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After a memorable bunny-boiling turn in Fatal Attraction, Glenn Close is back this week, scaring puppies as Cruella De Vil in Disney's live-action remake of 101 Dalmatians. Alex Forrest's shaggy perm of the 1980s has been replaced by a blonde mane shot through with an inverse Mallan streak, but the well-observed psychosis remains.

The three-dimensional and deeply demented villainess is something that the theatrically-trained actress does all too well. Subtle shades of obsessive insanity have coloured her performances in every- thing from Dangerous Liaisons to Lloyd Webber's rococo stage show of Sunset Boulevard. So what is it about the actress that makes her too close for comfort?

It says something about the Hollywood casting system that when Glenn Close began her screen career at the age of 35, it was as Robin Williams's mother in The World According to Garp. Unlike her friend Meryl Streep, Close has not got the looks of a classic romantic lead. But the hooked nose and cruel droop of her mouth initially equalled "homely" rather than unbalanced. Early roles in films such as The Big Chill and The Natural saw her as a sensible, supportive partner. In the 1984 ape-man fantasy, Greystoke, it was a composite that made the screen, with Andie MacDowell providing the cut-out fairytale princess, and Close purring her beautifully modulated narration onto a dubbed soundtrack.

Despite a mounting pile of Oscar nominations, it wasn't until the 1985 thriller, Jagged Edge, that Close's force field of intellectual authority and mature sensuality was finally put to good use, in the role of a district attorney. In a publicity interview for that film, the actress was quoted as saying that unlike Streep she hadn't had the luxury of great roles but had had to "do with what [she'd] gotten". Of course, that film marked a turning point in Close's career clout, and the actress now gets first dibs on many of Hollywood's most interesting roles. This has led to mistakes like The House of Spirits, but we should feel grateful that Close still elects to to use her considerable talents to enrich difficult and unsympathetic parts such as the puppy- pelt hungry De Vil.

Liese Spencer