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Q&A: Crispin Hellion Glover: An online exclusive interview

An online exclusive interview


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

By Drew Fortune

It’s exhausting being Crispin Hellion Glover. While his latest focus may be presenting the traveling roadshow of What is It?, his trilogy of surreal, experimental films featuring mentally and physically handicapped actors, Glover has spent his entire career perpetuating the belief that he is — for lack of a better definition — really, really weird. The New York native has lent his trademark weirdness to mainstream fare (Back to the Future, Charlie’s Angels and the recent Beowulf) to brief but memorable cameos in The Doors as Andy Warhol and as the lovably perverted Cousin Dell in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. There is an endearing quality in Glover’s performances, one that’s kept him in the public consciousness after all these years and landed him a rabid cult following. Glover owns his weirdness and eccentricities with an earnestness that is palpable in his performances. Whereas someone like David Arquette flashes his “uniqueness” like a hyperactive peacock, Glover is quietly and consistently himself. I spoke with Glover before his three-night What Is It? presentation at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, and began by asking what the film is all about.

“The films go beyond the realm of what is considered good and evil,” Glover said. “Most corporately funded films, especially in the last 30 years, fit within a realm of easily defined good and evil. Any element that can be considered a good or a wrong thing is pointed out to the audience, so that the filmmaker leaves nothing to be considered or determined, and any other way of thinking about the evil thing is not acceptable. With a film that goes beyond that realm, the bad or evil thing will not be pointed out by the filmmaker, so the audience can have an educational experience and is thinking for themselves.”

Glover’s latest film, the second entry in the What Is It? trilogy, is It is Fine! Everything is Fine, a psychological exploration into the repressed id of screenwriter Steven C. Stewart, himself a victim of severe cerebral palsy who died a month after principal photography had finished. The film was a cathartic release for Stewart, the 62-year-old man who spent his entire life bound to a wheelchair and whose speech was nearly unintelligible. It is Fine is a fictional account of the fevered fantasy life of a handicapped man named Paul, played by Stewart, who acts out his sexual frustrations, desires, rage and humanity through his dreams. Since Stewart’s speech and actions are completely hindered by his disease, there is no separation between the physical qualities of Paul and Stewart. What we learn about Paul is limited — the film opens with him sprawled on the floor of a nursing home after he has fallen out of his wheelchair. From that point on, the film is fixed in fantasy, as Paul submerses himself in a world where girls understand his every word and embrace him as a sexual being. It is also a dark place filled with fetish (he has a thing for girls with long hair) and murder. In Paul’s fantasy, he is literally a lady-killer.

“It was absolutely necessary that Steve play the part he wrote for himself,” Glover said. “And it’s impossible for anyone to attack the film as exploitation since it was written by Stewart, who is a handicapped rights activist. It’s a different point of view of the handicapped because he’s playing a villain. His mentality was, ‘Why can’t I play a bad guy?’ At the Sundance premiere, my co-director David Brothers and I joked that Steve forced us to make the movie. He’s a very compelling man and I felt when I read the script in 1986, I knew it was a film that I had to produce. If Steve had died before we got to make the film, I wouldn’t have felt regret, I would have felt like I had done something wrong, that I had done a bad thing. During filming, Steve was starting to choke on his own saliva. After six months of filming, he was on life support and wanted to know if we had enough footage to finish the film. It was a very sad day and a heavy responsibility to tell him that we did have enough. I know that if I had said to him that we didn’t have enough footage, he would have stayed alive to finish the film, and there’s no doubt about that.”

Through his roles in corporately funded films, Glover has been able to self-finance the What Is It? trilogy. He explained that he doesn’t harbor any animosity toward the Hollywood system, or the film that made him a star.

Back to the Future was a very good film for my career. At this point in time I’m working in corporately funded films to finance the films I’m passionate about. When Back to the Future came out, I felt a certain obligation in trying to find films that were reflective of my personal interests. Apart from River’s Edge, I really didn’t find any — and the ones I did find didn’t really make any money and didn’t help my acting career. After Charlie’s Angels, I was offered more roles in mainstream films, and since I was able to put the money I made from the film directly into Everything is Fine, it’s really changed the way I take on roles. However, the bolder roles I took in non-mainstream films helped carve out a certain curiosity in the public about me, and were reflective of the fact that I was interested in things that were a little more unusual.”

Viewing his presentation, which includes an hour-long slideshow while he reads from several of his books, it becomes clear that Glover has found the ideal vehicle to express his unique worldview. And with It is Fine, he feels he has created his masterpiece.

“I felt it was important to present Stewart’s screenplay in a succinct, opulent way that didn’t interfere with its inherently naïve and beautiful vision. I don’t like to play favorites, but I do feel that this is not only the best film in the trilogy, but is the best film I’ll have anything to do with in my career.”

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