Q&A: Crispin Glover on “WHAT IS IT?,” Artistic Aspiration and Past Roles


Beloved by horror fans for the sensitive undertones he supplied to such characters as Jimmy in FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER and the title role in the remake of WILLARD, the eclectic Crispin Glover has also applied his unique touch to such fields as literature and music. A celebrated filmmaker, as well, Glover will be appearing in Chicago this weekend for a screening of his film, WHAT IS IT? In anticipation of the event, Glover took a moment to chat with FANGORIA about his past work and the effects he hopes his creations have on the public.

FANGORIA: Do the things that inspired you to become a creative artist still inspire you today? Or do you find your fascinations have changed over time?

CRISPIN GLOVER: I aspire to continue to evolve as an artist in general and as a filmmaker specifically. My sense is that I tend to react to existing circumstances and create something out of those circumstances in a way that is artistically satisfying.

FANG: Then can you describe what motivated you to move behind the camera for your incredibly unique, truly remarkable films WHAT IS IT? and IT IS FINE. EVERYTHING IS FINE?

GLOVER: Thank you for the compliment! 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 filmmaking. 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 its 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 of this culture’s media. I would like people to think for themselves.

FANG: Your performances are always so authentic, whether the context is serious drama or outlandish horror. Do you approach each acting role with the same set of guidelines or does it vary based upon the project?

GLOVER: Thank you! There are many ways to approach characters and rules are of course meant to be broken. An adage I tend to stick with is “Play comedy like tragedy and tragedy like comedy.” That can work often to good effect, but one has to be sensitive as to what the element of tragedy or comedy is. Sometimes going by that rule can get an actor in trouble with people, but I tend to think it is a valuable adage. There are of course many ways to approach things. For the most part I was trained with Stanislavsky-based concepts and ultimately, reading his work gives a tremendous understanding of how good acting can be attained. Of course there is more than just reading, but his books are truly great to refer to and well written, as well.

1535023_10153746431050436_1631956105_nFANG: Most horror fans feel like tiny outsiders in a large arena of normalcy. Therefore, your compassionate, truly accurate portrayal of Jimmy in FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER retains a special place in our hearts. Have you thought much about those truly sensitive underpinnings that draw audiences to horror and exploitation films?

GLOVER: A lot of the characters I have played I look at as assignments. This does not mean I do not enjoy my assignments, but I think it in a certain way is the best way to think about it. I say this because I chose the profession of acting at a young age. My father, Bruce Glover, is an actor and my mother Betty Glover retired as a dancer and actress when I was born. My parents were not rich by any means. I grew up in a middle class household. I have no complaints about that. We were not poor but not rich either. Of course that is comparative to the US. Most people in the US are certainly rich compared to certain cultures so it is important to remain grateful for that. In any case, I grew up knowing I needed to make my own living and that essentially once I turned 18 I was on my own financially. I moved out when I was 18 and never moved back home. Luckily I started to work a fair amount in films at that age and was able to support myself.

When FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER came along I was nervous about money. When I moved out of my parents’ house I had saved $10,000 from the work I had done from age 13- 18. My funds were getting low right before that film. I was contemplating making a comedy act to go perform at standup houses. My thoughts about standup were not so much about telling jokes, but more conceptual in its approach. In any case I auditioned for the role of Jimmy and got it. I was relieved to be paid and glad to do the work. I thought it would be funny at some point in my career that I had been in the film. It is interesting that because of being part of that franchise, it is a film that people still ask me about.

FANG: WILLARD (pictured, top) and THE WIZARD OF GORE were re-imaginings of successful films. When you were preparing for those projects, did you view the originals or did you steer away from them in the hopes of creating something unique?

GLOVER: I had not seen either film when I was offered those roles. I watched both of the films to see if there were elements of the performances that would be good for me to utilize. When I watched the original WILLARD, I could see that Bruce Davison is an excellent actor and that he gave an excellent performance in the film. The screenplay I had read was quite different tonally from the original film and there was an emotional arc to the character that was dissimilar to the emotional arc of the character that I was to play. Therefore, it did not make sense to take elements of Bruce Davison’s performance. That being said I am glad to have played the character and I am proud of the emotional work that was what most of my concentration for the duration of the shoot was about.

With WIZARD OF GORE I thought there were interesting structural elements in the original movie that I recommended to be reinstated, but that did not happen. The character was a fun sort of hammy part to play, being that the character was an illusionist as opposed to a magician. I had spoken to a professional magician about this and he let me know that for the most part there are large distinctions between illusionists and magicians. Magicians tend to work with cards, coins, cigarettes and alcohol kind of tricks in closer bar like quarters. Illusionists tend to work on stage with a lot of special effects, special costumes and animals. In any case I went for something that was a little bit based on Siegfried and Roy. I had met them backstage once with Werner Herzog and his wife after seeing the show which the tickets Anchor Bay had made available for the celebration of the Herzog DVDs, which I had asked some questions to Herzog in the commentary of EVEN DWARVES STARTED SMALL and FATA MORGANA. Both of those films had strong influence on my first film WHAT IS IT? in various ways.  People who are interested should join up on the e mail list at CrispinGlover.com as they will be emailed with information as to where I will be where with whatever film I tour with.

FANG: The list of directors (Arthur Hiller, Gus Van Sant, David Lynch, Neil LeBute, and Jim Jarmusch) that you have worked with reads like a Who’s Who of American cinema. Is there one, in particular, that truly assisted in your growth as an artist?

GLOVER: There are also some great non American directors I have had the privilege of working with, like John Boorman, Lasse Hallstrom and Milos Forman. Both David Lynch and Werner Herzog have been very kind to me in different ways and I am grateful to the particular kindness they have shown towards me. It is extremely valuable to have been an admirer of these two filmmakers from a young age and gotten to know them in a different ways. They are both great filmmakers and great people and I am grateful to them both. For the great directors that I have worked with in general, the key commonality with all of them is true enthusiasm for the film they are making at the time. That is something that is absolute.

Crispin Glover will appear at the historic Patio Theatre (6008 Irving Park Road) in Chicago on Friday, February 7th, at 7 PM. Glover will perform Part 1 of his one hour dramatic narration of eight of his illustrated projected books, also known as CRISPIN HELLION GLOVER’S BIG SLIDE SHOW, PART ONE. He will, also, present  Part 1 of his IT trilogy WHAT IS IT? and conduct a Q&A and a book signing. Tickets are $20, for more info, visit Facebook and The Patio Theatre.

For New York area readers: Crispin Glover will also present IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE and WHAT IS IT? at the Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers on Friday, February 22 and Saturday, February 23. You can find all details here.

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