In retrospect, everything about Sunset Boulevard seems tailor-made for Glenn Close to return, 20 years later, to the role that won her a Tony Award. There’s the story, first and foremost—an actor looking to return to the world that made her a star. And then of course there are the now-classic Andrew Lloyd Webber songs, the titles of which lent themselves quite readily to ad campaign taglines: “With One Look,” “As If We Never Said Goodbye.”
But make no mistake, Close is not looking for a nostalgia-fueled evening reprising a performance from two decades ago,
Norma was never a role for which Close yearned for another stab, but when director Lonny Price approached her about a possible five-week, semi-staged run of the musical for the ENO in London, she thought, “Why not?” What followed was a critically acclaimed production that is now safely ensconced in the Palace Theatre—the massive orchestra of 40 included.
“To me, it’s a luxury to be able to revisit a part like Norma Desmond after 20 years,” Close says over the phone, a week before rehearsals are set to begin. “You’re a different person, and I have a very different approach. And the luxury of coming back to such an iconic part having been battered about by life is really revelatory for me.”
Close is also thrilled that her three London co-stars—Michael Xavier, Siobhan Dillon, and Fred Johanson—will be joining her. “What we all created together in London was so different and so fresh,” she says. “I’m so, so excited to be working with them and to introduce them to Broadway this way.”
Close will also be introducing a new take on Norma, one that in many ways has been 20 years in the making. Those decades were wildly productive ones for Close; she headlined FX’s acclaimed legal drama Damages, earned an Oscar nomination for Albert Nobbs, and returned to Broadway in a revival of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. Which is to say, she couldn’t be less like Norma Desmond in real life.
So she went back to the original 1950 Billy Wilder film, starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden at their legendary best as the forgotten silent film star and the younger screenwriter who becomes a reluctant lover and collaborator in the ’50s. “Her life is a result of what Hollywood can do,” Close says. “She was discovered at 16, 17, and she’s been kept in that [star] delusion by [her butler] Max. They’ve become so co-dependent on one another; it becomes a very human story about love and betrayal and all that luscious stuff.”
“All that luscious stuff” has been the backbone of Close’s career, from her Tony-winning performance in the Broadway premiere of The Real Thing to her Oscar nomination for Fatal Attraction to her Emmy-winning turn on Damages. And it’s playing all of these complicated characters that has allowed her to continue learning her craft.
“The more I am confronted with these characters, the more you have to be in tune with what makes them human,” Close says. “Where can I love them? And that always is a different journey.”
Twenty years later, has she found new areas in which to love Norma?
“Yes. Oh, yes,” she says. “With more knowledge of myself and experiences I’ve had and heartbreaks I’ve had and enduring as I have. Theoretically, an actor should only get better because our bodies and our minds and hearts are the material with which we build characters. I’m not saying I’m getting better, but I am saying that I do have more experience!”