Not only has it been 30 years since Glenn Close first played Albert Nobbs on stage, this time she had the added pressure of knowing her performance would be scrutinized by cameras. To accomplish a transformation that would hold up in high definition, the film’s makeup and costuming teams spent more than two hours each day sculpting, primping, polishing, and binding the actress.
Veteran makeup artist Matthew Mungle (special-effects guru for television’s “CSI’’ and a slew of movies) says he used a variety of products and potions on Close - among them: a silicone nose tip, gelatin earlobes, ear plumpers (worn behind the ears to keep them pushed out), dental plumpers, skin tint to even her complexion, and a short wig made by Close’s longtime hair stylist, Martial Corneville. Nothing was done to her eyelashes, Close reports; if they appear paler than usual it’s because Ireland was “[expletive] cold.’’
Costume designer Pierre-Yves Gayraud says a flat chest was achieved by first bandaging Close’s breasts, then binding them in a long corset that also covered her hips. Her waist and shoulders were padded. The actress wore shoes that were five sizes too big, and weighted, to achieve a heavier, more masculine walk.
Close had a clear idea of the look she wanted to achieve. Years ago she stumbled on a photograph in a copy of National Geographic magazine - the image, which she still carries, is of an Albanian woman living as a man (they’re called “sworn virgins’’) in order to provide her family with an heir. “It’s extraordinary,’’ she says. “Her ears, her eyebrows, her hairline . . . She has a receding hairline.’’
Such a transformation does not come easy. But it’s also not as foreign as one might think. Close remembers returning to the set of “Damages’’ a few days after wrapping the “Albert Nobbs’’ shoot. “To get back into those high heels and suits . . . I thought, ‘Oh, it’s so easy to be a man.’ ’’JANICE PAGE