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A conversation with Glenn Close '74

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When actress and William & Mary alumna Glenn Close ’74, D.A. ’89 decided to make the movie “Albert Nobbs,” she and her co-producer sat around and discussed how they could make it a reality. They thought about the connections they had and the people they knew – for actors and investors.

It was sort of like how William & Maryʼs Arts & Entertainment Alumni Council was formed. Council members Liz Olson ʼ07 and Sarah Cissna ’99 say that the Arts & Entertainment Festival was just an idea a group of alumni had two and half years ago, as they sat around talking about university alumni they knew in the entertainment industry.

“Albert Nobbs” was made without a dime from Hollywood, just through people Close knew investing in the film, and received Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations. And the A&E Alumni Council? They realized they could bring a talented group of alumni back to campus for an Arts & Entertainment Festival, including Close, who participated in this year’s event with a Q&A session on Saturday.

“We have representatives in every facet of this industry,” said Olson. “It shows you can study here and have an amazing career.”

Closeʼs amazing career has led her to six Oscar nominations, three Emmy and Tony awards and a Golden Globe. She most recently won Emmy and Golden Globe awards for her lead role in the television series “Damages.” She has starred in movies such as “Fatal Attraction,” “Dangerous Liaisons” and “The Natural.”

During the Q&A, Close shared the lesson’s she’s learned as an actor, director and producer. Close was asked about the fast path to celebrity that people often take these days. “It has a lot to do with social media,” Close answered. “People are famous for just eating dinner. Things go viral.” Close told the audience people interested in pursuing acting need to return to a respect for the craft, for the training and the collaboration it takes to be a success in the field. “The last thing you should think about is how famous you are.”

It was that respect for her craft that Close honed at William & Mary, surrounded by people who wanted to work hard and get that training and experience. During her time at the College, Close starred in such productions as “The Common Glory,” “The Seagull” and “Anything Goes,” but she also did work behind the scenes. At a small liberal arts college like William & Mary, Closeʼs mentor and professor of theater Howard Scammon could recognize the seriousness of intent in his students and set high standards for them. And he made sure no one got a big head and Close recalled that he once told her, “Remember, you’re a big fish in a very little pond.”

Close told the audience that the education she received at William & Mary was just as good as one that could be received at another school and she touted the benefits of a liberal education. Close, a theater and anthropology major, said, “A liberal arts education keeps you curious, it keeps you interesting.”

Despite a few less-than-serious questions posed (just in case you were wondering, Close did NOT complete the Triathlon while at the William & Mary), students questioned the actress on her success and how they could follow in her footsteps. A 13-year-old girl who wanted to be a movie director asked the actress her advice for getting started. Close told her to start making movies on her iPhone. She also talked about resilience. “In the beginning, it’s resilience more than anything else. You have to get up, you have to get up, you have to keep getting up.”

Marvin Shelton ʼ15, an English and Africana Studies double major, looks up to Close as an inspiration for his future in acting. “I’ve seen all her films and I think she’s one of the more elegant and dignified actresses in Hollywood,” Shelton said.

When the session was opened up to questions from the audience, Shelton asked Close how she felt about method acting. Close gave what she called a very subjective answer, saying that while she found it interesting to work with those types of actors, it was not her preferred style. As someone who has been a part of William & Mary theater productions, Shelton appreciated her advice. “Her response was very valuable to me,” said Melton “It gives me hope and courage for my own theories about acting.”

Melton believes that it says a lot about the College that Close was willing to come back to speak with students. “This school obviously has a great impact on its students and is a meaningful experience. It really shapes them. We’re not just a number or a grade.”

Olson agrees and says many alumni feel a strong connection to William & Mary and are more than willing to return to help guide current students. “Yale’s arts and entertainment alumni are like the mafia – they stick together all hire each other. We have the capability to do that. We just have to make those connections. Since forming the A&E Council our connections have grown exponentially.”