One thing that Connie didn’t do was read Amanda Reynolds’ novel prior to filming Close to Me. She made a specific choice not to draw on the book version of Jo Harding. “It was very clear that the themes of the book, [we were] definitely going to keep those, but I had to stay within the character that was being created for the screen. It was very important to me that I stayed with that,” she said. “And I was afraid that the book would influence a different thing.
“What works for a book can work for the screen, but it does not always work for the screen,” she added. “And it’s really important, I think, when you’re making an adaptation, that you trust that the person who’s adapted it and that they understand that is for a different medium.”
It’s a huge plus that she’s also very familiar with the crime drama and thriller space. Her character Meredith Kane in Boss was certainly embroiled in some questionable behavior, and she’s also played important roles in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, The Following and I Am The Night. That’s just on the small screen. She knows how to move in this genre, how to play a character without giving too much away, and how to create suspense in a performance. I asked Connie to recommend other projects in this same space that resonated with her for fans to watch when they’ve finished Close to Me.
“Michaela Coel’s series [I May Destroy You] about the sexual assault she went through,” she said. “There is that kind of thing that she’s also playing with, where she is really questioning our ability to always see the truth about ourselves. Questioning our perception of things. In her series, one of her girlfriends has a threesome and sees herself as if she’s been liberated. But in reality, when she goes back over what really happened and realizes that she was duped into believing that this was that kind of experience, she has to then reassess her sense of self. And Michaela Coel does that with her own character as well throughout that series. We have to reassess our perception of what happened and what makes us who we are.
“Laura Dern did this film a couple of years ago [The Tale],” Connie added, “where she is reassessing a relationship she had with an older person when she was 13 years old. She has this perception of herself having had a relationship; [she] doesn’t see that she’s in fact been groomed and raped by this person. That film is one of the most interesting films that I’ve seen that really talks about our ability to lie to ourselves.”
There’s more at work in Close to Me than just figuring out what happened to Jo and if her husband is a villain in her life. The series also addresses certain aspects of what it means to be a woman, particularly an older woman with different concerns and obligations than her younger counterparts. It’s about all of who Jo Harding is and not just what happens around this particular incident.
“The role of menopause is just very central to the story,” Connie told me. “I cannot emphasize enough how important I think it is that we start having a discussion about menopause, because all women will go through menopause, and it is a huge change in your life. And we don’t talk about it enough. I think this is the only fiction I’ve ever seen made about it. Incredibly, I don’t even think there’s a documentary out there about it. This should be central to our conversation in families and in society, because a huge amount of people, the biggest group in our country, has or is going through menopause.
“And [there’s] also the importance of creating these more truthful and more unvarnished portraits of women,” she added. “We tend to want to make the woman be more cute, or a little bit more vulnerable. A little bit more this or that, in order to let people be interested her from within those values that we’ve assigned to women in society. I think that if we really, really want to be equal and feel liberated, then telling unvarnished female stories is so important.”
In Close to Me, Jo Harding has the challenge and opportunity of revisiting herself. Is there a Connie Nielsen role that Connie would like to go back to and try again?
“Hippolyta [from the Wonder Woman films] is one of the funnest characters I’ve ever played and I could like go back and play her over and over again,” she enthused. “But I have this dream in my life; I really would love to be in Star Wars. That would be the dream, for me to be in Star Wars, because it’s just such a huge thing. I’d love to do that.”
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