Glenn Close, <EM>Damages</EM> Glenn Close, Damages

Over the course of a dazzling career, Glenn Close has played eccentric (The World According to Garp), diabolical (Dangerous Liaisons) and charming (as Homer's mom on The Simpsons). But in her new role as mercurial, high-powered attorney Patty Hewes in FX's legal drama Damages (premiering tonight at 10 pm/ET), she hits all those notes — and then some. "She's a woman at the top of her own law firm, who has no peer within her company," Close says. "I'm not sure that's been done before."

In Damages' mind-bending first episode, Hewes is quickly shown to be "the sharpest person in the room," Close says. Viewers will soon realize there's a darker side to Patty. "She is a master manipulator," she says. "Sometimes it's for the good, and sometimes it's just for power." As cocreator Daniel Zelman puts it, "There will be some episodes where you're absolutely rooting for her. There will be other episodes where you'll just feel like, 'Wow, I can't believe she just did that. But it sure was fun to watch.'"

Adds cocreator Todd A. Kessler, "Patty is not someone to be f---ed with, and Glenn brings that to every scene." As an ex-producer on The Sopranos, Kessler knows dark protagonists. "We knew we were going to need someone who could show up and seem larger-than-life. And the truth is, there aren't a lot of actors who can bring that kind of force and power."

Damages will follow a single case for most of the season, as Hewes & Associates take on a class-action suit representing 5,000 employees against the tycoon (Ted Danson) who allegedly bilked them out of their pensions. Along the way, dirty tricks — intimidation, espionage, even murder — come into play, some seemingly on the "good" guys' part.

To hear Close tell it, the show's title is a double entendre, as viewers will eventually learn of the various losses that Patty suffered on her way to the corner office. "What women in life go through to attain those positions is interesting," she says. "How does power change you? You're not the same person on top as you were when you were crawling your way to the top."

Complicating the personal picture are Patty's roles as wife and parent. Though Close says she thinks Patty's marriage is "pretty good," she suspects she's "very conflicted" about motherhood. She admits to drawing on her own experiences as a young performer. "I was a single mom for most of my daughter's life, and just being an actress and having a child and trying to be there for her is hard."

Lucky for FX, Damages' Gotham location was in sync with Close's present-day priorities. "My husband [biotech entrepreneur David Shaw] is based in New York and in Maine, and it's very painful to have to go away from home now," she says. "So to come up with a beautifully written script with an intriguing character — shot in my backyard — it became kind of a no-brainer."

And while her Emmy-nominated 2005 gig on FX's The Shield was a "huge" factor in her decision to return to series TV, Close also found inspiration from across the pond. "To tell you the truth, I thought about Helen Mirren." Citing the star's work in both The Queen and as Prime Suspect gumshoe Jane Tennison, Close says, "She does everything. Why can't we all do everything?" No argument here!

Check out various clips of Glenn Close in our Online Video Guide.

Send your comments on this feature to online_insider@tvguide.com.