a debutante, like a chick that's just come out of its shell and not yet used its wings. It gets harder because life gets more complicated and you have more thoughts in your head. The accumulation of knowledge bears down. -

  • Albert Nobbs is released on April 13.