Crispin Glover is still perhaps most remembered as the geeky, gawky Layne from River’s Edge, the geeky, gawky dad from Back To The Future, and the silent badass from the Charlie’s Angels movies. But in spite of a lengthy roll of prominent film credits—most recently including memorable roles in Tim Burton’s unmemorable Alice In Wonderland and a hilarious role in the generally non-hilarious Hot Tub Time Machine—his heart has never been in Hollywood. He’s far more invested in his own filmmaking, and the tours that take him around the country to present his work directly to audiences.
This week, Glover shopped in Chicago to give critics a preview of his touring show, which consists of a slideshow performance and live reading of several of his books—mostly arty cut-up creations, edited together from turn-of-the-century public-domain found books—followed by one of his two films, then an audience Q&A that lasts between 45 and 90 minutes, then a book-signing where he tries to talk to all comers. It’s an intimate, personal evening with his fans, unusual for a movie star, but Glover is committed to his evangelism about what he feels art should be, and if that means convincing fans one at a time, in person, so be it. (Glover will be presenting his slideshow and films at the Music Box Theater in Chicago on Friday, January 13 and Saturday, January 14. Tickets and details are available here; a periodically updated schedule of his show, which he’s been touring since 2006, is available at his website.)
After the show, Glover sat down with The A.V. Club and instantly launched into an explanation of how his touring over the years has finally allowed him to break even on his two films, What Is It? and It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. From there, the conversation stretched into everything from the future of indie cinema to Back To The Future.
Crispin Glover: All I needed to do was recoup what I spent for both of the films, which meant, “Okay, now I can justify making another film of my own.”
The A.V. Club: Even if it takes another seven years to recoup that one as well?
CG: Well, the thing was, to be fair, it was six years, one of those wasn’t a full touring year—really, five years to recoup on two films. Which is really two and a half years apiece. Also, my touring is a little more together. And I own property in the Czech Republic with the concept that I’d like to shoot the films on sets. Part of the reason I’d like to shoot in the Czech Republic is so I could build my sets, and keep the property. I learned it from Everything Is Fine, because those sets had to be destroyed a week after the film was finished. I was thinking I could repurpose the sets for another production sometime later, which brings production cost down. That’s when I realized I had to buy my property somewhere I like that isn’t too expensive, and that ended up being the Czech Republic. So I purchased the property there. I’ve just started building sets for my next production. It won’t be part three of the trilogy, It Is Mine. I’ve been developing three screenplays simultaneously that can be shot essentially on the same sets with slightly different differentiations, so it’ll still have strong production value, and [be] cinematically worth screening, like these ones are.
AVC: The first of those is a film you’re planning to act in alongside your father, is that right?
CG: Yes, that’s the one I am building all the sets for. It’s actually a pretty big production, but it’s actually good to build all the sets for that one first and then the other ones. I can make films less expensively, and faster.
AVC: Are those films also going to be connected, as a conceptual trilogy?
CG: There was a concept in my mind, but I don’t know that I’ll publicly call it a trilogy. What the original concept was, each one of the works—part of how I could make it less expensively is that I’d have small casts. I shouldn’t go into too much detail about it, but that’s changed, because the cast became larger. There was kind of a concept about how many people would be in the cast, but that’s changed. So they might feel similar to each other on some methodological level, but the films themselves may differ thematically from each other. Whereas all of the films of the trilogy—I won’t get to It Is Mine for many years, but when I do, it will be clear there was a consistent thematic element in all three of those films. Also, because I’ve been working on it so long, since ’96, I want to step away from it. I’m very passionate about the thematic elements in all of the films, ultimately, but I’ve been dealing with it for so long, it’s like, I want to think about some other things for a while.
AVC: Can you describe the trilogy’s theme? Without the third film in place, it’s hard to find the through-line.
CG: Well, I’m hesitant to talk about the theme until part three comes to its final fruition, but it’ll become apparent. I do need to hesitate for various reasons. It’s important to keep that. But it will be evident.
AVC: You’ve been presenting your slideshow and films since 2006. How has your presentation evolved since you first started doing it?
CG: I first did the show in ’93—not the show you saw today. The Land Of Sunshine is my most recently developed book, and I did that because I have two separate shows now. I do one show before What Is It? and a newer show that I do before It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine., when I show them on subsequent nights, because I knew I could have two separate audiences. What really helped the new slideshow is The Land Of Sunshine, which is a good book. You can even feel it—it was the only book that was developed as a performance piece, not as a book. All the rest were physical books I took and reworded. The reason I have the books is because I started them as things for myself and friends to enjoy. I first published Rat Catching in 1988. It wasn’t the first book I made, but it was the first book I published. When I first published it, people said, “You have to have a book reading,” but I knew that if I just stood and I read the book without the images—the images are part of the story.
I made about 20 of these books altogether, but I picked eight. Some of them wouldn’t work, because they were just art objects, and they’re physical things you look at and handle, so they didn’t have the proper kind of narrative quality that would work for this. Others were much longer and wordier, and I knew that it was important to have a certain kind of humor. Anyhow, I picked the right books for the first slideshow. The first time I ever did it, it worked perfectly. I’ve never changed the show once. The same show that I performed in ’93 is exactly what I now call “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slideshow Part 1,” and I always perform that before What Is It? But if I’m only showing Everything Is Fine, I perform that show before it too. What has changed is, when I first started doing it, it was probably more of a reading, and now it’s more of a dramatic performance. The content of the initial show hasn’t changed at all.
AVC: You don’t really give people time to process, or applaud between segments.
CG: I keep it at a pace, because there are a lot of words. The pace is fast.
AVC: That makes the show very hypnotic, because there’s no time to think. Do you mean for that to be part of the presentation?
CG: Every performance is different from the next. [This time] I might have been thinking, “Okay, don’t pause, and just go for it,” because I knew there was some time constraint. But it’s generally fast. Sometimes I’ll take more time. Also, it has to do with the audience interaction. This was a press screening, and press screenings—there is no reaction. When I do the show, people applaud, people laugh, this sort of thing. So you know, between every book, I always kind of give a motion to the book, and the people applaud. So, there is a pause for that—a few seconds—and then I always know to start the next book on the decline of the applause. It is actually pretty timed out, and some of those are standard things that are known for performers. I don’t even know how I knew that. You don’t wait until the applause ends; you do it on the decline. But in this case, I know there’ll be no applause, so I just go, because there’s no such thing as decline. You can feel an audience. It feels better for me, if it’s going to be a silent audience, to barrel through. If you’ve paused too much, especially in a quiet audience, it feels like you’re trying to milk something from the audience. At the same time, there’s a lot of material.
AVC: Talking about your unconscious sense of performance tricks—there seem to be elements of revival preaching, bedtime stories for children, hypnotist presentations—
CG: What were the hypnotist elements?
AVC: Just the way there are images flashing quickly across, and you’re reading some of the text, but not all of it. It becomes mesmerizing.
CG: Good—I’m glad to hear that.
AVC: Are you bringing in those performance elements on purpose?
CG: Well, that’s why I asked about the hypnotist one, because that wasn’t something that I’ve ever thought about. The other two, the children’s-story element is definitely a character. Actually, it wasn’t even in one of the books that I performed. One that I didn’t perform today that’s in the first slideshow, called The Son Of Mother. It’s very much performed like a children’s book, and I didn’t do that in this show. But The Backward Swing was taken from a children’s book, so that one has that quality as well. The preacher-like element, there’s some things that have to do with a religious tonality in the writing.
AVC: The slideshow comes across as a series of non-sequiturs, but it’s natural to try to find ways to interpret it as a narrative. Is it a narrative for you?
CG: Well, it depends on how you break it down. Certainly there are different books; each of them are short stories. So each of the books have a narrative. Some of them are more what I would call a standard hero’s-journey story structure, and some of them are less like that. Rat Catching is less like that. Concrete Inspection is a pretty standard hero’s journey, and so is Round My House. They’re strange books, but I’m particularly proud of the structure of Round My House, and I’ve been a very strong student of Joseph Campbell and the hero’s-journey story-structure archetypes. That’s the next book I need to publish. Rat Catching, on the other hand, is really the only one that has a quality that is essentially similar on some levels to the original novel. The original Rat Catching had no images in it whatsoever. You can find the book online—the original book. But you can see that the fellow who wrote it had a sense of humor, even though it was an instructional manual about rat-catching.
But how I’ve changed it—it is different from the original book, but it’s less different than most of the other books. All of the other books essentially either have nothing to do with what the original book was about, or so little that you wouldn’t be able to recognize it at all. Whereas Rat Catching, I would be really interested if the guy who wrote it… I was just thinking about that, actually, [Laughs.] when I was performing it onstage. I’d never had that thought before. I thought it’d be interesting to have whoever wrote it see me do this. Something tells me he’d like it, ’cause he’d recognize things. Any other person that wrote any of the other books, they would not recognize the book at all.
AVC: How do you find these old, out-of-print books? Do you read and reject many of them to find the ones you use?
CG: No, I haven’t made any of these books, except for Land Of Sunshine, since the ’80s, but all those images are early-’90s; [they] were images I collected in Land Of Sunshine. I collected those in the ’80s and early ’90s. I would just regularly go into old bookstores and [pick] whatever caught my eye. Rat Catching… I used to live off of Hollywood Boulevard, and there was an antique bookstore, and I saw it—I had already made a number of books. I started that one in 1984, not too long before I did Back To The Future. I would just find them. Essentially, that energy has gone into my own scriptwriting and filmmaking, but I should make the books again. I love doing them, but I have catch-up work to do. I’ve got to publish all of these other books, and I can see if I end up continuing touring this way that I am.
I don’t know, I wouldn’t mind if my own interests intersected with corporate interests. Sometimes I’ll have concern about the lack of questions that are going on in corporately funded and distributed films. I feel that there’s a waxing and a waning of corporate control. Stanley Kubrick is somebody I greatly admire, and he not only was working in a corporate system, he was working in the studio system, and those are some of the most incredibly beautifully, cinematically questioning, thoughtful films ever made. So I could foresee that there might be a time when my own interests will align with corporate interests, but I think there’s a waxing of control right now in corporate media. The corporate interests do not want questions to be happening.
AVC: The last time we talked, a lot of the conversation was about your ongoing interests in there someday being a countercultural film movement—
CG: Yeah, if I used the word “counterculture,” that was a long time ago, because I stopped using that in 2006. I made a conscious decision not to use the word, because essentially, it is etymologically incorrect. Now if I’m going to define it specifically, I say I desire to make films that go beyond the realm of that which is considered good and evil. It’s a better definition, because “countercultural” is slang, really, and it’s hard to define exactly what that means.
AVC: When you present Everything Is Fine, and you do the Q&A afterward, do you find that people want to ask you to define the actions in the film in terms of good and evil, to tell them whether the protagonist, Paul, is a villain or the hero?
CG: Yeah, I just had a show in Nashville, and it was really curious because a person in the audience specifically said to me… I think she was studying [theology] in college, and she said that she couldn’t see—I’m not going to word it the way she worded it, but it was something to the effect of, “The elements of good and evil—define it.” This was after What Is It? I asked her, “Are you asking me that because it’s something you’ve read that I’ve said, or is it from something else?” She said it was from her studies. It was interesting to me, because it’s a purposeful thought process. And the way I describe “that which is beyond good and evil” is—Kubrick isn’t like this, but in the last 30 years, if a film is going to be corporately distributed, if there’s something that’s going to be considered a “bad” thing within the film, an “evil” thing, a corporately funded and distributed filmmaker must point to that thing so the audience understands that the filmmaker feels it’s evil. And that that’s the way the audience must feel about that thing. Basically, they’re dictated to, and they understand that all the filmmakers feel that way as well.
AVC: Which goes back at least to the Hays Code, where there were a long list of requirements for that kind of thing.
CG: I had a long conversation with the person I was talking to before. I can kind of tell she was in disagreement with me. I feel there’s a strong propaganda. It’s essentially calculated, but it’s a very strange way that it works in our culture, and it’s hard to define. But I read this book just about two years ago that made me understand things much more clearly, a book called Propaganda. I can tell when people are working in that propagandist system, and the only way to work in it is to believe it, to believe that that’s accurate. And if you’re talking to somebody that believes that that’s inaccurate, then you’re dissenting, and then that’s difficult.
But in any case, this book, it was written by Edward Bernays in 1928. Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. He understood that his uncle’s understanding of the subconscious would be utilizable by the U.S. government, academia, and media, in order for corporate interests to fool the underclass into believing what they were doing was good for themselves, when actually what they were doing was good for business interests. I’ve realized recently, this Occupy movement is very related to what I’ve been doing for these past years. What they’re specifically reacting to is the banking interests that are having influence, essentially through bribery, on the U.S. government. The U.S. Supreme Court said business interests can give any amount of money to—it’s the definition of bribery. And of course it’s going to have terrible, strong influence. How is it not incredibly obvious that it’s got to stop? That Occupy movement is rightfully reacting to that.
What I’m reacting to—it’s essentially the same thing. Corporate interests have total control, essentially, over what films are made and distributed. When people hear the word “propaganda,” they think communism, or Nazism. But the way U.S. propaganda works is, you have banking interests that loan money to these $100 million movies through these studio systems. In the ’60s and ’70s, there was something else going on—there was a waning of control, and the people hired to say, “Yes, we’re going to make this film,” were okay, for whatever reason, with that waning going on. But in the ’80s, something definitely changed. The people that were saying yes to those kinds of films stopped working, and same thing with the distribution elements. There were new people hired, and those people understood—it wasn’t necessarily a dictation that was handed out, but whoever was doing the hiring understood that people would be hired who were going to help fund films that were good for the corporate interests. Not good for people, but good for the corporate interests. And it was the same with the distribution.
What those corporate interests want is, they don’t want to be questioned. They know if they’re educating the populace at large, they’ll end up being questioned. Which is what should be happening right now, and that’s what that Occupy movement is reacting to. It’s specifically political, but I can feel that this has happened in terms of art. People don’t realize that the films they’re watching are being corporately funded, and are essentially making it so the U.S. populace is not being thoughtful, and not being of the mindset that will question things in general.
AVC: So is your job as a filmmaker to get people asking questions by presenting stories where the morality is unclear?
CG: The books I made, most of those books were made in the ’80s or early ’90s. I was reacting emotionally at that time; it wasn’t an intellectual thing. I didn’t make those things for public presentation; those were for my friends. So I wasn’t doing this to be an advocate for what I’m talking about right about now. But I’m realizing I was working properly as an artist, or whatever you want to call it, as somebody that naturally was inquisitive. When I started acting in the film industry when I was 16 years old, in 1980, I was going to all the revival theaters in Los Angeles. They were playing mostly films from the ’60s and ’70s, some from the early ’20s and ’30s, before that Hays commission. Those films did question things a lot, and there definitely was a switch in 1934. You know about it, a lot of people don’t know about it. But you can see very distinctly in 1934, it’s harder to understand what the real culture was. Films made before 1934, you can really kind of see the racism, sexism, drug use, etc. that was going on at that time. And then it was all stopped.
I feel like the control that happened in the 1980s, I feel that was related to the control that happened after the Vietnam War. The U.S. government specifically did not want protests going on, and all of those wars in the Middle East that started happening in the 1980s, they were completely different kinds of media representation. When I was growing up, it was horrifying what was going on in Vietnam, and there were all these protests. And of course, the media knew, or rather the U.S. government knew, they did not want protests. So they stopped it. They stopped any media situations, from people being able to question, and they were able to wage wars. Something very similar happened in the films that were being made. I was thinking, “What are these questions that are being asked?” I wanted to be part of this movement of questioning. And although it’s many years later, that’s where What Is It? ended up emotionally coming from. It took me a while to define it—because of the way What Is It? specifically works, it’s open to interpretations, it’s open to questions, even from myself. But at the same time, I can tell emotionally that’s what I was reacting to, and it’s proper. That’s why it’s interesting to me that—I mean, the film is old. Not only did I not start showing it until 2005, I started making it in 1996. So it’s really old, and yet it’s still pertinent. And that’s something I like about both of the films. People come back and see the shows multiple times, but even without that, it’s equally pertinent.
AVC: When people ask questions at the screenings, do they engage on this level? Do you have people who just show up and want to talk about Alice In Wonderland or Back To The Future?
CG: The norm is, because of the strength of the imagery and what’s going on, it’s almost like there’s an elephant sitting in the room. People generally are compelled to ask questions about the film. I have a rule for myself, when people ask whatever question they’re going to ask, to be complete and sincere about the answers. I’ll spend a lot of time. But generally, the thing I spend the most time on is if somebody gets upset about something. That’s the one I’ll really, really focus on. But that being said, I focus on every question thoroughly. So there’s probably at least five or six hours of material that I could go through every night, but it just depends on the mode and mood of the audience as to which material I end up going into.
Every once in a while, I’ll get a question I’ve never gotten before. It actually happened just the other day—somebody asked a question about a line, and I never really knew exactly what he was saying. In What Is It?, one of the characters says, “The King Of Eye works for me.” Which is very strange, because it was improvised by the actor. And at one point, he’s wearing an eye—it’s a Freemason sign, and I have it a couple of times in the film. I’ve been reviewing it in my mind, because it was very strange. I didn’t write it. He improvised it, it was interesting, I left it in the film. So there are things that I’ll realize every once in a while, and that’s six years into touring.
AVC: You’ve said in the past that you’ve made these films from an emotional place, but you’ve come to a more clinical, detached place with them. Does part of that come out of taking them to people and analyzing them over and over again like this, line by line?
CG: To be fair, the analytical part of it happened while I was editing it, but it’s continually further in the past, so I can analyze things more, which is interesting to me. It means, to me, it’s even working for my own self. There are things that on some level—like, I’ll be watching Everything Is Fine! more readily than I’ll watch What Is It?, because everything in What Is It? has a very specific meaning personally to me, because I wrote it an edited it completely. Everything Is Fine!, I didn’t write, and I co-edited it, so there’s a bit more of a distance. There are things that [Everthing Is Fine! writer-star Steven C. Stewart] wrote that are mysterious to me, so I can become a little more lost in it. And yet at the same time, as it gets further in the past from What Is It?, there are things about it that may be mysterious to my own self, which means there’s a proper element of the subconscious that’s coming forth. That’s what’s interesting to me, where people will point things out.
There was another thing somebody pointed out, about the correlation between Everything Is Fine! and my character in Charlie’s Angels. I did utilize the funding from the first Charlie’s Angels film to fund Everything Is Fine! [In Charlie’s Angels], I take hair, I rip hair out of the girls’ heads [as a trophy]. That wasn’t in the screenplay. And of course Steve’s movie has much to do with long hair. He has a severe interest—you could call it a fetish. And my character in Charlie’s Angels, again, is a similar thing. But it came about totally organically, the way that that came into the film.
Oh, I know what it was that somebody pointed out. This was at a recent screening. Steve is difficult to understand. The character in Charlie’s Angels, when I read the script, had lines. And I requested that the character not say anything, which happened. I never really thought about that correlation, but somebody pointed it out recently. There’s a kind of strange correlation there. But that’s subconscious stuff, I feel like.
AVC: You’ve said in the past that you don’t try to insert your own morals and your thoughts on film much into your mainstream work, because the filmmakers wouldn’t be open to that.
CG: I’ve ceased to do it, because it’s not—I have to look at it myself as an actor, as a craftsperson. If I tried to make a career out of working on films that morally or even thematically or aesthetically aligned to my own interests, I wouldn’t work! So that’s why it really shifted when I funded Everything Is Fine! with Charlie’s Angels. After Back To The Future came out, I felt a certain obligation—that film had made so much money—toward finding films that somehow psychologically reflected what my interests were.
River’s Edge was the first film I acted in after Back To The Future had come out. And that’s a film I am proud of. That one, I feel like it’s a good film. It’s a film that I like cinematically. Subsequent to that, even if I was working with good actors or good directors or things that were interesting about the characters, I can’t say the films necessarily reflected my psychology. They didn’t necessarily make that much money, and that wasn’t necessarily that good for my acting career. But I don’t regret it, because there was a certain kind of persona that got etched out at that time period, which still serves me basically at this point in time. But I realized that… When Charlie’s Angels came out, it did well financially. That was good for my acting career. And I realized I needed to switch the way I was thinking about it. And I needed to basically make as much money as I could as an actor to fund my own films. Definitely for 10 years, for the decade of the early 2000s, that’s how I ran things. Actually, it was just two years ago that I became a little more particular, right after Wonderland came out. And I didn’t work for, I think it was two years. So I just shot Freaky Deaky last year, and it was a very strange thing that I kept getting offered. It wasn’t something I had done before. It wasn’t that acting was something I was trying to get away from. [Rejecting film work] was a new thing, and I really didn’t like it. There were four or even five films that I turned down that had weird a correlation from one to the next, and I did not like what was happening. I didn’t work for a long time, and it was good money, so I stepped away for a while. And I need to work—it’s not like I can just sit back and not, so I’m glad that I worked last year.
AVC: Do you feel personal qualms about being in a Charlie’s Angels or an Alice In Wonderland, where you’re clearly forwarding that kind of good-vs.-evil dichotomy you worry about?
CG: Well, yeah. It started with Back To The Future. That was the film that I still have questions about. Essentially what led to me not being in the sequels—I haven’t talked about it a lot until recently. The reason I’m starting to talk about it, specifically, there’s a person named Bob Gale who was a co-producer and co-writer on it who’s been lying about me, as to why I wasn’t in the second film. He’s been saying that I asked for the same salary that Michael J. Fox was getting. Total fabrication. The reason he’s making that up is because he does not want to talk about what he did that was—he is probably the prime architect as to that illegal thing that happened. [Glover won a landmark lawsuit over use of his likeness when the filmmakers replaced him with previously shot footage and an actor in prosthetics for the sequel. —ed.]
The reason that that happened, essentially—it’s more complex than this, but when we were working on the first Back To The Future, Michael J. Fox wasn’t the original actor. It was Eric Stoltz. He was fired right before Christmas vacation. We had shot about six weeks. I’d shot most of my character with Eric Stoltz playing it. And the last thing that we shot with Eric Stoltz was the alternate return to the future. In the original screenplay, I won’t say what it was, but there was a slightly different element in the ending. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only person that said something about it, because it did get changed. But I said, “Look, if we have this in our characters, if this happens, it will not be liked by people at large.” They did change that element. But I went on beyond it, because it was related to this subject matter. I had a conversation with Robert Zemeckis about it and I said, “I think if the characters have money [in the updated timeline at the end of the film], if our characters are rich, it’s a bad message. That reward should not be in there.” People love the movie, and of course who am I to say—I was 20 years old, though. And again, I was stepping into it from a time period of questioning. But Robert Zemeckis got really angry. Essentially, he did not like that idea. He was pissed.
We’d shot a slightly different interpretation of how I played the character, in the returning alternate future. Eric Stoltz was fired, and the next thing we shot with Michael J. Fox was that alternate future. Robert Zemeckis had been nice to me in between [those shooting segments]. But he made it very clear to me that he was not happy with how the character had been played. I was 20 years old, and of course they had just fired another actor. The lead. So I didn’t want to get fired! I wanted to work! I was scared when we shot that alternate future. Essentially, I would call it acting from the spinal cord. It was different from how I had interpreted it initially, and essentially, I was re-auditioning. I felt that if I didn’t do it exactly as I was being instructed, that I would get fired—which is fair enough. But I was acting from a point of view of fright, basically, which is not exactly my favorite way to work.
I don’t know that anybody would notice it. I’ve only seen the film once since it came out. I was working on At Close Range when it was released, and that summer, it was actually a very fast release. I saw it that one time, and I still think the same way. I know there are all kinds of people that would disagree, and people love the film and all that, and I understand that. It’s not that I dislike the entire film. There are things about the structure that are very solid, and there’s good writing behind it. But I still would argue all the things that people love about the film would still be there, and I think there would be a better message if, instead of the son character pumping his fist in the air or whatever, jumping up in the air because he has a new truck [in the new timeline], if instead the reward was that the mother and father characters are in love with each other. And that there’s the potential that money comes in. I think [equating their new riches with moral success] is a bad message. And this is aligned to those things in film that I’m saying serve the interests of a corporate element.
Now, I don’t know that Bob Gale or Robert Zemeckis necessarily intellectualized that, although that conversation has started to mention, on some level—I do think there’s an intellectualization. There’s an understanding that if that portion, that kind of carrot dangled out in front of the American populace that money is going to make you happy, you should borrow money to do things, this serves corporate interests. Whereas being in love with somebody, on a pure level, doesn’t necessarily serve corporate interest. Somehow that was an understanding, a knowledge, that if that interest didn’t serve the people that were hiring the movie, that maybe it wouldn’t be as well-released by those interests. I still believe that that film, if it was just people in love, if it were released as well as it was, my hunch is that it would still have made as much money as it did. But it’s more about whether the interests were served by the people that were releasing it would be served.
AVC: So did you not come back for the next film because you were uncomfortable with the message, or did they not invite you back because Zemeckis was angry with you?
CG: It gets so complex. It would take a long time to go through all the details of what happened. But suffice it to say, the reality was that they did not want me back in the film. And it stems from that. There was an understanding that I had questions. The fact was, by the time the second film came around—and this is the lie that Bob Gale was telling—he’s saying I was the reason for it, and he wants to take the onus of the responsibility because there was a lawsuit. And because of my lawsuit, there are rules in the Screen Actors Guild that nobody can [recreate an actor with technological means] again. Bob Gale was really, I’m quite certain, the initial architect of it, because he’s the guy, if you—I listen to these things because I’m incredulous as to how much people say negative things now because of me, because he said all this stuff on these Back To The Future trilogy films which are not true, to make people have negative thoughts about me, and that it was right for them to do what they did, this illegal thing. And so this is why I’m talking about it more vocally. I didn’t talk about it at all, but I have to defend myself.
So what they did was, they offered me—I hate talking about this. It sounds so crass, but because they made it into this issue, I’ve got to say what really happened. They offered me $150,000 to be in—it was a long screenplay. Like, a 200-something-page screenplay. I could tell they would split it into two movies. But Lea Thompson was making something like $650,000, and Tom Wilson was making something like $325,000 or $350,000, so it was less than half of what my fellow actors were making, coming back for similar-sized roles. And my agents knew it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t like I was saying I needed to make more money. I just basically, at that point in the negotiation, I just wanted to be fairly compensated. Also, if you look at the character, George McFly, in the sequel, the character’s hung upside down. It’s been said that that’s an obfuscating technique. [In one scene, Glover’s character is dangling upside down, supposedly as an orthopedic treatment; it’s been claimed that the filmmakers thought it would be harder to tell that the impersonator wasn’t Glover if his face was inverted. —ed.] Well, if you think about it, when I read the screenplay, that was in there. And the character’s supposed to have a bad back, and he’s hung upside down. Why would you hang somebody upside down if they have a bad back? What was apparent to me was, if I was going to return to be in the film, they wanted to make me physically uncomfortable, and monetarily, there was a punishment too. Because I had asked questions.
I would have been okay with doing the hanging-upside-down part, if I was fairly compensated for it. I actually switched from my agency—I was at William Morris agency—and I was paranoid. I didn’t understand why there was not a normal negotiation going on. And I found out that my agent was, her roommate was working at Universal Studios, and she was, I guess, in some part of the negotiation. I switched over to a completely different agency, where I remained for 20-something years. Gerry Harrington was my agent. He called up—Bob Gale was the person doing the negotiations—Bob Gale made it exceedingly clear that they felt they had paid Lea Thompson and Tom Wilson too much money, and he even said they were paying Michael J. Fox too much money. And that they were not going to make the same mistake by paying me what they thought was too much money for Tom Wilson and Lea Thompson. The only person that brought up Michael J. Fox’s salary was Bob Gale, and I know this from my conversation with my agent. I wasn’t in on the conversation, but he reported it to me.
They had, before this conversation, split the screenplay into two different films. Two different screenplays. They came back and said, “The offer is now $125,000.” They went down $25,000! It was very clear they didn’t want me in the film. It was clear they already had this concept that they were going to put another actor in prosthetics. They thought that was funny. They knew that they could basically torment me, either financially or by this mean-spirited, what ultimately was an illegal thing to do. I’m sure they laughed and joked about it. In fact, I shouldn’t go into so much detail, but there was testimony that specifically had to do with my name being used as—again, this is not the proper platform. But it’s not a pretty picture. And it’s not something—I’ve been very careful to not talk about it. But at this point in time, especially since this person is continuing to do it—it would be one thing if he’d stopped doing it after the first thing. But he did interviews as recently as last year, and it’s total falsification. And I’ve gotta respond.