Joan Castleman, the protagonist of The Wife, spent her life overshadowed by a household name. Her husband, Joe, is an acclaimed writer who's just won a Nobel Prize. Joan, who gave up her own writing career long ago, has devoted herself to supporting her husband’s pursuits. She calls herself a “kingmaker.” But as she accompanies Joe to Sweden for the glitzy ceremony, Joan’s public-facing status as a glorified servant begins to grate on her. So, when she’s offered a tantalising chance to be recognised for what she’s really done for Joe, Joan is tempted to take it.
Coincidentally, this riveting story of a woman who’s never gotten her due is the vehicle that may get actress Glenn Close her own long-awaited Oscar. Forget Ross and Rachel – Glenn Close and the Academy Awards are pop culture’s ultimate “Will They or Won’t They?” pair. On Tuesday, Close received her seventh Best Actress nomination, officially rendering her the most nominated living actor with no wins.
Close, as she mentioned in her Golden Globes acceptance speech for The Wife, has been a proud working actress for 45 years. She’s been inextricably linked to the Academy Awards from the beginning of her film career. After a promising start in theatre, Close burst onto the movie landscape as a 35-year-old fully formed powerhouse. Her Oscar-nominated turn as Jenny Field in The World According To Garp (1982) prompted a New York Magazine profile to ask, “Who is this actress who has virtually sneaked up on us?"
Close's breakthrough appearance at the 1983 Oscars signalled the start of a storied decade in her career. Not everyone’s first 10 years in Hollywood garners them five Oscars nominations, but Close’s did. Close was nominated for two consecutive years post-Garp. Sara, Close’s character in The Big Chill (1983) forces a group of jaded friends to confront the melancholies and disappointments of the passing years in a stunning dinner-party sequence. In The Natural (1984), she plays a single mother cast in ethereal light.
But for Close, 2019 might as well be 1987. After tying for the Critics' Choice Award for Best Actress (and sharing some jovial red carpet photos), Close and Lady Gaga are now front-runners in the Oscars' Best Actress race. Coincidentally, Close has competed against a pop star at the Oscars before. In 1987, Close's performance as a curly-haired woman in love in Fatal Attraction was beat by Cher's performance as a curly-haired woman in love in Moonstruck.
Even if you’ve never seen The Wife, even if you don’t quite recognise Close, you know her role as Alex Forrest, the knife-wielding, bunny-boiling manipulative stalker at the centre of Fatal Attraction. You know it because Close’s Alex set forth a template of a crazed temptress that’s been played in pop culture over and over again.
However, Close’s conception of Alex is far different than the onscreen character, who ultimately caused audiences to chant “kill her, kill her” at screenings.“The woman I was playing was not the same one who was perceived by the public. But I didn’t have the dialogue or the scenes to illuminate her backstory. If you did Fatal Attraction from Alex’s point of view, she would be a tragic person, not a dangerous, evil one,” Close told The Guardian.
Alex may have been a misunderstood role, but it was an undeniably iconic one — and remains so recognisable to this day. The year after Fatal Attraction, Close was nominated for playing another masterfully manipulative woman in Dangerous Liasions, capping off an eventful decade. She wouldn’t be nominated for another Oscar until 2011’s Albert Nobbs.
Have all of these years of “always the nominee, never the winner” been emotionally taxing for Close? Not in the least. Close seems to have a very healthy attitude when it comes to her Oscars losses . As she explained to The Guardian, “I’ve survived all this time just being at the party, and I’ve loved it. Most people sweat over whether they’ll actually win, but I’ve never felt that.”
If the Academy Awards are a party for Close, then Close’s entire IMDb page — full of challenging, uncompromising women – is a party for us. She’s played the fashionable and unhinged Cruella de Vil, responsible for a line Joan Castleman would identify with: “We lose more women to marriage than war, famine, and disease.” As Patty Hewes on the show Damages, she scattered zingers of unbearable cruelty for seven seasons. She was a male pirate in Hook, a commander in Guardians of the Galaxy, and a Stepford Wife long before The Wife.
This awards season has brought many of us closer to Close – and isn't there to admire? She’s a 71-year-old adept at the digital age: She has one Instagram for her dog, and one for her (which includes selfies with Timothee). She’s a woman who, at the age of 22, ran away from her cult to go to theatre school (really). She’s a woman who, upon finding out she was sharing an award with Lady Gaga, threw her arms back and cheered.
Essentially, the The Wife may be Close’s turn in the sun as we close out the 2010s, but she’s been shining for decades. It's time we paid attention.