Long before Close was cast in “The Wife” or even thought of being on the big screen, she performed in Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall at the College of William and Mary.
Sarah Dixon, adjunct instructor of theater, was a year behind Close in college and said the young actress inspired her peers.
“She’s just been always someone I looked up to, from seeing her work and her dedication and her commitment and her discipline,” Dixon said.
“She could be silly and fun, playful just like anyone else, but when it came to theater she was serious — this was what she wanted and she was gonna work hard for it.”
Dixon said in Close’s class of 1974, there were four theater majors who planned to go into the field. The following class had 11.
“I can’t help but think that … we were influenced by those seniors,” Dixon said. “We just thought ‘if they can do it, we can do it, too.’”
Dixon worked on several productions with Close and said the actress was anything but a diva. While Close got many leading roles, she also took smaller ones and helped out where she was needed.
“Even if it was a chorus member or a small part — the dedication and hard work she put into that would be the same as it would be for playing a lead,” Dixon said.
When she was the lead, however, Dixon said Close elevated everyone else on stage.
Along with talent, Dixon said Close wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself either.
Dixon recalled one production where a director relied heavily on notes for a play from the original director and would often read them during rehearsal.
“He said ‘you need to be showing more of something,’ and (Close) said ‘If you’d look at the stage instead of your book you might see we’re doing it,’ ” Dixon said. “I think she was the only one that may have gotten away with it. In my mind, you could stand up to a director if you could support it, and she could because no one could ever say ‘well you’re flaking off,’ or ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ because she was such a good student and took every role seriously.”
Patricia Wesp, professor for costume design at Willam and Mary, said she had a few classes with Close and that the actress was just as engaged in the classroom as she was on the stage.
“(Close was) more thoughtful with her questions, more direct with her observations, and just possessed more insightful perspective than most of the class,” Wesp said.
“By the time I met her, we all believed she was going to go places and do exciting stuff, we just had no idea exactly what that would mean,” Wesp said.
After Close graduated, Dixon said she and other students continued to support her from afar. Dixon remembers Close’s big acting break being an understudy for the lead in the play “Love for Love” by Hal Prince.
“Right before they were going to go to Broadway, they fired the lead after a matinee and Glenn had to go on for her that night — and that’s when her career took off,” Dixon said. “So not only was she extremely talented and dedicated — she also had the luck.”
Dixon said Close has not come back to the college much. While it was an important stepping stone, Dixon said most of the people Close associated with at the college are no longer there.
“Once she moved on (from the college) she had to keep moving forward,” Dixon said.
However, even though Close has gone other places, Dixon said she still stays true to the art. Dixon said Close continues to act in the theater and on indie films rather than just big money-making productions.
“She was never one just to go at it to be famous and make a fortune. It was always she knew how important theater was and what happens when your audience and it clicks with you and to share that moment, which is why I think she goes back to (theater,)” Dixon said. “Movies and TV shows can give you high salaries, and they’re certainly difficult and grueling sometimes, but not like doing a play seven times a week and having that structure there.”
Because of this, Dixon said she was happy to see Close win the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture for her role in “The Wife.”
“She was just genuinely surprised, because you know you go up against Lady Gaga, you’re going up against fame and all that, and she worked on this really as an independent movie that took seven years to make,” Dixon said. “She’s not one of these big making a ton of money every movie kind of actresses … Again, because she never acted like ‘I’m going to be a star,’ and ‘I’m going to be famous,’ you don’t get there that way besides doing the hard work and she did the hard work.”
Glenn Close double majored in theater and anthropology while at William and Mary. She was also a member of the honors society Alpha Lambda Delta.
Close starred in many student productions, including "the House of Bernarda Alba," ''Brigadoon," ''Antony and Cleopatra'' and "The Seagull."
Dixon said while Close is known for bringing her dogs on set, she did the same in college. Dixon said Close’s dog Penny even jumped on stage once because Penny thought Close was calling her.
Want to watch?
To see if Close wins Best Actress, watch the Oscars at 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC.
Heymann can be reached by phone at 757-298-5828 or on Twitter at @HeymannAmelia.