Annie Starke is the daughter of one of Hollywood's most respected actresses, Glenn Close, the multi-Oscar-nominated (more on that later), multi-Tony, Emmy and Golden Globe-Award-winning star of films including Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons. This weekend, the mother-and-daughter team hit UAE cinema screens in Bjorn Runge's drama The Wife, in which Starke plays a younger version of her mother's character, Joan Castleman, the long-suffering wife of a narcissistic, Nobel Prize-winning author played by Jonathan Pryce.
With such a Hollywood pedigree – her father is John H Starke, producer of films including Deadpool and Bad Boys 2 – it seems incredible that, despite some TV appearances as herself, a small role as a waitress in 2011's Albert Nobbs, and a supporting role in Peer Pedersen's 2017, straight to video on demand feature, We Don't Belong Here, this is the first time 30-year-old Starke has appeared in a significant role in a Hollywood movie.
Starke concedes the point, though she insists that, despite some expectations, she has not been drowned in offers thanks to her family connections. “I hate to disappoint, but I actually had a really normal childhood, and I give a lot of credit to my parents for that,” she says. “It wasn’t really an intentional plan [to start in Hollywood so late]. I wanted to bide my time and be independent and able to say that everything I’ve got I deserved and I’ve fought hard for. With any profession you have to have determination and I’m very glad to have gone about it my own way, but there was no great intentional plan to leave it late.”
Having finally taken the plunge, the inexperienced Starke finds herself sharing a screen not only with her decorated mother, but also Christian Slater (The Name of the Rose, True Romance), and Jonathan Pryce, the Shakespearian veteran, frequent Terry Gilliam collaborator and star of the critically adored Glengarry Glen Ross. So was the experience daunting? Or was it just another typical day for the offspring of such big names?
“Oh, of course it was daunting. I’m such a fan of [screenwriter] Jane Anderson’s scripts, and I’ve been a huge fan of Christian’s for years and years, so yeah it was daunting, but in a good way,” she says. “Because I was playing the younger version of my mother, I didn’t have to do any scenes with my mum, or Jonathan or Christian. But it was great to get so close to Harry Lloyd, who plays young Joe [Pryce’s character]. It was just the two of us on set for the first two weeks because we shot it in sequence, so I didn’t really have any scenes with anyone else, but it was still great to get to watch everybody at work.”
Although Starke didn’t shoot any scenes with her mother, she does admit that she and her mum worked very closely on developing their character together. “The character was a real collaborative effort between mum and me – it would have been impossible to do otherwise if we hadn’t sat round the table discussing every little nuance, since we’re playing the same character,” she reveals. “We actually used my grandparents, on both sides. They were both truly inspirational women with huge potential, it was just a case that a man’s career came first, so we looked to that a lot.”
At the other end of the experience spectrum Jonathan Pryce's career is the stuff of legend. From Bond villain in Tomorrow Never Dies, to Governor Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, to his two Tonys for his stage work, there's little Pryce hasn't done. He even starred at the centre of his own, pre-emptive, #HollywoodSoWhite controversy when he played Asian nightclub owner The Engineer in the original stage production of Miss Saigon, much to the annoyance of many Asian actors. So how did the Welsh veteran find being an elder statesman on set, not only to Starke and Lloyd, but perhaps also to director Runge who, despite an extensive Swedish filmography, was directing his first movie in English?
“I didn’t feel like an elder statesman – Glenn’s older than me. She was the elder statesman,” the actor laughs. “No, really, it made for a great dynamic on set and a great energy. With Bjorn, it may have been his first English film, but he had a great concern for the language, what we were saying and how we were saying it. That combined experience of myself, Glenn and Christian, and Bjorn, too, because all of us work extensively in the theatre, really helped create the atmosphere on set. It’s a very story-driven, language-driven film, but with a lot of silences, too. It’s very theatrical. A lot of Glenn’s role is to be a silent observer, and those moments when the camera closes in on her in silence are vital to telling the story.”
The film's subject matter remains relevant today as Hollywood increasingly questions the role of women within its own power structures: an aspiring writer gives up her career to support her husband, although he may not entirely deserve her dedication. Pryce concedes that the themes are nothing new: "The conversations we're having about women in Hollywood today have been going on for millennia," he says. "They go back in my work at least to Shakespeare and The Taming of the Shrew, the idea of training a woman to be what you want her to be. The disappointing thing is that we're still having to have these discussions. It's an absurd conversation to be having in 2018."
Pryce does see light at the end of the tunnel, though. "Fortunately, there are a lot of strong women in powerful positions in the industry – directors, studio heads, producers, who are speaking out. Not enough, but we're moving in the right direction and what's good about things like #MeToo is it wakes up people who had perhaps become complacent and thought enough had already been done."
In keeping with the strong women theme, Close’s performance is already being talked about in glowing terms as Oscars season approaches. With six nominations, she is the most-nominated actress to have never won an award. I ask Pryce if this could finally be her year, and whether it’s irritating to have so much attention focused on his co-star. “Oh, goodness, no, it doesn’t irritate at all,” he insists. “It’s a capricious business, though, and there’s never any way of predicting how the Oscars will go. I’m an Academy voter so I know as well as anyone. I’d be thrilled if she won an Oscar, but the great thing is she’s received enormous recognition for her work, and I’ve done OK, too.”
The Wife is in UAE cinemas from Thursday