SO, GLENN, I say, once our introductions are over, can we talk about sex to start with?

When you read the script for your new movie The Wife and the first scene is you in bed with your screen husband Jonathan Pryce and it's a sex scene, what was your reaction?

"I thought it was fabulous," the Hollywood superstar sitting beside me says. "It was one of the reasons I loved the script. I thought it was witty and unexpected and ... Why not? You don't stop feeling sexy, I don't think."

A Friday morning in London in the august surroundings of Somerset House, the Thames flowing serenely by a few feet away, and Glenn Close is bringing the septuagenarian sexy back.

And, as she says, why not? Close has always come across in life and on the screen as her own woman. The reality is a little more nuanced than that as it is for all of us, but certainly her public persona is of a woman of Destiny’s Child-level independence.

At times, of course, on screen that has meant she's played characters labelled as bitches, ballbreakers, or, worst of all, a bunny boiler - a literal description of her character in Fatal Attraction that went on to become a misogynist label in the culture.

Even in something like Damages where she plays a brilliant lawyer, she’s also seen as ruthless. And as for her performance in Stephen Frears’s 1988 take on Dangerous Liaisons, opposite John Malkovich, well, there’s she a shark with a smile.

The Wife doesn’t conform to any of those things, really. The story of a woman married to a narcissistic alpha male writer who is seeking her own autonomy after spending years being her husband's sidekick, it's a film about secrets, confrontations (at times Pryce and Close are going at it like Taylor and Burton) and the concessions we make in a marriage. It's the kind of actor's movie that practically sits up and begs for Oscar attention. The early reviews of the film have been purring with the possibility that this is the film that will win Close that elusive Academy Award (she has been nominated six times without success).

Bjorn Runge’s film has one of those scripts (written by Jane Anderson and based on a Meg Wolitzer novel) that you imagine would have actors rubbing their hands together in glee.

"Yeah, it's meaty," agrees Close. "it was a good script to read. But I had a lot of questions about it. I wasn't totally convinced myself."

How so? "I had to answer the question why she doesn't leave him? I was so sure all the women would jump up and say: 'Oh, just leave him.' That's because they are not my mother's generation.

“I think it was having to answer that question for myself that led me to understand her."

That's what makes it work of course. The sense of a real couple bitching and kvetching and still in love to some degree and both of them holding secrets. "They're both complicit and it's a very complex, real marriage," suggests Close.

Other things the movie is. 1) It’s set in Stockholm but shot largely in Scotland with a largely Scottish crew. (So, we can claim it, I say. “Yeah, totally.”)

And 2) a film that sees Close's daughter Annie Starke playing the younger version of her mum's character.

Was Close the doting mum on set? Offering advice from the side when Annie was doing scenes?

Anything but, it seems. "I went up to the Highlands."

Deliberately? "Oh yeah. I didn't want to be around. I didn't want her to have to explain to me what she did to me that day."

I tell Close I’ve come to see how close she is to her character in The Wife. So, Glenn, have you ever peaked in someone else's bedroom drawers?

"No." She looks horrified at the very idea.

Have you maintained a work-life balance?

"Oh, that's a hard one. Not terribly well. I'm much better when I'm working. I always feel guilty when I relax. I love reading more than anything else in the world and I always think I have to earn it. And actually, the other day I thought: 'Stop that. Enjoy it'

She pauses. "I've always found life a little more challenging than work."

Well, indeed. Close has been married three times (although she wasn’t married to Annie’s father is Hollywood production manager John Starke) and is currently happily living on her own.

And Close's childhood is a curious one. One of four children, she was raised in well-heeled Connecticut to start with. She was a doctor's daughter. William Taliaferro Close was a man who saw himself as the centre of the family narrative, and who subsequently made decisions that affected his whole family. That meant taking his family to the Congo where he reportedly worked for the military dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. And, when Close was seven, he took his family into the religious movement Moral Re-Armament. Close remained part of the group until she went to college when she was 22.

"You basically weren't allowed to do anything, or you were made to feel guilty about any unnatural desire," she said of her time there in 2014.

Reading about her dad, I say, it's difficult not to read him as a prime alpha male narcissist. That has echoes of Pryce's character in The Wife. And it brings up something that is hard to avoid in Hollywood at the moment. Toxic masculinity.

"It's a very complex conversation," Close suggests. "Obviously the male ego can be incredibly destructive. It needs a civilising effect. I'm a reader. I love books on social evolution like Sapiens [Yuval Noah Harari's pop anthropology bestseller]. I love EO Wilson.

“What makes us human beings? I've come to believe - from what I've been taught by brilliant people - is we've evolved to be warlike. We've evolved, unfortunately, to be motivated by needing power and territory, mostly expressed, I think, on the male side of things.

"So, unfortunately, I think that's the reality of human nature. How we deal with it is what civilisation should be.

"Things are radically out of balance now. We're losing a very important balance to the darker side of our nature. I get weird comfort from nature. Nature will survive in one way or another. But will we? I'm not sure. I think we are too greedy and stupid."

Well, that's ... Not optimistic. In the shorter term she is worried about her homeland and it's "fragile, chaotic democracy."

I think some of this may be down to her antipathy towards The Donald, though she doesn't mention him by name. So, I do.

Here's the thing, Glenn, I say, again, reading about your dad I did start thinking that he sounded a bit like Trump.

She bolts forward in her chair. "Oh God ... I would never ..."

She takes a breath, recalibrates, and weighs up her father. "Well, like Jonathan's character in this movie, I would say he was narcissistic. He was compelled to make himself the centre of everything.

"But he was a brilliant doctor and he put himself in situations where he had a lot of adoring people. His patients.

"It wasn't," she adds, quite so easy with his family.

"But I forgive my father and I understand his behaviour. He was sent off at seven years old to boarding school and I think he was abandoned. He took that, as a child, as abandonment. And it was terrible for him. Terrible.

"And in that situation, he had no emotional vocabulary. And I think you might say, generally speaking, that men have a harder time to express themselves emotionally than women. That's a huge generality, but I think it's valid."

In short, she can see her father as a victim of sorts. "People thrive on connection. What was that experiment that proved babies have to be touched? When you don't have that, and you are not taught a means to get that validly it has drastic repercussions on your life."

And on those around you, too, of course. Did you feel love, Glenn? "From my dad? I have been the achiever of my siblings, so he liked that. I think he did love me, but, again, he found it hard to express it."

College was the saving of Close. She had always wanted to be an actor and education was her escape route to the world she desired. Who, I wonder, was that 22-year-old who went to the College of William and Mary in Virginia?

"A dork. Clueless. A very empty toolbox. Eager for knowledge."

Going to college was "water on a desert," she says. "Literally. Literally! I started to grow. I majored theatre and I minored in anthropology. I loved French drama, all that stuff. It was just .... Aaah. What the education did for me was keep me curious about certain subjects for the rest of my life. To me, that’s what a good liberal arts education does.

"So, when people come to me and say: 'I want to be an actor, what should I do?' I say: 'Get a good liberal arts education.'

“Which,” she adds, smiling, “is the last thing they want to hear."

Close took some time to establish herself onscreen. She spent most of the 1970s working in theatre before making an impact in The Big Chill and the thriller Jagged Edge.

But it was Fatal Attraction that really got her noticed, playing a woman who has a one-night stand with Michael Douglas and then won't leave him alone.

"I read the script in one sitting. I remember I came out of it and my temperature had dropped. I loved it, but I said: 'I don't know about the rabbit. I don't know about the rabbit.' But I couldn't get it out of my mind."

It must be said not everyone saw her in the role. "Have you read [studio executive] Sherry Lansing's book? I didn't know how much they didn’t want me. It's hilarious. They thought I was so wrong for it. I had met Stanley Jaffe [who produced the film with Lansing]. I went to meet him in a little summer dress and a little straw hat ..." She starts laughing at the memory. "And I guess what I said to him was interesting enough for him to say; 'Let's bring her out.'

"I'd gotten well enough known at the time that they saw me almost as a courtesy. But they were embarrassed because they knew they were going to say: 'No, she's not right.'"

Her audition changed their mind and a career was launched.

Interestingly, Fatal Attraction was something of an outlier in her career. She didn't really get cast as psychotic often (maybe Cruella de Ville apart) or, until The Wife at any rate, sexy. It's interesting, I say, comparing her career to, say, Kathleen Turner's. When we meet Turner's all-gun blazing interview is the talk of the Hollywood steamie.

"I haven't read it, but I've certainly heard about it," Close says when I bring it up.

Well, I say, in the interview Turner describes how she was pursued by the alpha male Hollywood stars and talks about the way actresses were often seen as trophies for their male counterparts.

"To give them a status?" Close asks. "Our president is a perfect example," she adds

The question is, does she sense things are changing in Hollywood, post-Weinstein?

"I do sense a change. Certainly, more awareness. I don't think we're necessarily at the tipping point, because I don't think you can take anything for granted. But I think there's definitely more awareness of the need to have even more diversity."

She points to the TV company FX who she worked with on the TV series Damages and The Shield. "It was actually Ryan Murphy [the creator of Glee and American Horror Story] who challenged the company to have 50:50 women and men. And they've basically embraced that whole thing and so that's a change."

It strikes me, I say, that Kathleen Turner can speak out now because she doesn't fear she has anything to lose anymore. Does age bring a sense of freedom with it?

"I think it does," agrees Close. "I've felt freer. And also, I've felt more comfortable in saying: 'No, I don't want to do that. That's not going to bring me joy.'

"I think I've lived under a lot of obligation in my life and there's no reason to."

When you say obligation ...? "I'm basically more an introvert than an extrovert, so the idea of showing up where you don't know anybody is not my idea of a good time. And you are asked to do a lot of things and I've been bad at saying no because I've felt an obligation."

You can't imagine some of the characters she's played saying that, can you? In that case, it must be hard to speak up in public, to take a stand when it doesn't come naturally to you.

"I'm very wary about politics. It's been quite a few years since I made an open political stand. I have values I believe in but politicians to me are ... We're in a low point in our country as far as politicians are concerned."

But she will speak up about mental illness. Growing up, her sister Jessie suffered from bipolar disorder which saw her lead a chaotic life. Close is now an outspoken advocate for mental health sufferers.

"I'm interested in trying to remove the stigma around it and the stigma is there because people are afraid or ashamed to just talk about it normally. And my family decided to do that because of my courageous sister and her son."

It's almost time to go. What is life for Close like at 71? "It's good. It's really good. My daughter just got married. She has a great guy. I was her custodian and now she's totally out in life herself and it's a really, really good feeling. I'm so incredibly happy for them. They got married at the end of June and that feeling is still new for me and I'm still kind of revelling in it."

"And I'm fancy free. I can do whatever I want so far as work is concerned and all these interesting things are coming up and it's great. I have no complaints."

She smiles when she says this. There is not a hint of shark in it.

The Wife opens in cinemas on Friday.