Early in “The Wife,” Joan Castleman listens in as her celebrated husband, Joe, receives the call that writers dream of: He has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. As the speaker extols him for reinventing the very nature of storytelling, the camera zooms in on Joan, portrayed by Glenn Close, her eyes registering a rapid succession of barely perceptible emotions: victory, awe, disbelief, pride, bitterness, even rage. Leaving us to wonder what on earth she could possibly be thinking.
Adapted by Jane Anderson from Meg Wolitzer’s 2003 best-selling novel, and directed by Bjorn Runge, “The Wife” untangles Joan’s complicity in the success of Joe (Jonathan Pryce), from their blossoming lust at Smith College in the late 1950s — she, a promising writer; he, her married professor — through the vainglorious rush of his Nobel anointing in 1992. Denied her own career, she dedicates her life to building his, her placid demeanor inscrutable as she weathers his towering ego, copious philandering and careless dismissal of her talent.
“I am a kingmaker,” she replies upon being asked her occupation. And when Joe’s would-be biographer (Christian Slater) comes snooping around, she warns him: “Don’t paint me as a victim. I am much more interesting than that.”
The role has ignited Oscar speculation for Ms. Close, a six-time nominee — including for her calling card, the bunny-boiling Alex Forrest in “Fatal Attraction” — without a win. (Pity not: She has racked up three Tonys and three Emmys.) And in September, she’ll star as the woman behind Joan of Arc in Ms. Anderson’s “Mother of the Maid,” at the Public Theater. In a recent interview at The New York Times, Ms. Close, 71, talked about the allure of Joan Castleman, the gender divide and that elusive Academy Award.
Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
How did you first react to the role of Joan?
I was intrigued by it. I didn’t understand why she did what she did, because I think every female reaction would be, “Just leave him!” So I went into it with that question and step by step by step started to formulate an understanding and really love her. Figuring out her complicity in the relationship and how from the very beginning she didn’t want to lose him.
Do you have experience with this kind of unevenly weighted relationships?
I’m not going to go down on record with that. [Laughs] But I certainly observed my mother, who was married in the ’40s. [My parents] got married when they were 18, and my mom never graduated from high school. My dad went in the war and then became a brilliant doctor and it was all about him. And my mother basically sublimated herself to him, and we all watched it and loved her for who she was and for all her potential. She had this vague feeling of being a failure, of not having accomplished anything, and I understood it. And that kind of broke my heart.
Your first scene with Jonathan is almost startlingly erotic, especially for audiences not used to seeing an older couple having sex onscreen.
We talked about it. We didn’t ever get up on our feet and rehearse it but certainly by the time we did the scene in bed, it was very organic. I felt like we were two old pros kind of coming together, and it was like, “O.K., we’ll just do this.” I think it’s lovely that they’re so hot for each other in the beginning, and they have sex the first time you see them later in life. It just felt really real to me.
Your daughter, Annie Starke, plays Joan as a young woman. How did that happen?
Annie earned it. She did three screen tests and had a long lunch with Bjorn, so she got it herself. I was proud of her for that. And then she was very much part of the discussion before we started shooting because Bjorn shot their scenes first. She really did a beautiful job of establishing that character early on.
Do you offer her acting advice?
Only if I’m asked, which is not often.
“The Wife” is certainly timely in terms of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. How do you feel about what’s happened in this last year?
I think it’s incredibly important. Women have been abused, as we know, through the centuries. I think the thing that’s going to be hard is where the balance is. I personally don’t feel that the work of somebody should be thrown out because I think our museums would have bare walls. We’re flawed, conflicted creatures, and no one is perfect. But I think women should be given much more of a chance to do what they are capable of doing. And if it’s going to stick, it should represent a real revolution in our culture. But it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of us not letting it fade.
Can you recall any MeToo moments from earlier in your career?
Yeah, something that was so subtle that I think I told people about it, but it seemed so minor. I went out to L.A. for a reading for a movie with one of the greatest, biggest stars. And we started reading the scene and he put his hand on my thigh. And it’s just a small thing but he was this big star, and we’re sitting there doing a scene that had nothing to do with that, and a part of me froze. Looking back, I think that if I had acknowledged it and said, “Oh, what’s your hand doing there?” or “Oh, that feels good” that maybe I would have gotten the part. It’s like, “What’s the game going on? I don’t even know the rules.”
Is seven your lucky Oscar number?
It’s thrilling, you know? I’m proud of this movie. It was such a private, internal journey for me, and the first time I saw it with an audience, they were getting every single nuance.
I’ve always felt that Oscars are about the role. And if you’re lucky enough to get a role that resonates in the way it has to to have Oscar buzz forming around it, then you’re a lucky fish.A version of this article appears in print on , on Page AR4 of the New York edition with the headline: For Glenn Close, the 7th Time May Be the Charm. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe