'Catharsis is important,' the actress says, 'and the easiest way to get catharsis is to shed blood'
When Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction hit theaters in 1987, it forever altered movies — and the career of Glenn Close. The erotic thriller follows Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas), a married man who has a brief fling with work acquaintance Alex Forrest (Close). Alex becomes obsessed with him, and unhinged when he tries to end it. She douses his car in acid, leaves threatening voicemails, and, most famously, boils his daughter’s pet bunny. Upon its release, the film was an unprecedented hit, sparking nationwide discussions about female sexuality and gender politics. And the mercurial Alex has lived on in the DNA of every jilted woman or female stalker to hit the big screen ever since.
Ahead of the film’s 30th anniversary (Sept. 18), the actress tells EW about the ecstasy and agony of playing one of cinema’s most dangerous women.
GLENN CLOSE: I read the script in one sitting. When I finished, I think my body temperature had dropped. The story originally ended with Alex killing herself and Dan going to jail because his fingerprints were on the knife. The thing that put me off was the bunny-boiling aspect, but I couldn’t get the script out of my mind, and I called my agent and said, “Move ahead and see if I can audition.”
Producer Sherry Lansing told me about five years ago that they were so convinced I was wrong for Alex that they didn’t even want to be in the room when I auditioned. They said, “Well, can she be sexy?” And I thought, “Well, you know, yes!”
After years of playing mother figures in films like The World According to Garp and The Big Chill, Fatal Attraction was a radical departure for Close, and she dove into Alex’s psyche with gusto.
GLENN CLOSE: One is always looking to stretch yourself. And it was really the first time I’d had a part that started in one place and ended in a totally different place. It had a huge emotional arc to it and a lot of different shades. So it was wonderful to play. And Adrian was brilliant — just the most wonderful director. He really knew how to stage things, and he thought about it a lot.
He was the first director I worked with that had a whole wall full of inspiration for Alex’s look. He really cared about every aspect of it. We had endless hair and makeup tests, just playing around, and I think it really paid off. It’s a tiny, tiny thing, but your upper lip has a little dip in it, in the middle, and when we filled that in with a faint liner and lip color, it just made a very sad mouth. It was very subtle, but you’d be surprised how long it takes to come up with little things like that.
And I was losing weight and working out, and I was so strong and buff. I remember the day that Adrian said, “I think you’ve lost enough weight.” I think I was down to 118 pounds. And I thought, “Oh wow, that’s the first time anybody’s said, ‘You don’t need to lose any more weight!'”
Test audiences rebelled against the original ending, demanding that Alex deserved a more bloodthirsty comeuppance than suicide. Filmmakers devised a new ending that had Alex brutally attacking the Gallaghers with a knife. Dan tries to drown Alex in a bathtub before his wife (Anne Archer) shoots and kills her.
GLENN CLOSE: In approaching Alex, I just wanted to make sure that my character didn’t get trashed. I felt a lot of empathy for her. She was somebody who was basically out of control. She wasn’t an evil person.
So when they told me they were going to reshoot the ending, I thought they were joking. I didn’t get it. At all. The new ending made her into kind of a psychopath. Somebody like Alex, especially if they were abused when they were little, they’re more self-destructive than destructive.
I really rebelled against it. I said, “I can’t do that, that’s not who that character is.” I fought against it for two weeks. We had screaming fights. I was basically told that if I didn’t do it, they wouldn’t release the movie. I was beside myself because I really believed in the character I had created.
And then a friend said, “You know, you’ve made your point, and now you have to be part of the team.” So reluctantly, I shot the new ending, which ended up to be the right thing to make it into a hit.
Shakespeare and the Greeks weren’t wrong: Catharsis is important and the easiest way to get catharsis is to shed blood. We gave the audience the catharsis that it needed.
Filming the new ending wasn’t easy, either. For the scene where Dan pushes Alex into the bathtub, Close had to be dunked underwater more than 50 times.
GLENN CLOSE: The only stunt that I couldn’t do was when he was kind of pushing me down, down, down into the water backwards, with my feet sticking out. You see the feet kicking in the bathtub, and that’s my stunt double. I did everything else. We had started shooting the new ending in a little studio in the 60s on the West Side [in New York City] and ran out of time and were kicked out. So, they rebuilt the bathtub and that corner of the bathroom in the basement of the Unitarian church in Bedford or Mt. Kisco, New York, and we finished filming there. I was like, “Do they know what we’re doing here?” The final coup d’etat took place in the Unitarian church. With little bits all over the wall.
I found out not long after that that I was pregnant. So with all that violent stuff, I was actually pregnant. In fact, when the Oscars came around and I was hugely pregnant, they had asked Michael and I to give one of the first awards. I walked out with Michael, and the audience just started howling with laughter. I realized that it was because in the movie, I kept telling him, “I’m pregnant, I’m going to have our child,” and then I walked out pregnant. It was really funny.
I still have the cardboard knife from the ending, that looks totally real. It hangs where guests see it if they walk through my kitchen and go through the rest of the house. I have the costumes too. I have an extensive costume collection, so I have the leather jacket. It’s just unbelievable how big the shoulders are.
Once the film hit theaters, the new ending worked. Fatal Attraction was a blockbuster hit, spending eight weeks at the top of the box office and earning six Oscar nominations, including for Best Actress and Best Picture. It also sparked a heated discussion about sexual equality — and as Tom Hanks’ character declares in Sleepless in Seattle, “scared the s— out of every man in America.”
GLENN CLOSE: The thing that surprised me is that the feminists hated the portrayal of Alex and were saying that it gave single working women a bad name. If I had been more aware of [the stigma around] mental illness at that time, I don’t know if I would’ve changed my performance, but I might’ve fought to have revealed the possibility of diagnosing Alex in some way. But I’m not sure if that would’ve helped. She was the bad person, and that helps perpetuate the stigma, which I’m now trying to fight against.
I think it still works as a piece of entertainment and masterful psychological drama, so I’m very proud to be a part of that. I guess there will come a time someday when people will say, “Glenn? Who was that guy?” But Fatal Attraction made such an impact and continues to. I have a friend who saw a screening of Sunset Boulevard in a cemetery where all those wonderful people are buried. Maybe one day they’ll do the same thing with Fatal Attraction, in some cemetery where I’m buried. Except I’m going to be sprinkled, so that’ll be hard!