The dreams of a generation of children growing up on Disney cartoons were haunted by 101 Dalmatians’ icon of evil, Cruella De Vil. Now Glenn Close brings the villainess into the real world in a live action remake. She tells Alan Morrison why it’s great to be the De Vil woman.

ny actor signing onto what has become Christmas’s biggest movie must have known they’d be setting themselves up for a trip through hell and Dalmatian. For years in Hollywood. they’ve said never work with children or animals. And although the only kids connected to Disney’s new remake of IO] Dalmatians will be those packing out cinema front rows booing and cheering and aaahhhh-ing. animals dominate the film. Fighting with Glenn Close for top billing are Pongo. Perdy. a battalion of loyal canine chums. their farmyard friends and 99 black- and-white spotted puppies in all their piddling. yapping. snapping glory.

If anyone can stamp their authority against this on-screcn army of cute little wet-nosed fireballs. it’s Close. whose demented portrayal of cartoon nasty Cruella De Vil provides a villainous balance to the pups’ slushy innocence. Close captures a sense of evil in its purest pantomime form, revelling in an excess of dress. accent and attitude. A laugh that joins Jack Nicholson’s Joker with its psychotic edge; a through-the-bush-backwards hairstyle that matches Elizabeth Taylor’s on a bad day; a wardrobe of crazy

costumes that make Gaultier, Westwood and McQuecn’s outrageous designs fit only for a church jumble sale.

‘It was through the long process of coming up with the total look that I worked into the character.’ says the 49-year-old actress. a pleasant and

charming contrast to the

explosive Cruella. ‘My , main concern was her I ,’ image. what she‘d be t} . wearing. and the nature of t;

her lines which I thought had to be very witty. Every day. sitting down. and first the face going on. then the wig and finally the clothes it was only when l was in full regalia that the whole ' character came out.’ o 10] Dalmatians, with its s' phenomenal box office x opening last month in the i, , States, is set to become one of _' . . the biggest cinema hits of all " v~ time. The marketing "

campaign in an attempt to underline that this is a live action version, not a re-release of the cartoon pushes Close’s image to the fore, forcing film-goers and Hollywood insiders to recognise that the actress is back with a vengeance.

Since the late 803. when she stormed the male psyche as Michael Douglas’s spurned mistress Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction and crowned her acting achievements with her fifth Oscar nomination in six years for Dangerous Liaisons. she’s been a quieter presence on screen. Hamlet and Reversal Of Fortune received good

‘Perdy kept slinking oil the set with her tail between her legs because I was coming on. I felt so bad, because I’ve grown up with dogs, and this beautiful creature was totally intimidated by me.’

reviews. but The House Of The Spirits, Meeting Venus, The Paper and Mary Reilly didn’t do her any favours. Her triumph during this period was her performance as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway production of Sunset Boulevard. A year and a half on stage etched the character of the faded star into Close’s daily routine.

‘When I left the show,’ she explains. ‘I felt that Norma was stalking the corridors of my house. not knowing where to go or what to do. watching me make my child’s lunch for school. But Cruella doesn’t have the resonance or





complications of a lot of the other women I’ve played. She has a very single agenda. which is to search and destroy. so I didn’t spend a lot of time wondering what her father did to her to make her so mean.’

Not that this lack of method research makes playing such a character unreasonably easy. Instead. the challenge was to present Cruella’s nastiness with a clarity that would be instantly recognisable for a children’s audience. And at all times, Close’s point of reference was the original cartoon.

‘The inspiration here was an icon of evil in the panoply of villains. so I took it very seriously because I think children take it seriously.’ she says. ‘I had to keep the atmosphere of that character, the nature of her voice and some of the gestures and her energy. So. yes. there are high expectations. When I first walked on set. a little eight-year—old friend of my daughter Annie Maude looked at me and said, “Where’s the white fur coat?”. and I thought. “Oh no. . .

So it’s a case of ‘better the De Vil you know"?

‘I think the two movies will co-exist very comfortably together,’ says Close. ‘The cartoon is what it is. and it is a classic which won’t be lessened by this movie. There are valid differences. But I’m a great believer in books. and I worry that all our children are not going to go to the original sources, they’ll go to the cartoons or the movies, and i don’t think that‘s necessarily a good thing. My daughter has yet to read Winnie The Pooh because she’s seen the cartoons, and that for me is a tragedy because my brother was raised on Winnie The Pooh.’

If that clears up her attitude to children. then what about the animals? In the film, Close has a fair old battle with the farm inhabitants. ending with her dunked in a barrel of molasses and swimming around in pig manure. However. for a woman who has three dogs of her own at her home on the outskirts of New York City. she only has two short scenes with the Dalmatians. ‘The thing that kept happening in the beginning was that Perdy kept slinking off the set with her tail between her legs because I was coming on.’ the actress remembers. ‘I felt so bad. because I’ve grown up with dogs. and this beautiful creature was totally intimidated by me.’

Perhaps Close has at last managed to lose the baggage of knife-wielding Alex Forrest by replacing it with a more elemental figure ofevil. In real life, she’s small. laughs a lot and has a certain androgyny that dispels thoughts of her screen psychos. Then again. I’d still check your pet rabbit is safe in its hutch ifl were you.

[0/ Dalmatians opens in Scotland on Fri 13 December and is reviewed on page 28.

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The List 13 Dec l996-9 Jan I997 11‘