By: Amrie Cunningham, My Take On TV
The season finale of DAMAGES airs tonight on FX and I have to tell you, I cannot wait. You know who else is excited about the finale, and this amazing show? The one and only Glenn Close, who, as the star of the show, blows me away on a weekly basis. We had the privilege of talking to Glenn as part of a conference call FX set up to gear up for what I hear is an amazing finale and she had such wonderful things to say. I could have stayed on the phone for hours!
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule. I have so been enjoying Patty Hewes and your wonderful series on FX. I’m curious to know after the Frobisher case wraps and Ted Danson is essentially done, what actors are on your short list that you would like to invite on your series to play opposite with?
Glenn: 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.
My question for you is, you had a very critically acclaimed turn with 13 episodes on The Shield. And I’m wondering what lured you back to TV, given your success as a feature and stage actor?
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. 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. It would be shot in New York, which was imperative for me, because I can’t go to California, because of my family.
So 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.” So 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.
We’ve been sort of parceled out pieces of Patty’s back story over the last few weeks. I’m wondering how much information you were given ahead of time about Patty’s character, how much you created in your own mind for her and how that shaped your portrayal of this 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. And 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.
Speaking of that, it’s been presented that she is essentially a very morally ambiguous character. And I’m wondering how you approach that as an actor. Do you feel that she is the hero in her own story? Is she evil or is she just willing to win no matter what the moral cost?
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. And 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.
How do you feel about the differences between filming movies and television shows? And kind of a follow-up to that, with TV shows getting bigger budgets and persuading great film actors such as yourself, do you think that the gap between the silver screen and the small screen is narrowing?
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.
I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I just wondered, of all the great characters that you’ve had the opportunity to portray, where does Patty Hewes rank on that? Could it be considered a favorite, or most unpredictable, or most challenging and why?
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.
So 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.
You do a great job with this particular character role, and you’ve actually been an inspiration to many young women in the U.S. and all over the world, seeing you as a successful and strong woman and influencing them. What things actually inspire you or influence you to keep you going in the industry?
Wow. 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. And stories that really move people and make people care are the ones where they feel some sort of connection.
Now I’ve forgotten what your question was. Can you repeat it?
What inspires you or what influences you?
Well as I said, my fellow actors inspire me a lot and really good writing inspires me. And then trying to stick to the decision to only do something that I think will challenge me and that I, personally and very subjectively, I think is good not do something because I think it will bring me a lot of money or bring me a lot of awards. I’ve tried to very, very rigorously be highly subjective about what I do. And that’s something that I think I have basically lived by.
Every time I hear your name, I think Fatal Attraction. You were so wonderful in that film.
And Damages is even just as well. I’ve been reading that your father had a clinic in Africa and you have a distant relationship to Princess Diana. So I’m taking the question a little bit further, how has that impacted your life and your career choices?
Well, I don’t know if I’m distantly related to Princess Diana.
I read that somewhere.
I don’t know that. But my father and actually both my parents are very idealistic people. And they’ve actually lived their life to back up their belief that they’ve always wanted to give back. And so they spent a lot of years in Africa and then they went from Africa to the middle of nowhere in Wyoming, where he ran a little town clinic for over 25 years.
So they’ve been big examples for me. And I think a very good balance to some of the kind of crazy, crazy things that can bend people’s minds when they get into being considered a high profile person, a successful person in my profession. I’ve never cured anybody. I’ve never saved anybody’s life. So it has helped me keep a good perspective, and try to be objective about, first of all, what I’m trying to achieve and then if I’m doing it and keeping a cool eye on the whole picture.
This goes along with the earlier question about what you knew about Patty’s background. Did you know the outcome of the mystery or any of the specs of the mystery when you started the show, or where you just as in the dark as the rest of us?
I was totally in the dark with the rest of you. You mean the murder side of it, David’s murder and all that?
No, 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.
I would like to follow-up on that last question a little bit. Since you weren’t given the full story, were you reading scripts like a fan of the show might be watching just to kind of find out what happens, in addition to seeing where your character goes?
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.
We’ve kind of seen Ellen go from doe-eyed lawyer to cutthroat negotiator. Do you think Patty sees herself in Ellen as a protégé or has she always been part of that manipulation of the end game? And with that, have you kind of helped Rose to kind of become what you’ve made Patty become?
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.
Your character Patty, I’m just wondering. You mentioned that you had spoken to this former DA and I’m wondering who else or what else you might be channeling or be inspired by in this character, because she is such a force. And maybe it’s not another performance or even a real person you’re basing it on. Maybe it’s something even outside of acting or another medium. Maybe you could elaborate on that, where you’re drawing from for this character.
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. And 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?
My question was without knowing the outcome of the series, without knowing, I guess, where Patty would end up, whether she was really evil or manipulative or maybe just a little bit crazy or just highly motivated, how did you prepare for the role or how do you go into it week-to-week without knowing what the overall big story is?
Just play the moment, that’s the fun of it. You just play the moment. It’s great writing and very clever writing, I think it’s witty. And I have those great clothes. You have a great, witty, intelligent script and you look like a million dollars, because we have a great costumer, and it’s a pretty good place to begin.
This is going to be actually a very light, fair question, but I’m curious. In one episode, we got a rare glimpse into the personal life of Patty Hewes by seeing some of here TIVO programming. And I’m just curious about which television shows might be on your TIVO?
Oh my God, you would be appalled. We have cable and there’s a TIVO capability on the cable system, which we haven’t even sat down and set up, so we really are bad at it. We do not watch a lot of shows consistently for that reason. And so I’m hoping that we will reform and get everything set up soon. I think we probably would have — I mean I’m curious about some shows.
I also at the end of the day when both my husband and I have worked so hard, you want to go straight to like Jon Stewart. You want to go to funny things, funny smart things, so he certainly would be on the list. But I want to see the Holly Hunter show, and I’ve not seen Kyra Sedgwick’s show. I have a lot of catching up to do.
What would you say to someone who as yet hasn’t watched the first 12 episodes, but wants to get caught, because they heard everybody likes the shows. What would you say as the star of the show to someone to get them involved? Why should they watch it?
I think it’s very entertaining. I think it’s just really great storytelling, which how Landgraf got me to do The Shield in the first place. They believed in great storytelling in kind of the grayer areas of life. So 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.
I just wanted to follow-up, kind of as this first season wraps up, what has been the best part of it for you, now looking back, now that it’s completed? Have you felt like you’ve really grown or learned something new or maybe been challenged in a way? What has been kind of the most rewarding part of it for you, this whole experience of 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. And 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.
And the writers are good in that it’s easy to memorize, and good writing has an innate rhythm to it. And 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. And 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.
We were talking to Tate Donovan, who did a conference call on Friday. And he was talking about the finale and how it really wraps up the Frobisher case and who killed David Connor, while setting up a very interesting dynamic for a possible season two. So around that, I was wondering if you’ve had any conversations with the creative team about if there is a season two, how would it be similar or different, because it’s hard to kind of mimic the structural complexity of the first season and also what kind of the cast makeup would be, what people would actually be able to stay around for a second season?
You know I have not had that conversation. Those guys are still in the trenches, I think. I don’t know if they have delivered the final one.
J. Solberg from FX jumps in – Yes, they have, and it’s being delivered later this week.
Glenn: Right. So I have not had the time or they have not had the time to kind of hang out and have those discussions, so I can’t answer that.
Earlier you had mentioned that you’re inspired by characters and cast that you have connections to. And I was wondering what aspect of this particular character do you connect to and what do you think are some of her more redeeming qualities?
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 there is somewhere a — 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.
You mentioned Holly Hunter and Kira Sedgwick a couple of minutes ago and you’re one of a lot of renowned actresses on TV right now. So I was wondering if you think there’s a broader reason for that trend, if you’re seeing any difference between some of the roles you get and the TV roles you’re offered. Is there a broader reason that there are so many sort of great, renowned women actresses making the jump to TV roles right now?
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.
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. 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.
First a really quick follow-up question about the Shield, had you ever been approached to return for an episode or two in the final three seasons or no?
The final three seasons, not seriously. It was very hard for me not to go back to the show.
Plus you had mentioned the LA/New York thing.
Yes, my daughter, it was her final year in school in high school, and it was just something that you just can’t do, so you don’t spend too much time thinking about it. But it was the kind of thing, like when I had to leave Sunset Boulevard, it’s a hard decision. It would have been wonderful to be able to stay on and develop that character more, but it just wasn’t in the cards. But now here we are with Patty Hewes, so I have no regrets.
My question for you is what do you plan on doing on your downtime between seasons of Damages, if you’re 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 do kind of some great — 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.