In spite of its three Oscar nominations (Glen Close for Best Actress, Janet McTeer for Best Supporting Actress and the Make-up artist), there has been very little publicity about ALBERT NOBBS. It has been designated an art-house film, which is a pity as there is much to appeal as the story is straightforward and easy to follow. Glen Close, who has been personally nursing this story for 30 years, ever since she appeared on stage in the play, is middle-aged Albert, who has been living as a man in order to have a job in poverty stricken Dublin in late nineteenth century Ireland. She is working as a waiter in a hotel and has forgotten what being a woman is until she is discovered by Janet McTeer’s Hubert, another woman, but one who has made herself a real life as a man with a wife and a nice little home. So far Albert, who is alone in the world, has been working and saving for her dream of having her own business. Now she wonders if she can have a different life involving young Helen (pretty Mia Wasikowska). Pauline plays the domineering and mean owner of the hotel, Mrs Baker.
Pauline is best known for her role in the TV series Upstairs, Downstairs and for her stage role in Shirley Valentine followed by her 1989 film for which she won a BAFTA and Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Actress. She got to know Glen Close when they worked together in the film Paradise Road in 1996. More recently Pauline played Miss Flite in the BBC’s production of Dickens’ Bleak House and is currently working on the new comedy series Mount Pleasant on Sky.
Glen Close had mentioned her interest in making a film of the play ALBERT NOBBS which she had performed on Broadway in 1982. Pauline received an email from Glen saying she would like her to play the part of Mrs. Baker. During a long conversation, Pauline learnt that Glen was not only going to star in the film, but also write and produce it. Because she loved working with Glen on Paradise Road and also loved the original story by George Moore, Pauline readily agreed. She liked the fact that it was like a European art film. They had a really short shoot in the winter of 2010.
Pauline explained that she is not an analytical actress and works “on the wing” so her approach to the part was straightforward in so far as she tried to make sure she had a decent Dublin accent. I wanted to know about the director, Rodrigo Garcia, who is probably best known in the UK for his excellent Mother and Child. Pauline thought he was wonderful in that he let the actors try out their ideas. He was not at all ego-maniacal and both gave suggestions and was open to suggestions from the actors. He came up through being a cameraman and had a clear idea of everyone’s work – their strengths and weaknesses. Garcia had previously worked with Glen on In Treatment.
Pauline has recently worked with Woody Allen (in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) and Dustin Hoffman (in Quartet, to be released in November). I questioned her on the differences between the three directors. Somewhat surprisingly, to me, she found similarities in that both allowed her to make suggestions. With Woody, with whom she had only a few days, Pauline made changes as he accepted she was more familiar with the speech patterns of her character (Pauline had chosen to play the Fortune Teller as a London lady). He allowed her to change and add to his words (he wrote the script), “Say what you want.” Woody liked improvising and was not intimidating at all. He is business-like, knows how he wants the framework and within that gives the actors freedom to work quickly.
Dustin came to the position of director through his work as an actor. He invested a great deal in improvisation, throwing out things that didn’t work. He did not have a big ego either.” Pauline said, “He made me laugh and was easy to be with.” Dustin was not hesitant even though it was his first film. She is of the opinion that certain actors are able to stand back and look at the whole and Dustin is like that. He filled the role of director (he is not acting in the film) well and with enthusiasm and enjoyed it, even though it was tiring work, particularly as most of the cast were over 70 with some 90 plus!
We agreed that Janet McTeer is very impressive in her role in Nobbs and Pauline added that she loved both characters and appreciated the melancholy and sadness of Close, who made the film because she wanted to play the part of Albert. She thought McTeer was excellent as she carried her masculinity to perfection.
Pauline enjoyed her work on the film and took each day as it came. We discussed her character and I thought that Mrs Baker is really a nasty person. Pauline said that one of the strengths of the movie is that no one is what they appear to be. Her character is transparently sucking up to the toffs and pretending to be the mistress of the house. She has secret foibles and Pauline enjoyed playing the “baddy.”
It was interesting for Pauline to see how Glen connected to every member of the cast and believed all were important. Glen believes in saying the lines and if it works leave it, if not then the actor can change it to make it his/her own. Although Garcia was the director, Glen worked closely with him and also gave notes to the actors. They both believed in putting the script in a framework from which to go forward.
Looking to the future: Pauline sees herself as the female equivalent of Denholm Elliott. She says that she is unlikely to get another lead such as Shirley Valentine and is mostly offered good supporting roles as in Quartet. Pauline tries to take jobs which she believes will be good roles in good films and balance life with work.