To play the long-suffering spouse of literary hero Joe Castleman in her latest film “The Wife,” Glenn Close says she drew inspiration from her late mother. Bettine Moore Close was, the “Fatal Attraction” and “Dangerous Liaisons” actress says, a brilliant and amazing woman, who, after marrying surgeon William Close at 18, sadly gave up on her own dreams.
“At the end of my mother’s life, when she was in her 80s, she would say, ‘I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing. To me, that was a tragedy because she was spending her life supporting my father to the detriment of her own soul. It’s not just my mother but a whole generation of women,” says Close, recently in San Francisco to promote the movie, which opens Friday at the Embarcadero.
Close’s Joan Castleman character in “The Wife” is also a woman with intelligence and talent to spare who sacrifices her own ambitions to support her husband’s. The movie, directed by Björn Runge and based on Meg Wolitzer’s bestselling book of the same name, chronicles the Castlemans’ complex yet resonant relationship from 1958 to 1992, as Joe (Jonathan Pryce) fulfills his dream of becoming a great novelist aided by Joan.
Their personal trajectory is bumpier. Joe pursues other women and their son David (Max Irons), who hopes to follow in his dad’s literary footsteps, grows antagonistic when he doesn’t win his father’s approval.
To make matters worse, the family is being tailed by another writer, Nathaniel Bone (Christian Slater), digging for dirt for a tell-all about the Castlemans that aims to expose some damaging truths. Loyal as ever, Joan does everything she can to support her husband and his literary reputation.
“Especially in any kind of relationship, you have to start with the fulfillment of yourself,” Close says. “But where Joan was set in this film — pre-feminism — that was not an accepted idea. I was afraid that younger women like my daughter [actress Annie Starke, who plays a young Joan in the film] would look at this and say, ‘Oh, come on, just leave him.’ Well, it’s much more complex than that.”
On a trip to Stockholm, where Joe will accept the Nobel Prize for Literature, Joan eventually tires of playing the dutiful wife and even considers a future without her husband.
After four divorces, Close understands her character’s dilemma and the immense challenge of choosing between the security of a relationship and the joy of personal fulfillment.
“I have not had successful relationships in my life,” she says. “I’m happy for my daughter who just got married, and my one consolation is that she probably has learned from my mistakes. At the same time, I realize how valuable a partnership is. We live to be connected, and it’s just a question of the evolution of what that connection is. I hope this film makes couples think and talk about how fulfilled and empowered they are in their own relationships.”
IF YOU GO
Starring: Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Slater, Max Irons
Written by: Jane Anderson
Directed by: Björn Runge
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes