Glenn Close: ‘As children, you don’t love naturally. Love has to be taught’

Glenn Close

Glenn Close covers this week’s issue of the Hollywood Reporter. She’s hitting Broadway for the first time in two decades and is promoting her role in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. Glenn has already won three Tony awards in her lifetime, and she’ll probably land a few more. Glenn is, of course, also a legend in cinema. Most people hear her name and instantly think of Fatal Attraction or 101 Dalmations. My favorite Glenn Close performance was in Dangerous Liasons.

This interview is interesting but not as sensational as I’d hoped. Glenn reveals that her family got sucked into a cult when she was 7 years old. Her dad, a brilliant, Harvard-educated doctor named William Close, somehow fell for the Moral Re-Armament (a right-wing religious cult that went by “MRA”). William was one of the doctors who fought Congo’s first major Ebola epidemic in 1976. In that epidemic, 300 people died before the virus was contained. We know what’s happened in the years that followed.

Glenn talks a lot about her time in the MRA cult. She also reveals how she was able to forgive her father:

Her muted love for flowers: “I love peonies. I’m not a gardener, so I try to keep it as simple as possible with perennials so there’s not a phalanx of gardeners going through the house.”

Returning to the stage: “[Producer] Scott Rudin sent me piles of scripts — Noel Coward, everything. He thought rather than a ‘star’ vehicle, it would be best to come back in a really challenging ensemble. I liked that idea. We honed it down to A Delicate Balance because it’s everything we wanted: an incredibly challenging play, where you have to have a seamless ensemble to pull it off. And it’s about language. It’s challenging and risky.”

Life in the MRA: “You basically weren’t allowed to do anything, or you were made to feel guilty about any unnatural desire. If you talk to anybody who was in a group that basically dictates how you’re supposed to live and what you’re supposed to say and how you’re supposed to feel, from the time you’re 7 till the time you’re 22, it has a profound impact on you. It’s something you have to [consciously overcome] because all of your trigger points are [wrong].”

The cult’s aftereffects: The cult’s impact was so great, says Close, that for years “I wouldn’t trust any of my instincts because [my beliefs] had all been dictated to me. I haven’t made a study of groups like these, but in order to have something like this coalesce, you have to have a leader. You have to have a leader who has some sort of ability to bring people together, and that’s interesting to me because my memory of the man who founded it was this wizened old man with little glasses and a hooked nose, in a wheelchair.”

Why she’s an actor: “I’m compelled to do what I do. Just like my father was. He was never taught how to express himself emotionally or was never around anyone who let him know that was OK. As children, you don’t love naturally. You have a natural sense of survival, but love has to be taught.”

On forgiving: “I always thought, the way life works, the burden of forgiveness is on the child. That’s the way it goes. Forgiveness is probably the most revolutionary concept there is right now in our world. Because without forgiveness, you just perpetuate what has been before. You [have to] say, ‘It’s going to stop with me.'”

Her anxieties: They’re there when she admits to being “kind of a recluse” who immerses herself in books, rarely watches television, and notes, “I wouldn’t say I’m naturally social.” They’re there when she discusses the years she has spent in therapy herself. “I’ve had it over the years. And there’s still somebody I talk to if I need to. It’s very helpful.”

Lifelong effects of a cult: “I’m very gullible.”

[From Hollywood Reporter]

What a sad portrait that Glenn has painted. Her experience in a cult sounds very hollow and filled with anguish at the same time. I’m glad she and her family got out. Glenn says that once she found the strength to leave, the MRA did not follow. That’s a relief.

What do you think about Glenn’s statements on how children must learn to love? I can’t identify with that because every baby I’ve known has been happy and instantly full of love. But these are children that were loved from the very beginning of their lives. Glenn’s childhood was interrupted by an insidious organization, so she had to relearn to love. And to forgive. She says she wrote a very long letter to her father before they were able to mend their relationship. Thank goodness it was possible to do so.

Glenn Close

Photos courtesy of Hollywood Reporter & WENN

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33 Responses to “Glenn Close: ‘As children, you don’t love naturally. Love has to be taught’”

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  1. Virgilia Coriolanus says:

    Yeah–children love naturally. They don’t care if you’re ugly, fat, skinny, beautiful, etc…..they love you when you love them. One ‘funny’ thing I’m thinking of is one of my aunts and my little cousin. My aunt is very short (barely five feet) and obese…..she also has really deep and long stretch marks from her kids on her stomach. But my little cousin’s FAVORITE thing to do, as a toddler (and even now as a 5 year old) was to blow bubbles on her stomach, like she did to him. He’d shove her shirt up and absolutely BURY his face in her stomach and blow. She thought it was so hilarious.

    • Sarah says:

      the sad thing I think is that kids need to love so much, that they will love their family even if it isn’t returned.

      • Aussie girl says:

        That’s true, children are so innocent and would love regardless if it been returned. Yes it would have a profound effect on them and perhaps they would get to am she and stop. It’s just all to sad for me to think or talk about ( children and animals always gets me). As for glen, wow ( it’s becoming my new it word). Been in a cult from 7 to 22.

    • Nikki says:

      Exactly. Every time I pick up my 8 month old, she clings to me like a baby monkey and buries her face in my neck and grabs my hair like she hasn’t seen me in months when in reality, I’m coming back from the bathroom.
      And my son just KNEW to love his sister from the moment she was born. They’re only 14 months apart, so there wasn’t much explaining I could do. He knew what babies were because he’s in daycare, but I never thought he’d understand that there was going to be a new baby in the house. When my daughter was born and my parents brought my son to visit, he picked up her name instantly; pointed to her, said her name and gave her a hug. I didn’t teach that.

  2. Esmom says:

    Wow, what a sad portrait indeed. I had no idea she went through all that. She seems remarkably well adjusted now.

    As for kids needing to learn to love, I think it’s the opposite. Seems to me they are born open and loving and outside influences will either nurture it or stifle it.

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      You said that better than I did, but that’s what I think, too.

    • sauvage says:

      @ Esmom: A hundred times this.

    • HappyMom says:

      I totally agree.

    • Artemis says:

      It’s all about survival, not love imo. In order to survive, they need to know they can count on somebody and when they can’t, they self-protect by closing themselves off. That’s survival again. Love should be a natural progression but sadly it isn’t in too many cases.

      • Marcelmarcel says:

        Fanstatic point, Artemis! I’ve always been very loved by my mother while seeing the emotional consequences of feeling unloved in a few of my friends.

  3. Sixer says:

    I can’t identify with it either. But then, I came from a large extended and very loving family. Unconditional and generous love has been freely offered to me all through my life, so I’m not going to slate Close for seeing it differently if that wasn’t the case for her.

    On a tangential note, I’ve been watching Damages, which is being repeated on some minor Sky channel or other at the moment and was either never shown on UK TV or was but completely bypassed my radar. I’m loving her uber-bitch character in that.

    • Hautie says:

      I loved Damages. Loved every season of it. I wish they would start reruns here in the US.

      FX is so odd, about rerunning their own series. (the older shows) The only one I notice getting repeats is Rescue Me.

  4. Gina says:

    I wont be ignored….if Fatal Attraction is on, I still watch it. She is not the type one would envision as the femme fatale that could lure a man into infidelity, but she pulled it off and just tore that role apart. How wonderful she escaped the ghosts of her past. Just cook those bunnies Alex. You’re a natural…terrible reference to her Redford movie…………

  5. Diddat says:

    Hmmm…my child was in an Asian orphanage until age 3. He does not know how to love or even what love is…I think he had to be taught to trust and to love and that never happened. The effects of the neglect of those formative years is profound and disturbing. So just as a child must be taught to hate (racism, etc…) I believe a child must be taught to love. It doesn’t just happen. If I’ve learned anything through these hellish years it’s that.

    • MrsB says:

      Those first few years are so important and can be so hard to overcome. I hope you are all doing okay now. Very courageous of you to take that on to give him a chance at a normal life. ((hugs))

    • GoodNamesAllTaken says:

      I’m sorry you have had such a painful experience. I hope things are better for you all. You’re very brave.

    • Esmom says:

      So sorry you have had to experience that, I can’t imagine. Wishing you peace and continued strength.

      • Nelly says:

        Sorry for your experience and the child no love, but children do love naturally but are forced to protect themselves when they are abused or not have love in return. A wall is now built because of their bad experience, still we as humans and puppies are naturally programmed to love. The opposit creates walls and other blocks.

  6. OriginalTessa says:

    I don’t agree with her. I think every child is born with the ability to love and the want to love. Even the worst people the world has known still want to be loved. No one wants to feel alone. That isn’t natural. People are pack animals in a way.

    • Honey says:

      I agree with you Tessa. When you are older you become much more selective with who you love and hold back on loving someone because of experiences of life. When you are a baby you love easily.

    • Diddat says:

      Being born with the ability to love–of course! But just as a seed has the ability to grow it must be nurtured to reach its full potential. He was born sweet and innocent and open and pure as all of use are. He had ability to soak in love and to learn to trust and give love but it is not there anymore. That is the tragedy of the situation.

  7. pwal says:

    Another reason why I loved Gone Girl was because it made me think about Dangerous Liaisons, Fatal Attraction and Glenn Close. Close was awesome in both films, although I go to DL because of Malkovich and Pfeiffer. And years ago on AMC, there was a 1/2 hour series called Movies that Shook the World and one of the subjects was Fatal Attraction. One of the revelations was that screening audiences wanted the Alex character killed instead of committing suicide and how it was disappointing to Close and Sherri Lansing because despite Alex having a legitimate beef, the audience wanted peace restored to Michael Douglas’ family life and Alex’s blood had to be spilled.

    Dude’s character was a tool, much like Affleck’s Nick, which is why I enjoyed GG’s Amy.

  8. GoodNamesAllTaken says:

    I don’t agree that children have to be taught to love. They may need to be taught to share, or to believe in and love themselves, but I think her father was taught NOT to love or to express his feelings. What a sad life she had. I’m glad she was able to forgive him, since he robbed her of so many of the joys of life.

  9. genevieve says:

    I think that children have an openness to being loved, and can mirror affection. But in terms of the aspects of love that involve real empathy, hard work and selflessness, yeah, I think she’s right. For one thing, truly caring about the feelings of another person is based in a part of the brain that isn’t even developed until adolescence.

    So no, I don’t believe that the “love” that babies feel is much more than pleasure in being loved and happiness to be around the people that provide for them.

    • OriginalTessa says:

      I remember when I was three and someone was picking on my older sister. I remember feeling so upset and wanting to make my sister feel good and shower her with kisses and love. I remember how much it hurt me to see her cry. I’m 32 now. I will never forget that day. I know I loved my sister then just as much as I do now. It’s not the same, but the raw emotion of just loving someone I think was the same.

  10. sauvage says:

    I would word it completely differently. To me, love is nothing to be ‘taught’, love is something to be experienced, and to be lived. Love is a state of being. If you love your child unconditionally, it will love without having to ‘learn’ it. It will be a given.

    Unfortunately, a lot of us don’t grow up this way and therefore don’t just grow into love naturally. I am going to share the words of wisdom my fantastic former therapist gave me on the subject, when he said: It’s way more important to love than to be loved.

    I didn’t understand it at the time. I so desperately wanted to be loved! Only when I started to love myself, I got it.

    People always say that, in order to be able to love someone else, you have to love yourself. I didn’t believe that until I loved myself and all of a sudden, emotionally, comprehended the difference between loving someone and wanting to be loved by someone. It’s so damn simple: If you are able to love, that means that you love yourself, since that comes first. Therefore you ARE loved, no matter if someone outside of yourself is reciprocating the feeling or not.

  11. siri says:

    It’s very much about her personal experience, I guess, and has more to do with access to one’s emotions. Children growing up in ‘normal’ circumstances, don’t judge (until someone teaches them), so they will access/ display their emotions/feelings with ease. I don’t think it’s possible to ‘teach’ how to love, it seems to be more about being an example. And in her case, there obviously wasn’t any. It’s sad to read this, but I always thought of her as very introvert, and closed up.

  12. JustChristy says:

    I think she’s partly right, but 100% correct for her own situation. No doubt she had to relearn to love after being taught that human emotion is somehow wrong and immoral. That’s true for her, and doesn’t make her statement invalid just because others didn’t experience what she did.

  13. Lia says:

    What a load of crap. Children love unconditionally, until they get older and are taught that love can be withheld if they don’t “earn” it, which is sad. Love isn’t something that can be taught. It either happens or it doesn’t. It isn’t something exclusive to a particular age, either. The selfishness that young children exhibit comes from immaturity and an inability to understand all of the little nuances that affect how and what we share. But, the love they feel toward others is real, even if they don’t express it in ways adults do. She seems like she might be emotionally damaged or even bankrupt if she feels that human beings don’t naturally feel love. I feel sorry for her.

  14. Jules says:

    Children are “taught” to love. Please check out early childhood development literature. There are many studies about this very topic.

  15. Decloo says:

    Is it possible that Glenn and Robin Williams were separated at birth?