British stage veteran Janet McTeer finds her man as a cross-dressing house painter in the period drama “Albert Nobbs.” Becoming Hubert, said McTeer, was more than just a physical transformation that included makeup and prosthetics.
British stage veteran Janet McTeer finds her man as a cross-dressing house painter in the period drama “Albert Nobbs.” McTeer, an Oscar nominee for 1999’s “Tumbleweeds,” undergoes an uncanny physical transformation to play Hubert Page in “Nobbs.”
It took the make-up department two hours each day to transform McTeer from a very feminine woman to a gruff, chain-smoking male impersonator. And, as the award-season accolades come rolling in, McTeer says it was time well spent.
She is a supporting actress nominee for both the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild, and is a virtual lock to add an Academy Award nod Tuesday, when nominations are announced.
“That would be a little sparkly, bubble of loveliness,” McTeer said about the possible Oscar nod.
Opening Friday, “Albert Nobbs” stars Glenn Close as the titular character – a woman who masquerades as a stiff-upper-lipped male butler in 19th-century Ireland.
It was a time when women, particularly unmarried women, had no rights and were either prostitutes or maids.
Nobbs and Hubert become friends once each learns the other’s secret.
McTeer – busy shooting the TV procedural “Damages” with Close – was gracious with her time during a quick phone chat last week. She was in New York, driving to the airport to catch a flight to Los Angeles to attend last Sunday’s Golden Globes.
Onstage, the Tony Award-winning McTeer has taken on iconic roles, including Nora in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House.”
After her head-turning role in “Tumbleweeds,” McTeer quickly did a handful of films, including “Songcatcher” and “Waking the Dead” in 2001. Then she returned to the stage and small screen in England.
“I really like to mix it up. Honestly, stage is waaaayyy harder than film,” McTeer said in a lovely British lilt. “Film has its own exhaustion levels and you’re away from home and it’s all kinds of things that make it difficult and very tiring, but not as tiring as stage. And when I do stage, I tend to just do some whacking great big project that I really want to do. I do that every couple of years or so.”
Becoming Hubert, said McTeer, was more than just a physical transformation that included makeup and prosthetics. “I had a bit added to my nose. I had things in my mouth to make the bottom of my jaw line a different shape, false teeth, funny little eyebrows and a wig and lots of props on my face to make it look like I’ve got bad skin – and tiny little bits on the end of my ears.”
The makeup artists and wardrobe folks who dressed her in boots four sizes too big (they were stuffed with socks) made her look like a man, but it was up to McTeer to find Hubert’s masculinity and then sell it.
“From the inside point of view, I wanted Hubert very much to be a very balanced yin and yang – the devil and nice and the feminine qualities of nurturing and compassion and kindness – all those kind of things, as well as all the male things, that kind of confidence in a man’s world, that kind of invulnerability,” McTeer said.
She knew she was onto something the day she fooled her co-star and “old mate,” Brendan Gleeson, who plays the tipsy Dr. Holloran.
“He arrived one day on set for his costume fitting and I was standing at the door and he drove past me and got out of the car. He looked at me and I nodded at him and he nodded back in that kind of look in the way that people go, ‘Oh, I know I should know who you are but for the moment I can’t quite remember.’ And he gave me that look for a few quick seconds and then he laughed. But for a few seconds he didn’t know it was me. That was my favorite moment.”
More than a decade since that first Oscar nomination, McTeer is being reintroduced to an American audience.
“I carried on living my life and had a very nice career and all the usual stuff and now I’ve come back to New York, again. And, now this has happened and that’s a real treat,” McTeer said.
Her next film, the ghostly “The Woman in Black” (playing opposite Daniel Radcliffe), opens Feb. 3.
“Oh, I’m just everywhere,” McTeer said, laughing.
Dana Barbuto is at email@example.com.