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Calling Crispin Glover's films offbeat and eccentric is doing them a disservice; they're squirm-inducing and provocative. In 2005, the New York City-born actor-director released his surreal debut feature, What Is It?, part of a planned trilogy billed as "the adventures of a young man who's tormented by a hubristic, racist inner psyche," though it's more often remembered for its cast, largely comprised of actors with Down Syndrome. He's following it up this year with It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine., Steven C. Stewart's semi-autobiographical, psychosexual tale of a cerebral-palsy sufferer with a violent streak and a fetish for long-haired women. As he did for What Is It?, Glover will theatrically present the film, attending each screening and holding Q&A sessions afterward, as well as giving a slide presentation based on his books. The A.V. Club spoke to Glover before he hit the road with his new movie.
The A.V. Club: You've said It Is Fine! is the best movie you'll make. Why?
Crispin Glover: What I've actually said is that I believe this film will be the best film of the trilogy that I'm making, and it's the best movie I'll ever have anything to do with in my career. I'm specific about how I state it. I think there's a particular emotional catharsis with the Steven C. Stewart character that is unusual. And being that there is a documentation of this man living this particular fantasy that he had written, it's an unusual cinematic experience. If Steven C. Stewart had died, and the movie was not made with him, it would have been an unmakeable movie, because part of what is fascinating about it is that he lived out this particular fantasy in front of these cameras. If he had died, someone could have made the movie with a different actor that had cerebral palsy, but it would not have been this movie that worked in the same way. That's why I think that it is a particularly singular film. And while it's possible that I will come upon something as singular as it is, I think it's a pretty rare thing.
AVC: Is that frustrating, then, if your best work is behind you?
CG: No. I read the script in about 1986, so it's been over 20 years since I read it. And it's something I've been compelled—compelled isn't even the right word. I feel that if I had not gotten this film made, that I would have felt like I'd done something wrong, that I would have done a bad thing.
AVC: So you felt it was a responsibility?
CG: It isn't even that light of a thing. I would not have felt good about my life. It isn't like it was a responsibility.
AVC: It was the moral thing to do?
CG: No, if I said it was the moral thing, or a responsibility, there would be an element of distancing it, that anybody could feel like they had a moral responsibility, but it has something to do with my conscientiousness of the films I have acted in. One really has to see [my films] to understand, in a certain way, but [What Is It?] is a particular reaction to what is, in the last 30 years, a certain kind of corporate constraint that has happened, resulting in any taboo subject, anything that can possibly make an audience member uncomfortable, being necessarily excised, or the film will not get distributed or funded. And I think that is a very damaging thing to the culture, because it's those moments when the audience is looking up at the screen and wondering, "Is this right, what I'm watching? Is this wrong, what I'm watching? What is it? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have done this?" But What Is It? asks, "What is it in the culture? What does it mean that these taboo subjects have been excised?"
I've been acting professionally since I was 13. That's close to 30 years of working. But specifically, when I turned 18, I started working in film; 25 years of solidly working in film. And what frustrates me is that I very much wanted to be a part of films that question, and advance, and hope to educate. And I feel like that hasn't happened. And so for me, myself, my life with this film, and with What Is It? as well, I feel like there has been a rectification of that which I almost feel is wrong. Having appeared in these films, I'll say there are only three films up to this point that I feel like are properly educational. And I would say The Orkly Kid is one of them, River's Edge is one of them, and What Is It? is the other.
Actually, I've listed a couple of films. There is this film Beowulf coming out, and I have seen it, and it actually is a good movie. And it's strange when something like that happens, because I'm very used to being in films that I think don't have good messages. Strangely, the moral elements of Beowulf are interesting. It's well-conceived, well thought out, and a well-executed film. The performances are good, and the moral tale is actually interesting.
AVC: In that movie, you speak entirely in Old English.
CG: I don't want to talk about it so much, because I've done so much publicity for it, and I've done really, relatively little publicity for Everything Is Fine. And that film is so well-publicized as it is, and I'm struggling for Everything Is Fine.
AVC: Just one question: How was the Old English dialogue for you?
CG: I liked it. I had listened to a college course on the history of the English language, coincidentally, about a year before. I've always had an interest in etymology. And so, when it was discussed, this concept of me speaking in Old English as Grendel, I really adhered to it. I think it works very well.
AVC: If you weren't there to present your movies theatrically, how might they be misinterpreted?
CG: I'm not concerned about the films being misinterpreted—particularly with Everything Is Fine. There is a financial reason for me to be there. What Is It? helps give the film a context. I've talked a lot about What Is It?, and while I don't mind mentioning it, I should really focus on Everything Is Fine. I actually haven't toured around with it yet. On some level, I actually don't think it needs the kind of question-and-answer period that What Is It? was helped by, but there is a selling aspect to it as well, with me performing the slide show and having the question-and-answer period and the book signing. I do make money when I perform those things. If I just sell it as a box-office situation, it probably will not be as easy to sell. I make more money when I do the slide show. "Make money" is not the right term. I need to recoup the monies that I have invested in the film. It's an expensive procedure, and it's probably unlikely that I will recoup in just the box-office situation. So the way I would be able to recoup would be to tour with it as a live show.
AVC: You said you won't release the trilogy on DVD, but that you would publish the original screenplays.
CG: Yes, I would like to publish the screenplays. But it's hard to know exactly at what point that would happen.
AVC: Why would you be willing to do that, but not release the movies themselves?
CG: The reason is a financial reason. It's frustrating when people get upset with me about not going out to DVD—the reason is that I plan to tour with the films for many, many years, not just a month or a week. Literally years. And as soon as I would put it out on DVD, it would ruin the financial possibilities of me making it a theatrical event. Whereas the book, the publishing of a screenplay, would not cause that problem.
AVC: What was behind the choice of scoring this film with classical music?
CG: My interest in music tends toward being orchestral music. And the repertoire of music that exists is, to me, far more emotive than what is standardly used in movie scores. That isn't always. I think there've been some excellent movie scores by excellent directors. But for the most part, watching a film, one of today's movies, I think that the emotional undertone of movie scores is pretty poor. For me, listening to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky in particular, there's an emotional aspect—very different kinds of emotional aspects from those two composers, nonetheless, very strong emotional aspects from both of those composers. And to me, the important element of this film was the emotional catharsis. And what I've heard and what I believe in terms of sound, which would include music, is to bring forth that which is not necessarily said on the screen. When you were watching it, what was the reaction you had?
AVC: There's a fantastical affect with the contrasting alienation of what's onscreen and the familiarity of the score.
CG: Good. I think some of what you're saying makes sense. I was fairly clinical about it, beyond the element—as clinical as you can get about emotion. There are themes in the music that are representative of each character or situation. I shouldn't really explain all these things, but I was clinical about it where there were all of these thematic elements.
AVC: Speaking of music, did Kurt Cobain ever reach out to you about joining Nirvana? Did you hear anything about him mentioning that?
CG: [Laughs.] I had heard that he liked my work, and I think that I did hear something about that. But my interests have always been somewhat different than being involved really in popular music. I know people don't call certain kinds of music popular music, but that's the way I differentiate between orchestral music and stanza/refrain music. But that isn't—I had a novelty record [the 1989 album The Big Problem Does Not Equal The Solution, The Solution Equals Let It Be] that has stanza/refrain in it as well, but it's not what my main focus in my life is.
AVC: You would have turned him down, then?
CG: Oh, I don't know. I'm certainly certain it wasn't something that was in earnest. The way that my first record came out was because there were two music producers who did contact me and did want me to do things, and were quite serious about it, and that's how it came about. If there had been a real serious effort by somebody, I suppose it's something I would have probably thought about, but that wasn't the situation, so. [Laughs.]
AVC: You financed this film with money from Charlie's Angels. Are mainstream movies like that rewarding for you, or are they more of a means to fund your other projects?
CG: I've separated my consciousness from them in a certain way. This concern over acting in movies that are corporately funded and distributed, that I feel don't have really advancing messages, with those films now, I feel like I'm lending my services as an interpreter of the work. I think of it more as a craft than a responsibility. It's a craft I can be good at, and if I'm helping other people to do what they want to do, there is a certain kind of regard in that. But do I think of it as work that I, as a filmmaker, would want to make on my own? Probably not, no. But it doesn't mean I have a bad attitude about it.
AVC: How does Everything Is Fine differ from the other entries in your trilogy?
CG: Obviously, Everything Is Fine sits squarely as its own movie. I actually think that's a lot better than movies—the way trilogies are usually done is, there's a very financially successful film, and they try to revisit the same structures or characters, and it always is not good. [Laughs.] I understand there's a monetary reason for doing it, and they make a lot of money with it, but the films themselves are not good. Here, in this particular situation, every single one of the films in this trilogy will be a very distinct and different kind of movie from one to the next. I do know that this film, Everything Is Fine, will be the best film, because it's such a singular situation. That isn't to dismiss the other movies. I'm really proud of What Is It? as it is, and I know It Is Mine is going to be an excellent film as well. But it's just, there's something about this particular movie that I feel very passionate about.
AVC: Do you feel better about your life now, then?
CG: I feel relieved. [Laughs.]