I have been very fortunate to write only about films and people I like and admire. Under magazine editors like Chris Alexander at Fangoria, I have had total freedom to wander wherever my heart led me. When I first got into journalism, I created a dream list of people I would like to interview, and atop that list was Crispin Hellion Glover. While many in the industry are relatively easy to access via management or the usual channels, Glover is famously reclusive and media shy. Despite long presentations of his books and films in person, he is rarely interviewed, and usually when he is it is by email. In mid 2011 I took a long shot and sent a conversation request via his website. Months later I got an email from Glover himself saying he had done some research on me and wanted to talk.
The resulting phone conversation stretched to almost four hours, and we touched on a variety of aspects of his life and career. The piece I did for Fangoria ran over two issues #315 (July 2012) and #316 (August 2012), but even over two installments it had to be tremendously trimmed and cherry picked to fit into the allotted space. But there is so much depth to this conversation, and so much is revealed that I didn’t want to relegate the interview to print magazine archives in a truncated form.
So here is the full unedited transcript of my conversation with Crispin on January 4, 2012. It remains one of my fondest experiences thus far in my career, and I am happy to share it with you in its purest form. I have included the intro as seen in Fangoria, and the rest is the uncut conversation. On to the show…
Crispin Glover isn’t as unlikely an icon as some would imagine. A gifted child born in New York City into a family of entertainers, Glover entered this world in 1964 with “the business” in his blood, and it wasn’t long before he, of his own volition, gave acting a try in his early teens. After reluctantly calling in sick for his first paid gig in a Coca-Cola commercial (stomach flu), the young thespian tried his hand in a stage presentation of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, followed by an appearance in a pilot for the ill-fated television show THE BEST OF TIMES. While honing his acting chops at exclusive Mirman School in Los Angeles, Glover whittled what little free time he had reading (Bradbury and Vonnegut were favs), listening to classical music, and populating stacks of Mead spiral notebooks with short stories and prose. He didn’t know it at the time, but the humble East Coast transplant would one day become a cult cinema legend, a key figure in actor rights, and one of film’s most unique originals, blazing a path of arcane artistry across all genres and platforms.
While his major studio releases pay the bills (CHARLIE’S ANGELS, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, BEOWULF), it is his choice of offbeat efforts that have cemented Glover as crown prince of the alt cinephile set, scene stealing in notables such as DEAD MAN, WILD AT HEART, THE DOORS, and BARTLEBY. He sits at the right hand of Andy Kaufman on the high council of media manipulation, having karate kicked his way into infamy with a 1987 David Letterman interview where the actor appeared as the awkward character “Rubin” from (the never widely released) RUBIN & ED, challenging the host to an arm wrestling contest and fighting with an audience member. Further diversifying his portfolio, Glover has published five books, directed two films, and now travels with his works in a 3+ hour-long “slide show” featuring screenings, readings, and a Q&A session.
I spent an afternoon with Glover discussing his genre work, his love for David Cronenberg, how BACK TO THE FUTURE simultaneously made, and almost destroyed, his career, and how his most treasured co-star memories are of rats.
BEAHM: What kind of influence has your father (Bruce Glover) been on you?
GLOVER: My father is what I would describe as a blue color or working class actor. I witnessed my father’ struggles as an actor and did not look at the business in a glamorous way. Not only is my father an actor but my mother retired as and actress and primarily as a dancer when I was born. She is also in It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. I made a pragmatic choice to pursue acting as a career when I was quite young around 11 or 12. I got an agent when I was 13 and got my first professional job that year. Having grown up around the business it seemed like something that I would be able to do. My father also teaches acting and has since before I was born. I never formally studied with my father but I am certain that hearing him speak about things had influence. I would say that my personality type is not that of a standard actor’s personality type that would more be someone who enjoys attention for attention’s sake. That in fact makes me rather uncomfortable. For me it is important to have an idea that is being supported in order to support that with performance or even for media publicity. Because of this I believe that if my parents had not been in the business and I was born with the personality type that I have it seems to me that I probably would have pursued a very different career path.
I became a professional actor at age 13 by my own choice. I emphasize that because there is a large difference in that from when a child is forced in to acting by parents who choose that career for a child. I began studying in a professional acting class at age 15. At age 16 I viewed many revival films of the 1920’s through the 1970’s at the revival theaters that were popular in the early 1980’s before the advent of VHS competition that led to most of the revival houses closing. While watching many of the films and being in acting class I began to understand film and acting as art.
BEAHM: Let’s talk about your directorial feature films WHAT IS IT? and It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.
GLOVER: I am very careful to make it quite clear that WHAT IS IT? is not a film about Down’s Syndrome but my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in film making. Specifically anything that can possibly make an audience uncomfortable is necessarily excised or the film will not be corporately funded or distributed. This is damaging to the culture because it is the very moment when an audience member sits back in their chair looks up at the screen and thinks to their self “Is this right what I am watching? Is this wrong what I am watching? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have made this? WHAT IS IT?” -and that is the title of the film. What is it that is taboo in the culture? What does it mean that taboo has been ubiquitously excised in this culture’s media? What does it mean to the culture when it does not properly process taboo in it’s media? It is a bad thing because when questions are not being asked because these kinds of questions are when people are having a truly educational experience. For the culture to not be able to ask questions leads towards a non educational experience and that is what is happening in this culture. This stupefies this culture and that is of course a bad thing. So WHAT IS IT? Is a direct reaction to the contents this culture’s media. I would like people to think for themselves.
Steven C. Stewart wrote and is the main actor in part two of the trilogy titled It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. I put Steve in to the cast of WHAT IS IT? because he had written this screenplay which I read in 1987. When I turned WHAT IS IT? from a short film in to a feature I realized there were certain thematic elements in the film that related to what Steven C. Stewart’s screenplay dealt with. Steve had been locked in a nursing home for about ten years when his mother died. He had been born with a severe case of cerebral palsy and he was very difficult to understand. People that were caring for him in the nursing home would derisively call him an “M.R.” short for “Mental Retard”. This is not a nice thing to say to anyone, but Steve was of normal intelligence. When he did get out he wrote his screenplay.
Although it is written in the genre of a murder detective thriller truths of his own existence come through much more clearly than if he had written it as a standard autobiography. As I have stated, I put Steven C. Stewart in to WHAT IS IT? When I turned WHAT IS IT? in to a feature film. Originally WHAT IS IT? Was going to be a short film to promote the concept to corporate film funding entities that working with a cast wherein most characters are played by actors with Down’s Syndrome. Steve had written his screenplay in in the late 1970’s. I read it in 1987 and as soon as I had read it I knew I had to produce the film. Steven C. Stewart died within a month after we finished shooting the film. Cerebral palsy is not generative but Steve was 62 when we shot the film. One of Steve’s lungs had collapsed because he had started choking on his own saliva and he got pneumonia.
I specifically started funding my own films with the money I make from the films I act in when Steven C. Stewart’s lung collapsed in the year 2000 this was around the same time that the first Charlie’s Angels film was coming to me. I realized with the money I made from that film I could put straight in to the Steven C. Stewart film. That is exactly what happened. I finished acting in CHARLIE’S ANGELS and then went to Salt Lake City where Steven C. Stewart lived. I met with Steve and David Brothers with whom I co-directed the film. I went back to LA and acted in an lower budget film for about five weeks and David Brothers started building the sets. Then I went straight back to Salt Lake and we completed shooting the film within about six months in three separate smaller productions. Then Steve died within a month after we finished shooting.
I am relieved to have gotten this film finally completed because ever since I read the screenplay in 1987 I knew I had to produce the film and also produce it correctly. I would not have felt right about myself if I had not gotten Steve’s film made, I would have felt that I had done something wrong and that I had actually done a bad thing if I had not gotten it made. So I am greatly relieved to have completed it especially since I am very pleased with how well the film has turned out. We shot It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. while I was still completing What it? And this is partly why WHAT IS IT? took a long time to complete. I am very proud of the film as I am of WHAT IS IT? I feel It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. will probably be the best film I will have anything to do with in my entire career.
After CHARLIE’S ANGELS came out it did very well financially and was good for my acting career. I started getting better roles that also paid better and I could continue using that money to finance my films that I am so truly passionate about. I have been able to divorce myself from the content of the films that I act in and look at acting as a craft that I am helping other filmmakers to accomplish what it is that they want to do. Usually filmmakers have hired me because there is something they have felt would be interesting to accomplish with using me in their film and usually I can try to do something interesting as an actor. If for some reason the director is not truly interested in doing something that I personally find interesting with the character then I can console myself that with the money I am making to be in their production I can help to fund my own films that I am so truly passionate about. Usually though I feel as though I am able to get something across as an actor that I feel good about. It has worked out well.
BEAHM: What was your early exposure to cinema?
GLOVER: I grew up, for the most part, not seeing a lot of films. I saw more television as a kid. I was born in New York, where my father was an actor and my mother retired from being a dancer and actress when I was four. We moved out to Los Angeles when I was 3 ½ because my father was getting more work in films out there. My father hadn’t made much money as an actor. He made enough, and I grew up in a comfortable middle class household, but when we first moved out to Los Angeles they had to save money, so we would go to the drive-in movie theater. I would hide under a blanket in the backseat because it was too expensive to get me in.
One of the movies I remember seeing was, and is still one of my favorite films of all time, 2001: A SPACE ODDYSSEY.
BEAHM: Were you a big reader as a kid?
GLOVER: I suppose I read more than some kids. Things I remember reading were school assignment books, still some of my favorites. 1984, and a book that I really like a lot was Day of the Locust, which is still the finest book ever written about Los Angeles. I really liked Lord of the Flies and read a fair amount of Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut.
BEAHM: Were you raised in a religious household?
GLOVER: Not at all. In fact, if anything I was raised slightly anti-religion. My father was raised Swedish Methodist, and in the 1930’s they really preached Hell a lot. As a kid, if you liked going to movies, dancing with girls, or whatever else he liked to do, he was going to go to Hell. He grew up believing he was going to go to Hell, and definitely didn’t want me to be raised that way.
I went to a private school from first to ninth grade at the Mirman School, and it was not a religious school at all. You took an IQ test to get into it, so it was a school for gifted kids.
BEAHM: How did you respond to Lord of the Flies?
GLOVER: I had a really good English teacher the year we read that, and I remember him talking about some of the religious symbolism, like the name of Simon, kind of the spiritual character. I remember thinking I didn’t know if I bought the symbolism he was talking about, but the teacher definitely talked about it. He was one of the reasons I started taking writing seriously.
BEAHM: Did you do a lot of writing as a kid?
GLOVER: Yeah, I definitely did a lot of writing as a kid, which lead to me writing my own books. In high school I had those spiral notebooks, and I would fill them up with story after story. I wrote a lot of short stories back then. I started making the books when I was 19.
BEAHM: Talk about your entry into acting…
GLOVER: I didn’t work in feature films until I was 18. I actually didn’t work that much as a kid. I got an agent when I was 13, and it sounds like a funny thing to say, but getting into acting at 13 is kind of late. Most kids who are acting were pushed into it by their parents when they were 5 or 6, which I think can be very damaging.
The decision to go into acting was all my own. I was not pushed into it by my parents at all. It was around 11 when I started thinking about it, and became more vocal about it. One of the kids in my class had an agent, and was in some commercials, so I got my parents to contact his agency, and they were my first agency. My parents were then supportive of it.
I did some commercials and some television, but it wasn’t until I was 18 that I started working a lot. That was when the child labor laws started working in my favor.
BEAHM: You mentioned how kids getting pushed into the industry can be damaging. Was it easy for you to see how kids can fall into trouble?GLOVER: Not really, because I didn’t work a lot. My first job I got was for a Coca-Cola commercial when I was 13. I never get ill. I was real excited to have gotten this commercial, and I wake up the morning of the shoot with the stomach flu. I was really mad. I couldn’t do it.
The first job I got started with a cattle call at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion for the SOUND OF MUSIC. It was a very invigorating thing to go where there were hundreds of kids there to audition for this thing, and I went through all the cut downs and everything to get the part. It was exciting. That was the last year I was a Mirman School.
I had a tutor and missed a little school, but it was a wonderful experience. There was nothing negative about it at all.
I did a few commercials, and then when I was 16 I went on another cattle call. It was a pilot called THE BEST OF TIMES, and I got it from another cattle call. So, again, I didn’t work a lot as a kid, so my experience was out of excitement. I saw all these kids who were working a lot, and I wanted to work more.
As an adult I saw kids who obviously were pushed into it, and I saw where there were troubles. Those kids didn’t really want to be there, and some of them were messed up.
BEAHM: You shy away from the limelight…
GLOVER: It is a funny thing. What I realized was this: I told my parents around the age of 11 that I was interested in doing it. My personality type was a bit more shy. My father was in all three WALKING TALL films in the 70’s, and when I told my parents about my interest in acting, my father asked if I wanted to go in for a part for the son of sherrif Buford Pusser. I spoke with the casting person in a shy fashion, and it wasn’t like that in school. I had been in school plays with classmates and was comfortable being on stage, but I didn’t realize that you really needed to put yourself forward as a personality. After that meeting, the casting person told my parents I wasn’t really like an actor person. I thought about it and realized that, as an actor, you have to be somebody who talks and laughs and is invigorated or whatever. A couple years later, when I went in for the agency meeting, I knew I had to sell myself. I went in and was much more personable, so I had developed the concept of how to be.
My nature isn’t that of somebody who wants to go out and have a bunch of attention brought on myself, but it was a clinical decision in some ways. I knew I could do it if I got behind the role, behind the character, I am very comfortable doing that. If attention is just put on me personally, I sometimes do get a little uncomfortable. It isn’t anything I dread, or anything.
BEAHM: Organic artistic output from people: working with DD actors, etc. How awas it working with such a natural approach?
GLOVER: Every person with a developmental disability is entirely different than another person with a developmental disability. Some of the actors I
was working with were actually seasoned professionals, good at matching and really knew what they were doing. They were great. I went into it having written specifically for people who might not be professionals. Really, the most important thing, if a person has Down’s Syndrome of whatever, is if they are enthusiastic. If they are enthusiastic, they are going to do a great job. Everybody in the film was exceedingly enthusiastic and great to work with.
Plus, they were right for their roles. No matter what they did they couldn’t go wrong, essentially. I was incorporating, when I could, organic elements into what they could bring in to the performance. This is WHAT IS IT? EVERYTHING IS FINE is different because Steve didn’t have a developmental disability, he had a physical disability, and it was based on his screenplay, so it is a whole different situation. In WHAT IS IT?, I would incorporate organic elements, those happy accidents that occur. They very much affected what the structure ended up being.
An example: there was one line I had written for the antagonistic character to say, which was, “Don’t interfere with my mission.” The way the actor memorized it was, “Don’t interfere with my mind,” and when I heard him say it, I thought that was a much more interesting line than what I had written, so I went with it. It ended up being a big part of the film. When that happened, I would utilize those things to the benefit.
BEAHM: Do you think you approach acting from an organic standpoint?
GLOVER: I always aspire toward that, yes. After acting professionally for a number of years, 33 years now, you’ve been presented certain problems before that you’ve worked out solutions to. One doesn’t want to get stale and handle the solutions the same way every time, but certainly there are shortcuts. Every character’s psychology is unique, so getting to the point where you are utilizing your own psychological aspects that are similar to the character’s is important. Whether you are playing a valedictorian or a crazy person, there’s going to be a portion of your own psychology that can fit that character. It takes some figuring out as to what’s right with each character.
BEAHM: Darkness in the artist and in art. So many artists push themselves to the edges, to extremes. Are you drawn to darkness?
GLOVER: I have always had an interest in the unusual, thinks you could call dark. If you look at the balance of something…the classic phrase, “what is light without dark, and what is dark without light?” There are balances. I think good art has a dynamic that has, ideally, all qualities. Meaning, one has to have light and dark. I mean that sincerely. You can’t just have dark. I think good artists understand there is a dynamic that incorporates both, and I think sometimes lesser artists will be afraid of one or the other.
BEAHM: Elias Merhige (director, SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE) told me you passed a copy of his film BEGOTTEN to Nic Cage…
GLOVER: Yeah, that’s right. I knew Nic was producing things, and he said he was looking for a director. I had recently seen BEGOTTEN and said he should meet with that director. I had been in contact with Elias, so I introduced the two of them and it happened. It worked out.
BEAHM: Do you think horror cinema is more likely to celebrate taboo?
GLOVER: What I think about the genre of horror, fantasy, and science fiction, is that they can serve as very strong metaphors for other things. Those metaphors can counter propaganda in a nice, poetic fashion. What can also happen with metaphors is that they can also be for propaganda, so it is a dangerous thing in general, working with metaphor. That is the beauty of those genres.
When somebody’s killing a person, are they killing a person, or an idea? When it is done without an artistic thought, it really does just become about someone killing something. I know there’s a lot of people who like the gore factor, but really good horror/psychological terror, which is where
I put WHAT IS IT? and EVERYTHING IS FINE in the drama category, but it EVERYTHING IS FINE could fit into the psychological terror genre. In Europe they have festivals and don’t call them sci-fi, fantasy, or horror. They call them fantastique films. I like that genre because it goes into fantasy. My films definitely go into fantasy.
I also like that the horror/sci-fi/fantasy genres are made for cinephiles, who can be more educated about various genres in film. I find that sometimes people involved in those elements can be more open.
BEAHM: So many people come into genre material in their youth, and so a romance and nostalgia that grows over time. Do you think our feelings about fear and fantasy changes as we grow into adults?
GLOVER: When I was 4 or 5 years old I tried to watch the original film THE BLOB, and I found the concept of that very frightening. This thing that would get on you and slowly eat you. I had to turn the television off because it was so scary. That is the only film I remember having that experience with, a really frightening experience as a kid. If you think about the reality of this, a single-celled entity that would ingest you, it would really be frightening.
BEAHM: As adults, a lot of fans are really into the technical side
GLOVER: Maybe they want to dissect it. I am not opposed to terror or tension in my own filmmaking. I know there is an excellence that can happen when a filmmaker gets into those tensions, but I don’t feel like that is my specialty as a filmmaker. For whatever reason, I am into something slightly other than that. There are filmmakers who are very calculating with how they employ tension. As an audience member, I really enjoy that. For whatever reason, as a filmmaker, I haven’t really gotten into that.
BEAHM: Looking at the number of films that you’ve done that would be considered genre-related..the first big one you did that many fans would know, would be FRIDAY THE 13Th.
GLOVER: The film I made before that was a short film at the American Film Institute called THE ORKLY KID, a 35 minute film that is still one of my
favorite films I have ever done. I was 19 when that film was made, and I made FRIDAY THE 13TH about six months after THE ORKLY KID. I had moved out of my parent’s house when I was 18, and had a little bit of money saved up, but I hadn’t worked for pay for about eight months or so. I was running out of money, and was getting very concerned.
I was in acting class at the time, and there was an improvisational technique called the circle of death, where the teach would clap their hands, and you’d have to go into the center of the circle and act out a death. One time he changed it to the circle of suicide, and there was a thing I did that I thought had a certain potential for comedy, so I was considering developing this kind of stand-up routine around this suicidal element.
What I am saying is that I need to work, and was very nervous. Then I got the role in FRIDAY THE 13TH. ORKLY KID was this strong psychological study, so heading into FRIDAY THE 13TH wasn’t the highest artistic idea. I thought it might be funny in the future that I had been in this movie. When I first started shooting, I was very concerned, wondering what I had done.
I have never seen any of the HALLOWEEN movies, but I know the first one is supposed to be a good film, but I have never seen it. I had seen the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, which I really like, and the original FRIDAY THE 13th. I remember, when I saw FRIDAY THE 13TH in the theater when it first came out, I thought it was extremely derivative of CHAINSAW MASSACRE. It is funny now because it has become a beloved genre element, with that big book and everything. I don’t force people to buy my books at my screenings, so I sign all sort of things, and a lot of people have had me sign that book. I am very glad I was in the film.
BEAHM: What concerned you when you got there?
GLOVER: I knew what it was before I got there, but it is just a limited genre for an actor. Basically the structure for those films is that there are teenagers who go to some secluded place, have sex, and they get killed. What can you really do with that? Everybody can relate to somebody that’s young and looking to find a girlfriend or whatever, but it’s not like a strong psychological study or anything, which was what I was interested in doing. I am glad I was in it. I was playing a teenager who wanted to have sex, basically. There were a lot of those teen movies in the 80’s.
BEAHM: The series is full of faceless body count characters, essentially. You have stood out of from all the films. Part 4 is such a fan favorite because it goes places the others don’t. Your insecurities, for example…
GLOVER: I don’t remember the nuances of all the characters. I haven’t seen it since it came out.
BEAHM: The film was also famous for it’s effects work…
GLOVER: I was familiar with Tom Savini because I read Fangoria and liked DAWN OF THE DEAD, and knew who he was. I knew he was doing the effects and was glad to work with him.
BEAHM: You had one of the most memorable scenes in it, with the corkscrew, etc. Effects and prep for that?
GLOVER: It was a really simple thing. With the hatchet that goes into my face, I had to act backwards. The hatchet was cut out to match my face, and then he reached in and pulled it out. I had to act as though I was going to see the hatchet come into me. They had one that was glued onto my face with a small syringe that pumped blood out. It wasn’t a complex effect at all. It was more cinematic.
In WHAT IS IT? I use a lot of backwards film. One wouldn’t notice it, but there is a lot of backwards technique.
BEAHM: ORKLY KID is such a strong performance, especially considering your age at the time. The personal moment where he is contemplating suicide…so intense, and then the turnaround at the end for the right reasons. What did that character do for you as an acrtor?
GLOVER: I was still in acting class at the time, in the same school that Sean Penn had gone to. Directors are given a first year and a second year. They can either be invited back the second year or not. The first year they did their project on video, which Sean Penn had done the first year version of ORKLY KID, and he was supposed to come back for the second year, but he was working a lot and didn’t end up doing it. Somebody that had worked on the film suggested I go and audition, not for the part I ended up playing, because that was going to be Sean Penn, but for the friend Merril. I wasn’t supposed to be cast because the director didn’t think I was right for the part I auditioned for. Sean Penn had said something to the director and I went in for that audition and got the part.
I had seen the documentary that the character was based on, and I had seen how Sean Penn had played the role, so there were things I saw about the character that I thought I could bring in from the original fellow, and I am sure there are things Sean Penn did that influenced me. The director wanted me to stay in the mode of the character while on set, because that is something Sean Penn had done. I don’t like to do that because I find it distracting. For me the most important part is concentration on a character when getting into the psychology of it. I want to deal with people on a level where they aren’t going to be weirded out.
It was a well written piece, and I was coming out of a good acting school, and all things about it were positive.
BEAHM: Finding the intensity with the suicide scene, and going to that dark place…there is so much truth in your eyes, face, and sweat that it seems as though that moment was doing something for you outside of just serving the role…
GLOVER: That scene was actually shot in two sequences. There’s the part where I put the gun in my mouth, which was shot before shooting FRIDAY THE 13th. The director was editing the film for eight months or a year, during which I did FRIDAY and TEACHERS. Then there’s a cut to the Olivia Newton John poster, then it comes back to me after having just taken the gun out of my mouth. That was shot for sure after I did FRIDAY THE 13th. That was the only reshoot. The director wanted a specific reaction that wasn’t in the initial footage.
It might seem very much like something personal, which is good, I am glad it comes off like that, but it was manipulated. The director did a good job with that, and he was trying to get specific things.
BEAHM: Has ORKLY KID ever been commercially available?
GLOVER: I made two films with that director, the other being RUBIN AND ED, and not to put a bunch of blame on things, but there are a lot of bootleg situations going on with the film. I talked to Sony a few years back because there is a lot of interest in RUBIN AND ED, but the demand has been lessened because of all the bootlegs out there.
Sony said they would be interested in putting RUBIN AND ED out on an on demand basis, but I know what has happened is that, because the bootlegs have served the public’s interest in it, there hasn’t been a proper negative. What should happen for both of those films is that the negatives should be put into a proper format and digitally formatted. I would love to see both films together on a DVD.
The director put the two films together with the one Sean Penn did, which I think was called the BEAVER KID. There were business elements done at the American Film Institute, contracts that weren’t really stuck with. On some level I don’t really care, but what has, unfortunately, happened, is that all of this has put it in a grey area for the filmmaker where he can’t distribute them legally. I would love to put them out on one disc with a commentary with me and the filmmaker.
BEAHM: On to RIVER’S EDGE…
GLOVER: After BACK TO THE FUTURE came out and made so much money, I felt a certain obligation toward finding material that reflected what my interests were, and that first film was RIVER’S EDGE. It was well written, and Tim Hunter was a really good director. It is one of the corporately distributed and funded films I have been in that I feel really good about.
BEAHM: What was different about it for you? Did you feel more comfortable stepping into that role of Layne than George McFly?
GLOVER: I was comfortable playing both those roles. I had questions about a moral that was in BACK TO THE FUTURE, which ultimately led to me not being in the sequel. When I auditioned for the part, the producer’s had not wanted to give out the entire screenplay, which is relatively normal. You get your sides and you go in and audition. I auditioned with the scene for Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and then they called in Steven Spielberg and he said he laughed. I got the part, but I had not read the whole screenplay.
There is stuff on YouTube that is said to be the screen test for the film with me in old age make-up, but that isn’t the case. That was a make-up test done after I already got the role. When I got the role I had not read the entire screenplay. My agent said I was going to play the part I read for and the older characters as well, and I thought that sounded amazing. Even though I had acted a little bit, I hadn’t acted in a lot of feature films at that point, and I had come from a background of improvisational acting in my school, and having an open dialogue about characters. There are certain aspects about the screenplay that are different than what is in the film, specifically about the end of the film. There was something in it that would be considered a very negative thing that our characters had when they came back to the alternate future and had money.
I said something about it, and I am sure I wasn’t the only person because this negative thing was changed, but I didn’t just stop at that one thing. I felt that I thought it sent a bad message for the characters to come back having the reward of money. I thought what should happen was that the characters should be in love, but as soon as the element of having money came into play, it gave a bad message, and I was vocal about it.
Robert Zemeckis got very angry at me, which was part of what led to me not being in the sequels. There was a lawsuit, because they put a false nose, chin, and cheekbones on an actor and interspliced footage of me from the original film in order to fool audiences into believing I was in it. Because of the lawsuit there are laws in the Screen Actor’s Guild that make it so actors and directors and producers can never do that kind of thing again, so I am proud of that. But, because of that, there have been negative things that have been said, specifically by Bob Gale, who was the writer and co-producer, who was one of the prime architects in this illegal situation. He has been saying things that aren’t true because he wants to justify this illegal action.
He has been saying things like that I asked for the same money that Michael J Fox was getting, which is totally false. It has nothing to do with where I am. He is trying to paint me as this greedy, crazy guy, and he can say I am a crazy guy because I have done these things in media and played some crazy guys, but greed? Nothing I have done in my career before or since BACK TO THE FUTURE has had anything to do with greed.
The message in the original film that I had questions about precisely had to do with that element, it had to do with greed. The reason he has made this up is so that it will make people not think about this illegal thing they did. It was wrong, and it is all about one person, and that person I Bob Gale. I am talking about it now because he has been saying these things about me on DVDs, even recently, and I don’t like it. I have investigated things about the legality of what he is saying, and found that people can make things up about you. Nobody else is saying anything except for him.
Look at IMDB and you will see that after the lawsuit, you can mark it where Bob Gale stopped writing screenplays. Spielberg didn’t have much of an active role in what happened. Bob Gale did. I have better feelings about Robert Zemeckis because I have worked with him again. I had a very positive experience working with him on BEOWULF. Gale stopped working. I think on some level, Bob Gale somehow blames me, even though it was the result of his own doing.
BEAHM: Were you approached for the films?
GLOVER: I was, but they offered me less than half what Leah Thompson and Tom Wilson were making, which my agent didn’t think was right. My negotiations never had anything at all to do with what Michael J Fox was making. What they had offered me was $150,000 for the sequel. Leah Thompson and Tom Wilson were getting way more than double that, so it didn’t make sense. It was apparent that they didn’t really want me in the film, and that if they were going to put me in the film, it had to have some sort of humiliation involved. When you look at the character, he is hung upside down with the idea that he has some sort of back problem. Why would a character be hung upside down if he has a back problem? It doesn’t make any sense. The reason they did it was to bother me, specifically, and they wanted to bother me with physical discomfort and financial discomfort.
When they finally did split it into two different films, they came back saying they would give $125,000. They went down. It wasn’t a negotiation, it was an aggressive act. They didn’t want me there because I had asked questions.
Essentially WHAT IS IT? has a reaction to this element in it. I questioned too much when I was 20 years old. I was naive, I don’t know, but they got really, really pissed. Now I feel like I have to defend it.
Back to the question, other than the moral element, I really enjoyed playing George McFly. I got to play three different psychological elements, and enjoyed working with George Zemeckis. It is subsequent to what happened that is unfortunate.
BEAHM: That must have informed much for you down the road, going into projects. Did that further your resolve to do more independent films
GLOVER: Some of it is self decided, but some of it is when you have a lawsuit and are not in the sequel to a very large film like that, people start to wonder if you’re crazy or if there is something wrong. I knew going into the lawsuit that these were questions that would happen, but I felt like I had to stand up in that situation. It was so egregiously wrong that it would have been wrong for me not to stand up for actors.
People at the time, and still, believe I was in the movie, and I want to get the word out that it wasn’t me, because I wouldn’t have played the character how that actor did. There is no question, it was by far the most unpleasant thing I have dealt with, which is unfortunate because the original film was such a positive thing for me.
If all they had done was take footage of me from the original film for the sequel, that would have been perfectly within their rights. They own George McFly and the footage. What they did not own was my face, and they did not come into an agreement with me to use me or my face.
BEAHM: With RIVER’S EDGE you are moving into grittier, darker territory. Did you enjoy going from George McFly to this kind of character? Get
into the ORKLY KID headspace?
GLOVER: The ORKLY KID was about a real person, and while RIVER’S EDGE was also based on real people, but in a very removed way. There wasn’t a specific person I studied, like with ORKLY KID, where I had videotape of the person I was playing. There was a certain kind of dialect that was written into the screenplay that I found. I employed a strong California accent, because it seemed that would fit the character.
BEAHM: Andy Warhol and THE DOORS. Did you attach yourself to Andy and study him like with ORKLY?
GLOVER: I had met Andy Warhol at Madonna and Sean Penn’s wedding. The girl that I went with went up to Andy Warhol and started talking with him, and I knew who he was and, of course, liked him. Within a month or so of shooting BACK TO THE FUTURE I went to Tennessee and shot AT CLOSE RANGE with Sean Penn, and Christopher Walken. In fact, I missed the cast and crew screening of BACK TO THE FUTURE because I was shooting, so when I got home I paid to go see it. That is the only time I have seen it, actually.
So not too long after that Sean Penn got married to Madonna. Andy Warhol had seen BACK TO THE FUTURE, and the girl I was with at the time came up and said he really liked it and wanted to talk to me. I went up and talked to him a bit, and he was very nice. After we talked I stood back and watched him, remember thinking he would be a good character to play at some point. Within a year or two I heard there was an Andy Warhol role in THE DOORS movie, and Andy had just died. I had met Oliver Stone when I read for PLATOON, and I had my agent get in touch with him, I went and auditioned and got the part.
I was concerned because Andy Warhol is a well known figure, and I think it can be very difficult, especially if an actor is playing an actor, it is almost impossible to make that work. An actor is well known because something about their being. I was the first person to play Andy Warhol in a film.
BEAHM: You are Morrison/Doors fan going into the film?
GLOVER: I knew the Doors music. I tend toward listening to classical music, but liked the Doors music well enough.
BEAHM: On to DEAD MAN and Jim Jarmusch
GLOVER: I sometimes don’t even see the films, but unless there is a big premiere, there are a number of films I haven’t seen. I only saw DEAD MAN in the 90’s when it came out. I just worked on it one day, and ran into Jim Jarmusch at a film festival, and we got to talking, and he mentioned that I had done a lot of improvisation on that one, which I didn’t remember. In retrospect I did, but I often don’t. I usually go very strictly by the script, which is how I came into acting. I am comfortable with improvisation.
BEAHM: WILLARD is magnificent, and judging by documentary on the DVD, it is clear it was a passion project for you.
GLOVER: I had not seen the original 1972 WILLARD until after I was offered the role. I wanted to look at it to see if there was something I could glean from the actor who played Willard, and he was a really good actor and played the role well, but the content of the screenplay and emotional quality of the character was different from with the role I was offered. After that I read RATMAN’S NOTEBOOK, the novel it was based on, as well.
BEAHM: What was it like working with the rats?
GLOVER: It looks like I am dealing with more rats than I actually am. Mostly what I was dealing with were the white rats, which were very well trained, and the one large gambian pouched rat, which I believe isn’t technically a rodent. It was a heavy animal, heavier than a cat, but beautiful.
Most of my work was with the white rats, though. There was one shot where I had three brown rats on my shoulders, and those were the only animals, other than the white rats, on me, and that was when I was coming out of the elevator.
The white rats were exceedingly well trained, and much easier to work with than the dog and the cat in the film. The reason is because a dog and a cat have been bred by humans over however many thousands of years or more, to be domesticated pets that are there for the enjoyment of their human captors and owners. What they have to do, essentially, is wag their tail and look like they like their owners. That’s all they need to do to survive. A rat, on the other hand, has to scurry to find food, has to find patterns to know where food is going to be, and escape in certain situations. A rat can be relatively domesticated and trained, because it has to scurry for it’s food, to do very exacting things.
One scene, for example, was a very emotional one for the character, and one that I was very concerned about. For me, most things are relatively easy
to access, like getting upset, getting irritated, getting uncomfortable or happy. Those things are easy to access. Getting to the point of being tearfully sad, though, is very difficult. I am not a sad or depressive person. Something an acting teacher said to me when I was studying acting was that it is much better to have just a little bit of true emotion than a lot of fake emotion, something I totally agree with.
There were scenes written with tearfulness in them, and I felt it was important to discuss this with the director. If it came to the day when we were to shoot, I suggested it might be better for me to play the sadness at whatever level I was experiencing. The director agreed, saying he just wrote the tearfulness in for the people reading the screenplay to get an idea across, which was good for me because then I wasn’t concerned about the physicality of the tears, and was able to get into the mindset of the character. When the tearfulness actually did happen, it was organically there for the right reasons, and it worked. I explain this because many of the scenes I had that involved tearfulness were with these white rats, and they were genuine acting partners, because they had to make very specific motions, and if those motions weren’t on, I would have had to do all kinds of takes. It is hard for me to get to that point of concentration where it is true and organic. Those rats never once, ever, during the entire time we were filming, made a mistake.
An example would be the suicide scene, where I go into my father’s room, who had killed himself, and I have a white rat, Socrates, on my shoulder, I take out a pocket knife and go to open my vein to kill myself, and the rat runs down my arm and basically stops me from killing myself. There were two rats for the scene. One rat was trained to sit. Only to sit. Another rat was the scurrying rat that was trained specifically to run down the arm and hit the point where the knife was. It was trained for months and months to do this. What had to happen was that the trainer would take off the sitting rat and put in the scurrying rat that goes down to the wrist, and the camera would keep rolling, and I would basically freeze, and then the take would continue. We did two takes, and in both takes the rats did it perfectly.
I remember was had the dog in some kind of suitcase and was supposed to bark or something, and I don’t think it ever did what it was supposed to. The rats were perfect.
BEAHM: SIMON SAYS, where you play Simon and Stanley. Such an over the top type film. What did you find in the script for this?
GLOVER: Often people ask why I chose to act in a particular film, and at this time I was touring and essentially still recouping on my films. If you look at the period around 2010, this was the most I have worked in my entire career, and the reason was that I needed to pay for my films. I needed to work, and this was a part where I knew what I was getting into when I read the script. It struck me that the screenplay was written essentially as a comedy. There were punchlines, there were jokes. I didn’t see it playing as a scary movie.
We were talking earlier about FRIDAY THE 13th and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and the structure is essentially the same: you have young people in a secluded area and a psychotic person wants to kill them. The difference is I am playing these two personalities, two psychologies. It was not written as a true psychological study of these characters. It was written broadly, like a comedy. I don’t see how it could be played as a serious psychological understanding of these characters. I had to play that which was written.
It is a funny juxtaposition of genres. I believe it was sold as a slasher film, or whatever, but I am not sure it is the correct way to look at it, at least from my perspective. I haven’t seen the entire film. I saw it when I was doing sound for it, and I could see essentially how it played and worked. I didn’t think it was anything that would make people afraid.
I had a fun time playing the characters. Stanley, in particular, was much more gruff than characters I often play. There is that adage of play tragedy like comedy and play comedy like tragedy.
BEAHM: WIZARD OF GORE – had you seen the original before playing Montag?
GLOVER: No, it was another one where, after the business was taken care of, I went back to the original to see if there was anything I could take from
the actor, but like with WILLARD, it was a different kind of character than what was in the screenplay I was reading.
BEAHM: What was the experience like? It was a lower budget film for you, right?
GLOVER: It was fun. They shot my stuff in the first week of shooting, which is always a nice time to shoot because, especially on low budget films, if there is ever going to be trouble, it is going to be in the third week. On week one everybody is fresh, and I liked working with everyone on that.
BEAHM: How much of what you did to the girls were you doing on stage and how much in post?
GLOVER: I haven’t seen the whole film, but while shooting I was dealing with insides and such. Despite the title, I didn’t think I dealt with a lot of gore, so to speak.
Something in the original film that I thought was quite effective was that, it looked to me like whatever they were using for organs were actually from an animal. A cow or something. That gave it a particularly visceral quality. What I was working with was rubber.
My favorite David Cronenberg film is VIDEODROME, and there is an aspect to WIZARD OF GORE that has to do with reality being broken into a different reality. That, to me, was what was effective about the screenplay in the original. It doesn’t seem to me like it was brought so much into the version I was in. I would imagine David Cronenberg was influenced by HG Lewis. There’s something about VIDEODROME that is reminiscent of that non-reality-within-non-reality that has to do with television.
BEAHM: What do you bring that so many directors, producers, and casting agents have found over the years?
GLOVER: It depends. Sometimes, and I just had this happen on this film I did during the summer, it is well known that you are not the first choice. I was a later choice for FREAKY DEAKY.
BEAHM: William Macy, right?
GLOVER: It seems unlikely that there was a contract made up. I think perhaps the producers were being a little overzealous. It wasn’t just my character, but every single character had been replaced at some point or another, which is a strange way to go about publicity. There are aspects to the character that make sense for me to play.
You never know what it is somebody is after you for.
Once you are cast in a character, you are it. This is something I learned in an acting class that has some real truth in it.
Something we didn’t talk about much was with Eric Stoltz and BACK TO THE FUTURE. I shot for six weeks with a completely different actor playing the main role. I shot most of my scenes with a different actor, so it does happen that people are replaced, but it is very rare.
Essentially, when you play a character you are it, and nobody wants to get rid of you. William Macy is a great actor, and he would have been really good in this part, but I had no feeling about not being right for the part. I never had any second thoughts about it. You’ve just got to go in. You’ve got to do it.
More on Crispin at CrispinGlover.com
FROM THE ARCHIVES is a series where I share the full transcript from an interview done for a magazine, or share articles that haven’t yet seen publication.