To filmgoers, she’s known as the woman who scared the pants back on Michael Douglas in 1987’s “Fatal Attraction.” Now it’s the drug dealers of urban L.A. on “The Shield” who are worried.
“She has an agenda, and she can’t wait to start,” Glenn Close says of her character, Monica Rawling, who took over as captain of the corrupt and dysfunctional Farmington precinct at the beginning of the show’s fourth season.
Rawling has returned to her roots, having walked the beat in the fictitious district earlier in her career. So, in a sense, has Close, who returned to television after a fruitful — and continuing — career in feature films.
“I’ve always tried not to be snobbish about it,” says the 58-year-old actress, who’s done made-for-TV movies (including “Something About Amelia” and “Sarah, Plain and Tall”) as well as feature films (“The World According to Garp,” “The Big Chill,” “The Natural” and “Reversal of Fortune” among many others). “To me, the bottom line is what’s on the page. And the writing on this show is great storytelling,” she adds says during a break in filming the FX series.
“Having her here raises the whole bar,” notes star Michael Chiklis, who plays corrupt-but-effective cop Vic Mackey. “Glenn does phenomenal work, and it just brings a new, fresh excitement to the whole process, particularly now that we’re in our fourth season.”
Spreading the creditSharing “starring” credit with another big name was actually something Chiklis, now one of the show’s producers, had hoped for since the end of “The Shield’s” first season.
“I felt even then that the respect for the show was extremely high in the industry, and we could definitely get high-caliber people,” says the actor, who won an Emmy in 2002.
Chiklis’ appearance in Fox’s upcoming “The Fantastic Four” delayed the start of this season’s production by three months, allowing the show’s writers time to develop a new character.
“We came up with Rawling’s character and realized pretty quickly it was going to be a very significant role,” says “The Shield” creator and executive producer Shawn Ryan. “Casting-wise, we knew we needed someone who could stand up with Michael Chiklis.”
The writers played an “if we could get anyone, who would we try for?” game, and came up with Close, a five-time Academy Award nominee who, to their surprise, accepted the role.
“Prior to Glenn, they were very interested in having very incognito actors,” notes veteran actress CCH Pounder, who plays Detective Claudette Wims. “That’s helped the show ring more of reality, as opposed to, ‘Hey, Richard Burton is playing the cop!”’
Chiklis notes that Close “could have come in and taken an ‘OK, I’m here now — take a back seat’ position. But there’s none of that. The supporting players in this cast get to shoot the puck at the net as much as anybody.”
In fact, Close almost underplays Rawling.
“I always think what’s interesting is what people hide, rather than what they reveal,” Close says. “Mike Nichols said to me once, ‘You must always have a lot of secrets.’ A lot of times in writing and acting, people tend to reveal too much. It’s what you don’t reveal that draws people to a character.”
And Ryan is happy to oblige.
“There are some actors you feel like writing more for,” he notes. “In a strange way, she’s someone we’ve learned we can write a little less for. She can say everything we want to say with fewer words.”
Rawling holds her emotional cards close. Explains Close: “I discussed this with the writers, that if she’s ever going to show an emotion, it has to be in private.”
One such moment in a recent episode finds Rawling and Wims encountering each other in a child abuse victim’s hospital room. Rawling quietly recalls a childhood friend’s abuse, briefly revealing her buried pain over being unable to do anything about it.
“Those couple of scenes where she does mention something from her past, it’s really like gold,” Close says.
Faster paceShe was inspired in her portrayal of Rawling by Theresa J. Shortell, who commands the New York Police Department’s 6th Precinct near Close’s West Village home.
“As a woman, I felt that you have to be soft, you don’t want to order people around,” the actress says. “But one of the coolest things Theresa told me — and I didn’t understand it till I got on set — was that the hardest thing about the job is being a woman and not letting it matter. You give somebody a command, it’s their duty to obey.”
It took a few episodes for Close to readjust to the faster world of TV production, which can be “fairly brutal,” says Pounder.
“There isn’t time for glamour lighting and all that nonsense,” says Close. “Sometimes I look great, sometimes I don’t. But it’s not the point here. I feel like I’m in very good hands here. I can trust the team.”
“Our show isn’t the prettiest to look at,” concedes Ryan.
Or to listen to, according to Close’s mother, a fan of the gritty series.
“I was talking to her this morning,” Close relates, “and she said to say ‘hi’ to everybody, and they should wash their mouths out with soap!”