In The Wife, Glenn Close plays Joan Castleman, the long-suffering spouse to a literary behemoth. Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) has written a hugely successful series of books that have scored him a Nobel Prize. When he answers the phone call alerting him to his award, he asks that they please hold while Joan gets on the line — she’s his body woman just as much she is his wife, plucking crumbs from his beard, and making sure that the Nobel fête meets his specifications. But Joe, it turns out, is a hoax: Joan’s the real literary genius in the family. On the heels of her Globes win, Close is the Oscar front-runner for so believably inhabiting a woman who loves her husband just as much as she resents him.
Over the course of her career, Close has had her fair share of famous husbands, from Robert Redford to Christopher Walken (twice!). So we wanted to know: Of her five most memorable partnerships, which of her Movie Husbands made for the best marriage, and which left a little to be desired? Close was game to rank them all (with the exception of Michael Douglas in Fatal Attraction — they were not married, they were just lovers!). Here they are, in her own words, ranked from worst to best.
5. Christopher Walken in Sarah, Plain and Tall and The Stepford Wives
“I adore him,” Close purred, when asked about her two-time movie husband, Christopher Walken, with whom she ran in the same theater circle coming up. When Close was looking for a scene partner for her Hallmark adaptation of Sarah, Plain and Tall, she pushed for Walken. “At that time, [the movie’s other producers] said, ‘Are you kidding? He’s so scary and blah, blah, blah, blah,’” she recalled. “I said, “Well, I don’t want to do it without him.”
Close, a producer on the project, eventually won: In the first movie and two sequels, Walken plays Jacob Witting, who orders a mail order bride from Maine. “He’s just so beautiful in that part,” she said.
But their remarriage, in the 2004 Stepford Wives remake, seemed to undo all that loveliness. Walken and Close play Stepford’s alpha couple, Mike and Claire Wellington: He’s a chauvinist puffing cigars and barking orders at other men; she leads the women’s social calendar and insists on a warped, dated decorum. In the original movie, all the town’s women are robots, but in the remake’s twist ending, Claire replaces her philandering husband with a “perfect” robot version. “All I wanted was a better world, a world where men were men and women were cherished,” Claire snot-cries when her scheme is exposed.
“The funny thing about that movie is we didn’t know which of us was gonna be the robot,” she said. “In the original Stepford Wives, it’s the women. That’s the whole point, and then they said they were thinking of making Chris the robot, and I think it was a little difficult for me to get my head around that. “I said, ‘Okay. I don’t want to say at the junket, but all right!’ We had so much fun.”
Like any good ex, Close keeps a memento: The production made portrait props of each of the movie’s immaculately coiffed Stepford couples, and Close has held on to hers for some 15 years: “I have it hanging in my office at home,” she said. “Rather bizarre.”
4. Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks!
In the Tim Burton sci-fi comedy, Close played uptight First Lady Marsha Dale. She’s fussing with the White House’s décor, despite protests from her grumbling husband, President Dale (Jack Nicholson), and their morose, cynical daughter Taffy (Natalie Portman). Mars Attacks! has a collection of bizarro ensemble performances, but it’s the only movie that doesn’t take a big romantic swing. Instead, martians attack D.C., leaving Dale dumbfounded, and desperate enough to try to bargain with the aliens for his own safety over national security. “I’m killed by the chandelier at the end,” Close recalled. “Damn him! It’s fun working with him. [But] any guy that would pick himself over his family …” She’s had happier endings.
3. Jonathan Pryce in The Wife
“He looks at me through that movie with such love,” Close said of Pryce’s performance as the philandering author. “I don’t think he doesn’t love Joan, but there’s a disconnect there.” Joe is basking in the glow of his Nobel Prize win, and his arrogance starts to get the best of him. He flirts with a 20-something photographer and throws his weight around. He tells an admirer, in passing, that his wife doesn’t write. In reality, she’s been writing his acclaimed novels for him since they met in college.
Could she imagine herself in a marriage like that — stewing silently as her husband plays off her accomplishments as his own? “No,” Close said, but she doesn’t see Joe Castleman as villainous. “The last question he has as he’s dying is ‘Do you love me?’ because he’s found it hard to love himself. I have great empathy for that character when I think of it from that point of view. But it’s interesting because you can empathize with somebody like that. Doesn’t mean you have to live with them. He’s not just the bad one. She’s conflicted, but she gets to write. She’s written on a level that warrants a Nobel Prize,” Close added. “It’s not all black and white.”
2. Kevin Kline in The Big Chill
“Oh, he was a fabulous husband,” Close says of her partner in the 1983 dramedy, where eight college pals reunite to mourn their friend’s suicide. Close is Sarah Cooper, married to Harold (Kline), seemingly the most successful of the friends. There’s a reveal midway through: Sarah had an affair with their now-dead friend Alex (played by Kevin Costner, though his scenes were cut).
“The Costner character was a passionate affair, and then I ended up with Kevin, who probably was a more steady relationship, somebody I thought would be a good father and be successful,” Close reasoned. “She definitely loves him, but she’ll always mourn the other character, Alex.” As for her and Kline, and their kitchen dancing? “We had a ball. I think they have a good marriage.”
1. Robert Redford in The Natural
Roy Hobbs’s (Robert Redford) big-time baseball career takes off in The Natural, and he’s up at bat when he spots a familiar face: Out of nowhere appears his high-school sweetheart, Iris Gaines (Close). As teenagers they were in love, but Hobbs ditched her to pursue his sport, until a fling and an injury derailed his career the first time around. When he sees Iris, glowing thanks to an angelic backlight, it’s like a reawakening.
Gaines comes to a few of his games before he comes home with her. Instead of falling into his arms, she keeps her distance, standing across the room to make conversation. She’s been a single mother for 16 years, she reveals, and the child is likely his. Iris isn’t trying to be romanced — she’s trying to figure out if Roy could be a good father to their son.
“I love that scene because you would think she’d just completely throw herself into his arms, but she doesn’t. She doesn’t know what kind of man he’s become, and she doesn’t want to expose her son to him, unless it’s right, unless he’s a good guy,” Close said. “I don’t know how many women in movies have actually thrown Robert Redford out of their apartment!”
Redford is Close’s handsomest movie husband, but The Natural’s marriage seems to take the top spot for Close because of how Iris was written — as romantic, but not unrealistic. Even at the end, when Roy and Iris have reunited, the focus is on how they’re a family with their son, not two lovers riding off in the sunset. “Iris is a woman who survived on her own in a time when that was very difficult and probably a lot of stigma against it, and she’s kept her dignity,” Close said. “And then there’s the happy ending.”
*A version of this article appears in the January 21, 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!