On the great rolling lawn of Glenn Close’s house in Westchester County, N.Y., late on a spring afternoon, she and Michael Douglas are standing side by side posing for photos and holding a white rabbit. All right, it’s a somewhat obvious prop. It’s also extremely appropriate. In 1987’s Fatal Attraction, Close terrorizes Douglas by boiling his family’s pet bunny on the kitchen stove — the most memorable scene in an unforgettable psychological thriller. But today there is laughter. Close and Douglas are longtime friends and neighbors. Less than a year after going through treatment for cancer, he’s in great spirits, and occasionally whispers dirty jokes in her ear. And Close loves a good joke. She also (irony alert) loves animals. Her two dogs have the run of the place, and she is very gentle with the rabbit. Close and Douglas recall the day they first encountered each other in Los Angeles in the mid-’80s: ”We met at her audition,” says Douglas. ”She came in, in character, and knocked our socks off.”
”I had flown out from New York,” says Close. ”I didn’t know what to wear and I went to a store — Neiman Marcus or something. My hair was long and crazy. I’m very bad at doing my hair. I got so nervous, I took a little bit of a Valium. I walked in and the first thing I saw was a video camera, which is terrifying, and behind the video camera in the corner was Michael Douglas. I just said, ‘Well, just let it all go wild.”’
”She kicked ass,” says Douglas.
At several moments during our photo shoot, Close actually slips into her Fatal Attraction character for the camera. She does it consciously and effortlessly, with the smallest tilt of her head, a shift in her eyes, and an eerie stillness. A quarter century after the movie’s release, the actress can still summon Alex Forrest in a second — the unsettling look; the paper cut of a smile; the crazy, coiled desperation of one of the greatest screen villains ever created.
Even today, Fatal Attraction, directed by Adrian Lyne, holds up. But in 1987, the story had a deafening cultural resonance. It began with a simple indiscretion: Dan, the happily married Manhattan attorney played by Douglas, is lured into a one-night stand by Close’s predatory book editor, and a series of horrifying consequences ensue. It was the married man’s worst nightmare. It was a cautionary tale of sexual carelessness in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. It was a post-sexual revolution movie that cheered for the nuclear family. The film grossed more than $320 million worldwide and received six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
It was, and is, as troubling as it is thrilling. Fatal Attraction infuriated critic Pauline Kael, who wrote, ”It’s about men seeing feminists as witches” and ”It enforces conventional morality (in the era of AIDS) by piling on paranoiac fear.” Close recalls having her own concerns after reading the script. ”The bunny was the one thing I had a question about,” she says. ”I took the script to a psychiatrist and said, ‘Is this behavior possible? Could somebody do something like that?’ The answer was yes. Then the character became very interesting to me. I had huge empathy for that character by the end of the process.” Close and Douglas fought vigorously over the ending; they still disagree to some extent. Close liked the original ending in which Alex kills herself, leaving Dan to be framed for her murder. But research audiences — and therefore Douglas — wanted a rewrite. ”She had been so powerful and so evil in a Machiavellian psycho way that it left the audience frustrated,” says Douglas. ”The audience wanted somebody to kill her. Otherwise the picture was left — for lack of a better expression — with blue balls.” Despite Close’s objections, a new ending was shot in which Alex, wielding a knife, is shot dead by Dan’s wife (Anne Archer). ”From all my research, I just didn’t think [Alex] was a psychopath,” says Close, still passionate on the subject. ”She was a deeply disturbed woman, but not a psychopath. Once you put a knife in somebody’s hand, I thought it was a betrayal of the character.”
But even she admits that the filmmakers made the right decision; the fake knife used during the final scene is mounted and framed and hangs in her kitchen. ”Looking back,” she says, ”I think I was right to feel the way I felt. I also think they were right to change the ending for the sake of what it did for the movie. Bloodshed in a dramatic sense brings catharsis. Shakespeare did it. The Greeks did it. That’s what we did. We gave the audience my blood. It worked.”
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The 67-year-old actor has responded well to last year’s treatment for throat cancer, according to his rep, and is now getting regular three-month checkups to monitor his health. He recently traveled to Scotland for the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship golf tournament, and will begin shooting Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace biopic, costarring Matt Damon, in July.
She’s getting early Oscar buzz for her performance in Albert Nobbs (out in limited release Dec. 28), a 19th-century drama in which she stars as a woman who gets work as a butler by disguising herself as a man. (She played the role Off Broadway in 1982.) Close, 64, has won two Emmys for her turn as the razor-sharp lawyer Patty Hewes on DirecTV’s Damages, now in its fourth season.