The FX drama series Damages wouldn't have been nearly as compelling without Glenn Close in the leading role. The five-time Oscar nominee gave her character, Patty Hewes, the perfect mix of ruthlessness and compassion that always left me doubting her motives.
Last week, Close spoke with reporters about being back on television after her Emmy-nominated turn in The Shield, creating a character as complex as Patty, and the excitement of working on a show with so many twists and turns. She said she was discouraged from creating a back story for Patty, as the writers wanted to let things evolve. And she was candid about the challenges of playing — and being — a powerful woman. Here are excerpts from our conversation:
On how she ended up with her own FX series: 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. So 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.
Four more questions with Close, so read more
On how she prepared to play an influential attorney: 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.
On how she followed the show's twists and turns: I was totally in the dark with the rest of you. 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. In the beginning before the schedule got kind of more crazy, we would have table reads with every script. 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.
On how Patty changed Ellen: 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 Connor.
On why so many renowned film and stage actresses have turned to TV: 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, Plan and Tall. And 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. 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. And 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.