Dangerous Liaisons

Glenn Close in conversation with Erdem Moralioglu

Film still from Dangerous Liaisons (1998)
Courtesy of MovieStone Collection Ltd/Alamy

An excerpt from ‘Dangerous Liaisons’, an interview with the film’s leading actress Glenn Close and A#24 curator Erdem Moralioglu featured within A Magazine Curated By Erdem.


Erdem Moralioglu: Interview with Glenn Close. Take One. What was your relationship with the costume designer of Dangerous Liaisons, James Acheson, and what was his approach to research? How did you tackle the character of the Marquise de Merteuil together?

Glenn Close: Well, Dangerous Liaisons was like no other film I have done, because they had started shooting before I had given birth to my daughter. They shot all of Michelle Pfeiffer’s scenes, we appeared in one scene together, and then Michelle was finished. They then went back to all the different locations and shot my scenes! My daughter was seven weeks old when I arrived in Paris, so I had a body that had to first be wrestled into a modern girdle, because my body looked like a loaf of bread after giving birth. And then, a beautifully fitted very tight corset went over the girdle. I’d see the dress hanging on the hanger and think, ‘How will I ever get into that?’ But because the corset was so brilliant, my costumes just slipped on. They were some of the most rigorous costume fittings that I’ve ever experienced. I had jet lag, and I had given birth seven weeks before. At times, I thought I literally was going to faint and would lie flat on the floor. But even with the discomfort, I adored the fittings. I adore the process. I find it extremely important in the development of a character. James Acheson had these two wonderful women who had an atelier in Brighton. They had basically made the dresses, but then they had a lot to do to fit me into them. One of my all-time favourite moments in a fitting room happened because of James’ passionate attention to detail. There was a lot of detail in every costume and the ladies worked to the bone to achieve something and then James would say, ‘No, no! This strip of lace has to be moved over 3/16ths of an inch.’ And they would say, ‘Yes, yes, yes, Mr. Acheson, yes.’ And adjust to his precise corrections again and again! I remember the moment — I think it must have been on the second or third day of fittings — and he went out of the room and the women had a complete meltdown saying in intense whispers ‘I hate him! I hate him!’ I stood there stunned. When they calmed down, I asked, ‘Well, why do you work with him?’ And they said, ‘Because he makes us do our best work.’ They were so wonderful, and I loved everything James put on me. I loved his precision and his imagination because we had some old pieces of fabric, but they weren’t truly 18th century. I think the genius of great film or stage designers (and James got an Oscar for this) is to know how to achieve the illusion of priceless fabrics and trim. And that, I think, that is where he was brilliant. Though he did use gorgeous fabrics.

Film still from Dangerous Liaisons (1998)
Courtesy of MovieStone Collection Ltd/Alamy

EM: There’s a yellow velvet — the yellow and the black — which is just extraordinary.

GC: That’s one of my most favourite costumes, with that hat, which made me realise: ‘OK! I can make my entrance out of the carriage with my face concealed by the brim and then do the naughty look up.’ It’s an effective shot. What was also interesting, was that the decision was made to set the movie in the most refined era in 18th century France. It was the age in which the ‘language of the fan’ was used in court. I had studied how a woman used her fan and what the different uses and poses meant. But Stephen Frears didn’t want any of that. It was also the age where every surface was covered with beautiful porcelains. He didn’t want any of that either. He instinctively kept focusing on the faces. At one point, poor James was pulling his hair out because he had designed beautiful shoes for me. There was a scene where I’m at my dressing table, and James said, ‘Please show the shoes, show the shoes!’ So, I’m sitting in a rather awkward pose…to show the shoes!

EM: Is it when you’re getting ready in the morning with your robe off one shoulder? You’re in profile.

GC: Yes! Which might not be the way one would naturally sit, but I did it for James, because I have such an appreciation for the artistry, thought and effort that goes into costume design.

EM: Was there a moment where you could feel yourself really acutely becoming the character? What was the relationship between the costume and your body? What was your physical reaction to what James was creating for you?

GC: Well, as an actress, I was very grateful for the corset because my body desperately needed it. But also, it informed how I moved, and it gave me a beautiful posture. Merteuil would have been taught how to move, how to sit down and get up gracefully, how to walk. A beautiful posture enhances the costumes. And it’s not just how you stand, but it’s how you move through a room. I developed a gliding walk. I didn’t want my movement to look modern or flouncy. I felt the magic was in just gliding. And every exquisite costume began with the underpinnings which informed everything. Madame Merteuil is a woman who is constricted by the fact that she is a woman in a society where men had the upper hand, where women were routinely used and discarded for sport. She refused to be put in that place, refused to live a life totally dictated by men. The corset not only contained her rage, it distilled and honed it. When you see her being dressed at the beginning of the movie, she is literally suiting up for battle.

Film still from Dangerous Liaisons (1998)
Courtesy of MovieStone Collection Ltd/Alamy

EM: There’s a quote that describes your performance as complete, animalistic despair and it describes the horror of her anger. I was so intrigued by how the table readings would have compared to reading the script in costume, in situ? Dressed versus undressed: how did the two compare?

GC: I don’t think we ever had a table read because I came in halfway through. In fact, I had to quickly discover the universe I was stepping into. I had a scene with John Malkovich during which I was saying silently to myself: ‘What the fuck are you doing? I don’t understand. Where am I? What’s happening?’ Afterwards, I asked Stephen Frears if I could see all the footage that he had shot with John up to that. Afterwards, I said, ‘OK, I get it.’ And it was fine. We had a great time together because, as those two characters, we were engaged in a deadly a war of wit and one-upmanship — with dire consequences. These are two people who have a monumentally destructive love for each other. They couldn’t live with each other, and they couldn’t live without each other. I mean his whole thing was, if he succeeded in seducing Merteuil, his reward was a night in her bed. He wanted to conquer her, to literally invade her.

EM: You were his prize, ultimately.

GC: I was his ultimate prize because I had left him. He didn’t leave me. I think her physical grief at the end shows how much she actually loved him. By choosing to die, he ultimately won.

EM: Another critic described your relationship with Malkovich as ‘a tennis match of the soul’, which I think is so profound. What are your memories of the rest of the cast? What was their relationship with their transformation into their individual roles?

GC: You know, it’s fun to think back. I first met Malkovich in New York in a hotel room with Stephen Frears. He had been cast first, and I think Stephen wanted to see how we would respond to each other. I remember sitting across the room from him and thinking, ‘Yes, I could definitely be attracted to him.’ It was a big moment for me because I was supposed to have replaced Lindsay Duncan who played the role opposite Alan Rickman on Broadway. After six months, the producers had to replace the British actors with Americans. Then the production did not win enough Tony Awards to stay open, so it closed before I was able to play Merteuil onstage. I was devastated. But then, Stephen asked me to come in and meet. It felt like a miracle, because in our profession you don’t get second chances.

EM: And how wonderful to also bring it to life truly in situ as well, because the whole thing was filmed in France. You were living it, feeling it. That film came out when I was 11 years old, and I saw it with such wide eyes. And I watched it so many times.

GC: I read the book way before I played the part. The book is, other than Dracula, the most terrifying book I have ever read and it’s just a series of letters. It was terrifying, psychologically terrifying.




The 26th issue is the Vietnamese-American designer’s most intimate project to date, inviting readers to explore the idea of home and understand the internal narratives of the shy designer.

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