It’s just as well that Olivia Colman is immensely talented and charming, because otherwise, her winning that Best Actress Oscar over long-time favourite Glenn Close would have seemed unbearably cruel. Close, with seven nominations to her name, remains the actress with the most Oscar nods and no win. Sorry, Amy Adams, you’re not quite there yet. Seriously, it’s kind of ridiculous that the star of Fatal Attraction, Dangerous Liaisons, and 101 Dalmatians doesn’t have an Oscar. How dare you disrespect Homer Simpson’s mother like that! And Leo thought he had it tough.
Well, Glenn’s moving on and moving up, with one of her long-time passion projects finally making its way to the big-screen. Tony-winning choreographer and director Rob Ashford will make his feature debut helming the adaptation of the Broadway musical Sunset Boulevard, with Close in the lead role as the legendary Norma Desmond. Close originated the role on Broadway, which won her a Tony Award, and reprised it to great acclaim. Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber will produce the film.
For those of you who have lived under a rock for the best part of 60 years, Sunset Boulevard is an adaptation of the Billy Wilder film of the same name, the story of a struggling screenwriter who becomes embroiled in the strange life of a faded silent screen megastar who is convinced the world is waiting for her comeback. It’s a straight-up masterpiece and probably the most scathing movie Hollywood has ever made about itself. It was nominated for 11 Oscars and won 3 (it was the same year as All About Eve, the competition was tough).
The musical… Well, let’s say it’s less successful. Generally speaking, most fans of the film really don’t like it. Given that Sunset Boulevard is one of my favourite films ever, you can imagine my own feelings. People spent decades trying to make it into a musical. Even Stephen Sondheim considered it for a while, as did Kander and Ebb. Wilder always thought it would fare better as an opera than a musical.
And then Lloyd Webber came along. Keep in mind that he was absolutely hot sh*t in the early ’90s, thanks to the stream of mega-hits from Evita to Phantom. Sure, he’d just had his first real flop with Aspects of Love, but that was a fluke. Surely he could return to his peak with another big-budget mega musical, and one based on a classic movie? It couldn’t fail, right? Ha. Reviews were mixed but Lloyd Webber had never been a critical darling, and it did decently enough for a Broadway production to move forward. Patti LuPone, who had been promised the lead role in the transfer from West End to Broadway, was stunned to find out she’d be replaced by Close, so she sued and got $1m from it (she then built a swimming pool with the money and named it after Lloyd Webber). Operating costs soared well beyond initial predictions, in part because the set was so lavish and difficult to operate. The Los Angeles production went to hell when Faye Dunaway was sacked from playing Desmond due to her lack of singing prowess, so she sued. The show ran for 977 performances on Broadway but closed at a financial loss.
But everyone loved Glenn Close in it. As messy as the show is and as weak as it is for them to make Norma sympathetic, Close knocked it out of the park. She repeated this acclaim when she took on the part once more in 2016 for a lavishly orchestrated production with the English National Opera, which then transferred to Broadway.
If it works and is a success, Sunset Boulevard could be prime Oscar bait and maybe, just maybe, the eighth time is the charm for Glenn?
There is a famous story that’s probably apocryphal of Billy Wilder going to see the musical on Broadway. Someone asked him what he thought of it and he apparently said something to the effect of, ‘It’s a great story. They should make a movie of it one day.’
Header Image Source: ENO // Photo by Richard Hubert Smith