Glenn Close talks astonishing 'Hillbilly Elegy' transformation: 'I didn't want to be distracted by my own face'

In 2011, Glenn Close played a late-19 century Irishwoman who disguises herself as a man to work as a butler in the Oscar-nominated Albert Nobbs.

Nobbs, as it turns out, won’t be the most unrecognizable the revered actress has ever appeared on screen. That title now must be claimed by Close’s stunning turn in Hillbilly Elegy, Ron Howard’s Netflix adaptation of J.D. Vance’s 2016 bestselling memoir about a hard-scrabble family with Appalachian roots living in Rust Belt Ohio.

Close plays Mamaw, the chain-smoking, sailor-mouthed grandmother to J.D. (Owen Asztalos and Gabriel Basso) who holds the family together as J.D.’s own mom Bev (Amy Adams) struggles with mental illness and drug abuse. Between her unkempt curly hair, tortoise shell glasses, oversized T-shirts and burly physicality, there’s nary a hint of the elegant 73-year-old Hollywood veteran in the de-glammed role, which is why many pundits are already predicting Close will finally win that elusive Academy Award on what could be her eighth try.

Glenn Close and Amy Adams in
Glenn Close and Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy. (Photo: Netflix)

“It started with me knowing that I didn’t want to be distracted by my own face,” Close tells Yahoo Entertainment during a recent virtual press event for the film (watch above). As Howard points out, Close was at a disadvantage since she was one of the only performers not to meet her real-life counterpart since Mamaw passed away in 2005.

“We had a portrait of Mamaw, we had wonderful input from the family, very specific input, and video that gave her great energy [and] essence,” Close explains. “But she had a very specific look. And she wore what she wore all the time: the Nikes, the jeans and the baggy shirts, and smoked incessantly.”

For Elegy, Close recruited the same aces who transformed her into Albert Nobbs, Martial Corneville (hair) and Matthew W. Mungle (makeup), who also earned Oscar noms for that film. “It was just a slow process,” Close says. “It was a character that demanded that kind of transformation to be authentic with her.”

Adams, who will also be in the Oscar conversation once again this year after previously going 0-for-6, is more recognizable than Close, but her role as the unhinged Bev came with its own physical challenges. Those included scenes showing Bev abuse her children.

“Those were really hard to shoot, and something that I was nervous about,” says Adams (Vice, American Hustle). “But I would after every take apologize to Owen, and I found him comforting me, so he turned into a great comfort for me during those moments.”

Hillbilly Elegy premieres Nov. 24 on Netflix.

— Video produced by Jon San and edited by John Santo

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