Rodrigo Garcia has earned a reputation as a master of what used to be called “the woman’s picture,” directing such movies as “Mother and Child” (about three generations of single mothers) and “Nine Lives” (an ensemble piece about women in Los Angeles).
His latest effort, “Albert Nobbs,” which opens Friday, is another example of the genre, but with a twist. Its title character, played by Glenn Close, is a woman who seeks independence in circa-1900 Dublin by posing as a man. The film garnered Oscar nominations for Close, supporting actor Janet McTeer and the makeup team.
Garcia didn’t intend to specialize in stories about women. “I’m just interested in female characters,” he says. “If I think of a problem, very quickly I’m framing it in terms of a female protagonist.”
Close first took the role of Nobbs, a hotel head waiter, onstage 30 years ago. “It really stuck with her,” Garcia says. “She always wanted to do it as a movie.”
Close co-wrote the script, adapted from Irish writer George Moore’s short story. “It was very much her project,” the director says. “When she’s listed there as a producer, it’s for real.”
The filmmaker, who had worked with Close twice before, also enlisted Mia Wasikowska, an Australian actress whose first American role was in a Garcia-directed episode of “In Treatment.” She plays a hotel chambermaid who’s perplexed when she’s courted by Nobbs, “a funny little man” with a quiet nature and no male pals.
“It’s very satisfying to have people you know are good for the role,” the filmmaker notes. “You know how they work, and you know what they can give you.”
“Albert Nobbs” is Garcia’s first period film, but he considers its theme timeless. “There will always be aspects of ourselves that we have to hide, or suppress, to fit into our environment,” he says.
Currently, he’s working on a series of short scripted films for a YouTube premium channel to launched later this year. The focus, of course, will be on women.
Garcia says he has nothing against action movies with macho men blowing stuff up. He’d even direct one, “if I had the freedom to do it the way I wanted. I’m interested in the ‘why’ of the character. What is the character trying to work through? Why do you need to blow up a bridge?”
So it’s a pretty safe bet he won’t be getting that gig anytime soon.
“No,” he agrees.