A Chat with ‘Damages’ star Glenn Close

Glenn Close is an A-List movie star, and fortunate premium cable network FX has provided her a rich and layered lead character in their new legal thriller “Damages,” where Close plays Patty Hewes, a tough-as-nails lawyer whose firm is prosecuting corporate CEO Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson). 

Along the way, there’s murder, malfeasance and lots of twists and turns.

Every time I see actress Glenn Close on screen, she blows all her peers away with her amazing talent, whether she is the calculating Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil in “Dangerous Liaisons,” Alex Forrest in “Fatal Attraction,” earnest Teddy Barnes, the defense attorney in “Jagged Edge” – and as stoic Margarethe Cammermeyer in  “Serving in Silence.”

She owns every frame and does her homework; Ms. Close inhabits each strong character and demonstrates what a professional and highly trained actor who respects their craft is truly capable of.

“Damages” is FX’s latest drama with Ms. Close as the lead litigator and senior partner.  This role as Patty Hewes had Ms. Close doing her homework once again with several high-profile female New York lawyers, and similar to her Marquise character in “Liaison,” she is once again, “playing a man’s game in a man’s world.”

I was curious to know after the excellent work Ted Danson turned in as Arthur Frobisher, the Ken Lay-styled executive who is steel and ice, if she had any designs on the next profile actor for the upcoming season to play off her formidable character Patty.

“I’m totally unprepared to answer that question, because we’ve just been so concentrated on finishing up.  I have not given it any thought.  There are tons of actors I would love to work with, but I’d be just randomly throwing names out at this time.  I think what is exciting about ‘Damages’ is that the writing is such high quality that it will attract, hopefully, a lot of really, really good top actors.  That’s what makes it fun for all of us.”

Ms. Close had a very critically acclaimed turn with 13 episodes on “The Shield”.  She shared what brought her back to the smallscreen.

“Well, when I finished ‘The Shield,’ I loved working on FX a lot.  I really had a lot of respect for Peter Liguori, who was the head of FX at the time and John Landgraf, who is the head right now. 

I like the way they take risks and they give really gifted writers a lot of creative leeway.  I kind of casually said to John, ‘If you ever can think of anything in New York, just let me know.’  And lo and behold, I guess it was about a year later, I was told that these three guys wanted to pitch me an idea.  It would be shot in New York, which was imperative for me, because I can’t go to California, because of my family.

We sat down and talked about it and I said, ‘It sounds really intriguing; I’ll wait to read the pilot.’  I read the pilot and I said, ‘Wow, this is really good.’  On the strength of that one script and the fact that I’d be working in my backyard close to my family, I said, ‘I think this has become a no-brainer.’  I was teamed up with FX again and a really incredible cast and crew and writers.”

Ms. Close talked about Patty’s back story and how she shaped her cryptic character.

“That for me was the trickiest exercise of all, because this is the first time I’ve played a character that didn’t have a beginning, middle and end. 

When I have a character, I know where they start and where they end.  Then you go nuts creating a back story, because it’s all potentially there.  And even if the audience doesn’t have an idea of all your secrets, you’re allowed to have secrets.  And I think it always informs behavior in a very crucial way.  So it was very disconcerting for me in the beginning to not know a lot about Patty.

I had gone with the writers to meet Mary Jo White and her partner.  Mary Jo was just an iconic lawyer who was the DA here and we got a lot of information out of her.  I knew that I wanted to be a woman who was at the top of her game, who was highly intelligent and highly capable, really formidable, because you have to be if you’re the head of a firm.  To get where she is in this profession, you have to be a thousand times better than any guy that you’re going to be standing next to.  So that was important to me.

But as far as her back story, I had to kind of give it up, because I asked them if I could formulate my own back story and they kind of said not to, because they want to keep their options open.  I might know a little bit more than you now, but not much.  And I kind of think it’s one of the thrilling aspects.  It has become the thrilling aspect of this collaboration, because you actually feel like you’re living a novel, you’re living something out.  Like life, we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.  But I think as I get to know more and more about her, I will be able to deepen her, my portrayal of her.”

Ms. Close elaborated on the ambiguity of Patty Hewes’ character.

“I have the belief that truly evil people, it’s a genetic evil.  I only have the experience of exploring the landscape of some of the characters I’ve played that people have labeled as evil; I don’t think they’re evil. 

I think Cruella is evil, because she’s the devil.  But all the other characters, I was able to find a common humanity with them somewhere, knowing where they’re most fragile, where they’re most vulnerable, knowing some of the things that happened to them that might have formed this kind of behavior.  Because as an actor, I really feel you cannot judge a character.  You have to totally commit to that character. 

For me to totally commit to the character, I have to find those places where I understand the sequence of behavior.

So I do not think Patty — I don’t think she’s even a hero in her own mind.  I think she’s very vulnerable, as far as her son is concerned.  I think she realizes that she truly is not a great mother.  I think she has regrets.  I don’t think she’s a settled soul, and I don’t know if she ever would be a settled soul.  I think she’s very conflicted, and I really like that about her.”

Ms. Close talked about the differnces for her between cinema and smallscreen. 

“I think there’s something thrilling about going into a movie house and seeing everything on such a huge screen.  I think we’re in a culture now that is confronted with various sizes of screens, the biggest movie houses and then the smallest iPods.  So I think things are going to get closer and closer to each other, because the screens will force that to happen.  I think there are a lot of movies that people will only see on their computers or their iPods.

As far as the difference for me between television and movies, I really thrill to the pace of television.  As exhausting as it can be — there was actually one day when we never went to bed.  I left the studio at 5:30 in the morning.  It’s an incredible mind exercise. 

You have to, obviously, have stamina, but you really feel like you’re kind of feeding your mind.  It’s a challenge of learning lines very fast and then you have to be lose enough to hopefully make good choices in a much shorter amount of time that it takes to film certain scenes. 

But I love the rhythm of it.  And when you’re with a great crew like we had, it becomes a thrilling, again, collaboration, which is to me one of the great aspects of the process that you go through. 

I find myself at this point in my career, getting potentially, incredibly bored if I stand around a lot, so that’s why I really like the pace of television.

Ms. Close ranked her character Patty Hewes compared to her other great roles.

“I think she’s remaining one of the most challenging for that very fact that I don’t know everything about her yet.  So I find that as an actor to be very challenging.  I’ve kind of gotten used to that.  And I kind of cling to the knowledge, really, that most of us cover up 99.9% of what’s really going on all the time. 

I think human beings are masters at not showing what’s really going on in their head or in their heart and sometimes showing the opposite of what’s really going on.

I think up until now, my behavior as Patty has been pretty valid.  And I really look forward — I think it’s just going to get more and more emotionally complex for me and that’s a thrilling proposition.”

Ms. Close talked about what influenced her as an actor.

“What has influenced me?  Good work, I mean work that moves me, that I connect with, always inspires me, no matter where I see it, whether it’s some little tiny Off-Broadway thing or some actor that does some surprising thing.  So I’m always inspired by my fellow actors.  And that’s kind of a constant for me.

I have huge respect for our profession and our craft.  And I seek in my work to create connections, first for me with the character and then the character with the other actors, and then ultimately, all of us together connecting with the audience in a way that sometimes is subliminal, even. 

I think everybody wants to connect.  There is nothing worse than feeling disconnected.  Stories that really move people and make people care are the ones where they feel some sort of connection.”

Ms. Close shared she was in the dark as much as the audience, at times, during her character’s machinations on “Damages.”

“I just had read the pilot, and I took this job on the strength of the pilot and so that’s as much as I knew.  And the writers, because they were just leaping off the cliff together, they wanted to keep as much of their options open as possible.  So it’s been literally, each episode we learned more, and it’s been fun.  It’s been fun for everybody.

Ms. Close shared she read the scripts eagerly the night before shoots to find the missing puzzle pieces to “Damages” story.

“Oh yes, totally.  In the beginning before the schedule got kind of more crazy, we would have table reads with every script in the beginning of the week or try to do it at least a day before we started that next episode.  People would laugh out loud or gasp or say, ‘Oh no,’ because all of us were finding out at the same time what was happening.  It was fun.

There was a little bit of that same element on ‘The Shield,’ I must say.  The writing was just phenomenal, and the table reads were some the favorite times that we all spent together, as we were finding out what they wanted us to do that week.

Ms. Close talked about Patty and Ellen’s mentor- protégé relationship, or what she felt it really was Patty’s driving force. 

“Ruthless? Rosie Ruthless.  I think over the course of these various episodes that Patty, whether she’ll fully admit it or not, develops a respect for Ellen’s talents and for who she is as a human being. 

I don’t think Patty considers herself a great mentor.  I think she’s too competitive for that.  And I think there are certain things about Ellen, her youth for one thing, that she has no tools to compete against. 

I think she’s always kind of hovering between developing her or nurturing her and making sure she’s not going to invade her territory.  So I think it makes a very kind of juicy relationship.  But I think as they bond with some of the things that they do that only they know about, that there is something that’s starting to form in their relationship, where I think Patty does care about Ellen and doesn’t just see her, as she did in the beginning, as only a means to get to Katie Conner.”

Ms. Close talked about her character’s influences when she first took on “Damages.”

“I was very impressed by another top woman litigator in New York called Patricia Hines and sat down with her and learned some extraordinary things about, first of all, what it means to take on a huge case that might go on for five years.  She herself reads over 10,000 documents, because she has a mind for documents.  And when she gives her opening statement and her closing statement, it’s all extemporaneous, which I find mind-boggling.  And I said I want to be like that.

I also have read certain things written by women litigators and not overtly, but definitely there with all the women that I talked to, I also talked to Lorna Scoffield, who was Mary Jo White’s partner, there is always a gender issue.  That it’s problematic to be a woman and go into a courtroom against very, very aggressive males, how they get power and how they maintain that power. 

And Patty of all the characters I’ve played is probably the most like the Marquise de Merteuil in ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ in that she is playing a man’s game in a man’s world.  And she ultimately gets censured for it. 

What is going to happen to Patty, I don’t know.  But she has decided to — I think there are times when she could be seductive.  There are times when she’s feminine and there are times when she’s much more kind of aggressive.  But she’s going for it, and I think there’s a certain anger in her, which I sensed in some of these women that what it took to get to where they are, some unpleasant things. 

When the guys pitched me this story, they were being — they mentioned David Boise as an example, and I said he’s a brilliant lawyer, but a bad example, because he’s a guy.  And once you have a character like this and make it a woman, everything changes.  That was one of the really fascinating aspects of this character that pulled me in was what does it mean to be in power, ahead of your game, the top of your game and be a woman?

Ms. Close had high praise for FX and the writers of “Damages”

“It’s great storytelling, which is based on character, rather than plot.  Though plot is highly important, but you don’t feel like characters are being sacrificed to plot, there is nothing formulaic about it.  So somebody who wants to be challenged and intrigued, I think would be also highly entertained.

Ms. Close talked about her challenges with shooting “Damages.”

“I feel I’ve been very challenged and that was fun.  When you’re on the set, and sometimes, because it’s been so complex and the writers have been really writing, sometimes up until the last minute and we get — for example the deposition scene between Ted Danson and myself, we got the night before, like 11 o’clock the night before, and that was a lot of words. 

You kind of sit back; you separate yourself from your brain, and you say, let me see if you can do this.  And that’s the kind of challenge I like.

The writers are good, in that it’s easy to memorize, and good writing has an innate rhythm to it.  I’ve always felt that it’s easier to get in your head than writing that has very kind of mind busting moments. 

And those moments that I find mind busting.  Meaning like there’s a word that I find in a weird place.  I love the process of going to the writer and working that out, because that’s just basic communication. 

So you have the challenge of just learning the lines, period, and not only learning them, but learning them to the extent that you assimilate them, so that you’re not worried about what the next word is coming out of your mouth when it comes to doing a scene.  You’re also in the trenches with the writers, just in the wonderful kind of back and forth of how is it best to say something, even if it involves four or five words.  I love that kind of thing.

Ms. Close talked about her personal connections to Patty Hewes.

“I connect to moments like — it actually is in the pilot when she’s talking about her son.  Even though at the end of that scene, you’re not sure whether she’s telling the truth or not, but it happens that she is.  The conversation that she has with Ellen, children want you, you know children are like clients, they want all of you all the time. 

My daughter actually said that to me once, and I’ve never forgotten it, because I knew exactly what she meant.  I was a working single parent, and I knew, and my kind of terrible conflict was I knew that she wanted all of me all the time, but there was no way I could give it to her.  I tried to, as much as I could and I think Patty has consciously chosen not to be there for her son. 

I think, again, to be able to fulfill all the demands of the career that she would have had to be where she is when we first meet her.  There’s not a lot of time to show up at every little event in school.  And I think she probably was missing in action a lot.  I do think she’s aware of it.  I don’t know how much she allows herself to think about it.  But I do think there’s a part of her somewhere that is highly regretful of that.  So that’s one aspect of how she deals with her child or is not dealing with her child.

I also think when Patty says, ‘I hate bullies,’ I think she’s telling the truth.  We haven’t found out yet why, where that comes from.  There are intimations, a very fleeting intimation that she had some difficult relationship with her father. 

But I do think that Lord knows Frobisher was a terrible bully and in some aspects, we respect Patty for fighting to bring him down.  So I think that part of her character is authentic and it’s a lot of what drives her.”

Ms. Close talked about the new prestige of smallscreen on premium cablers like FX, which has changed for actors who used to prefer to work strictly in film.

“For me it’s simply because you’re given a great role.  There used to be a huge snobbism between the film industry and the television industry.  I produced and acted in my first — well way back — but the first thing that I produced and acted in was ‘Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter’s End’ – the only place to go at the time for really quality television was Hallmark Hall of Fame.  And think how much television has changed since then.

I also personally have always thought, well if the English can do it all, why can’t we?  What should make something decide whether they want to do something or not is the quality of the writing and the people involved, not whether it’s a film or television. 

I also have always felt that television has a huge potential for the kinds of audiences that some films would never dream or ever be able to have.  So that potential is very exciting to me.”

I asked Ms. Close what her downtime plans were between seasons of “Damages,” if she was going to be working or taking a well-deserved vacation.

*I don’t think I know what down time means, really.  I hopefully will spend a lot of time with my husband, and we travel to various places and kind of keep life interesting and busy.  I don’t really know. 

I mean I feel like I have a full schedule, but right this second, I can’t for the life of me think what it is.  But I’m not going on vacation.  I’m actually tomorrow going out to Montana to visit with some of my siblings who I haven’t seen for a long time, and I’m really looking forward to that.”

“Damages” season finale is Tuesday October 23rd.   FX will be running a 12 episode, 12 hour marathon from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. this coming Saturday, October 20th.


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