An Interview with Crispin Hellion Glover
Crispin Hellion Glover is a man of many talents. He has worked as an actor, screenwriter, director, author, publisher, and recording artist. His best known roles such as George McFly in Back to the Future, the Thin Man in both Charlie’s Angels flicks, Willard Stiles in the remake of Willard, Grendel in Beowulf, The Knave of Hearts in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and Phil in Hot Tub Time Machine make him one of the most recognizable faces in film.
His own company Volcanic Eruptions publishes his lavishly illustrated books and delightfully twisted films. Currently he is set to tour in select cities to promote Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show with showings of his films It is fine. EVERYTHING IS FINE! & What is it? Please see his site for specific dates.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? What were you like as a kid? How do you think you early years influenced you to be who you are now?
I went to a small private school called Mirman School for Gifted Children. It was an excellent school that was academically oriented. The school was an influence to let me understand that questioning things was very good.
What first led you try your hand at acting and when did you know if was what you had to pursue as a career? Do you think your parents being actors themselves was a positive influence on you to follow your dreams?
I was in school plays and such, but having watched my father’s career I understood, to a certain extent, how the business worked. I decided it would be something I could do at around age 11. I got an agent at age 13. My parents did not push me into the business. It was something I decided to do by my own volition, but my parents were supportive.
Do people find it hard to believe that Hellion in your middle name? It is a very cool name to carry, are you glad to have it?
My father Bruce Glover is an actor as I’ve said. In fact he is in Part two of the trilogy It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE! People may know him from such films as Diamonds are Forever, Chinatown and the original Walking Tall series. His middle name is Herbert. He never liked his middle name Herbert. So as a young struggling actor in New York he would say to himself “I am Bruce H. Glover, Bruce Hellion Glover. I am a hellion, a troublemaker.” And that would make him feel good. He told my mother this was his real middle name. When they were married she saw him writing on the marriage certificate Bruce Herbert Glover and she thought “Who am I marrying?” They gave Hellion to me as my real middle name. I had always written and drawn as a child and I would always sign my drawing and writing with my whole name Crispin Hellion Glover. When I started acting professionally at 13 which was something I had decided on my own I could do as a profession at a relatively young age it became apparent that I had to choose a professional acting name for SAG. I thought my whole name was too long for acting and just used my first and last name. When I started publishing my books I simply continued using the name I had always used for writing and drawing. This is also why I use my whole name for my films.
You have played rather strange characters throughout your career. Why do you think that is? Which characters have you enjoyed most and why? Which do people seem to recognize you for most?
I was drawn to unusual characters from at least when I was first professionally studying acting at age 15. But probably younger than that as well. When people approach me it is usually because they recognize me from a number of films.
I don’t know that I have a favorite character, but I feel like the films that I that I quite like as a whole that I have been in are River’s Edge, Orkly Kid, and What is it? Other characters I like I have played that I like are Cousin Dell in Wild at Heart, The Thin Man in Charlie’s Angels, Willard in Willard, Bartleby in Bartleby, Grendel in Beowulf. I had a great time working in Alice in Wonderland with Tim Burton and everyone involved.
Did you enjoy your role in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter? Have you always been a fan of horror? Why do you think people are drawn to such things?
I am glad that I was in the film. I knew while filming it that someday there would be something humorous about appearing in that film. I am not really that much of a follower of horror. That being said there are certain films considered to be in the horror genre that a truly great films. I think people can be drawn to horror for the concept that it lets one feel they have survived something brought to them from the darker side of life. That can be invigorating.
Was it fun to play Willard? What is your opinion of rodents and such?
I very much enjoyed playing Willard. I am proud of the emotional work that I concentrated on very hard while making that film. The rodents that I worked with were exceedingly well trained and never made a mistake on a single take, which was great because a lot of the scenes I had with them were emotional scenes that would have been hard to get to again if cuts had to be made because of the rats. But they were truly perfected every time and ultimately great acting partners.
What was it like to work on a Tim Burton film? What did you learn from the experience?
I loved working with Tim Burton and everyone involved. It is apparent that Tim Burton has been in situations where his art was being questioned and he knows that he does not want to do that to people he is working with, but wants them to be able to explore for themselves what is happening for their work. That makes people feel good about what they are doing. It is a good thing to know when working as a filmmaker.
You have also delved in music. Do you think that is something you might return to at some point?
I have a second album that has been nearly finished for more than 10 years and has been put aside while my feature films have taken precedent. I will get back to that project hopefully soon.
Are there any little known facts about you that people might be surprised to learn?
My interests artistically may be called eccentric and there is a truth in that, but I am also a very centric business person.
Can you tell us about the upcoming tour? What can fans expect from the show? What led you to form Volcanic Eruptions? The first two films you directed feature people with Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. Why did you decide to do that?
I would like people to think for their selves. 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? into 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 is 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. People who are interested in when I will be back 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. It is by far the best way to know how to see the films.
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!
The live aspect of the shows are not to be underestimated. This is a large part of how I bring audiences in to the theater and a majority of how I recoup is by what is charged for the live show and what I make from selling the books after the shows. For Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show I perform a one hour dramatic narration of eight different books I have made over the years. The books are taken from old books from the 1800’s that have been changed in to different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs.
I started making my books in 1983 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. I had always written and drawn and the books came as an accidental outgrowth of that. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a book store upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800’s and someone had put their art work inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing. I worked a lot with India ink at the time and was using the India ink on the original pages to make various art. I had always liked words in art and left some of the words on one of the pages. I did this again a few pages later and then when I turned the pages I noticed that a story started to naturally form and so I continued with this. When I was finished with the book I was pleased with the results and kept making more of them. I made most of the books in the 80’s and very early 90’s. Some of the books utilize text from the biding it was taken from and some of them are basically completely original text. Sometimes I would find images that I was inspired to create stories for or sometimes it was the binding or sometimes it was portions of the texts that were interesting.
Altogether, I made about twenty of them. When I was editing my first feature film What is it? There was a reminiscent quality to the way I worked with the books because as I was expanding the film in to a feature from what was originally going to be a short, I was taking film material that I had shot for a different purpose originally and re-purposed it for a different idea and I was writing and shooting and ultimately editing at the same time. Somehow I was comfortable with this because of similar experiences with making my books.
When I first started publishing the books in 1988 people said I should have book readings. But the book are so heavily illustrated and the way the illustrations are used within the books they help to tell the story so the only way for the books to make sense was to have visual representations of the images. This is why I knew a slide show was necessary. It took a while but in 1992 I started performing what I used to call Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Side Show. People get confused as to what that is so now I always let it be known that it is a one hour dramatic narration of eight different profusely illustrated books that I have made over the years. The illustrations from the books are projected behind me as I perform the show. There is a second slide show now that has 7 books and it performed if I have a show with Part 1 of the IT trilogy and then on the subsequent night I will perform the second slide show and Part 2 of the IT trilogy.
The fact that I tour with the film helps the distribution element. I consider what I am doing to be following in the steps of vaudeville performers. Vaudeville was the main form of entertainment for most of the history of the US. It has only relatively recently stopped being the main source of entertainment, but that does not mean this live element mixed with other media is no longer viable. In fact it is apparent that it is sorely missed.
I definitely have been aware of the element of utilizing the fact that I am known from work in the corporate media I have done in the last 25 years or so. This is something I rely on for when I go on tour with my films. It lets me go to various places and have the local media cover the fact that I will be performing a one hour live dramatic narration of eight different books which are profusely illustrated and projected as I go through them, then show the film either What is it? Being 72 minutes or It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE being 74 minutes. Then having a Q and A, and then a book signing. As I funded the films I knew that this is how I would recoup my investment even if it a slow process.
Volcanic Eruptions was a business I started in Los Angeles in 1988 as Crispin Hellion Glover doing business as Volcanic Eruptions. It was a name to use for my book publishing company. About a year later I had a record/CD come out with a corporation called Restless Records. About when I had sold the same amount of books as CD/records had sold it was very clear to me that because I had published my own books that I had a far greater profit margin. It made me very suspicious of working with corporations as a business model. Financing/Producing my own films is based on the basic business model of my own publishing company. There are benefits and drawbacks about self-distributing my own films. In this economy it seems like a touring with the live show and showing the films with a book signing is a very good basic safety net for recouping the monies I have invested in the films. There are other beneficial aspects of touring with the shows other than monetary elements.
There are benefits that I am in control of the distribution and personally supervise the monetary intake of the films that I am touring with. I also control piracy in this way because digital copy of this film is stolen material and highly prosecutable. It is enjoyable to travel and visit places, meet people, perform the shows and have interaction with the audiences and discussions about the films afterwards. The forum after the show is also not to under-estimated as a very important part of the show for for the audience. This also makes me much more personally grateful to the individuals who come to my shows as there is no corporate intermediary. The drawbacks are that a significant amount of time and energy to promote and travel and perform the shows. Also the amount of people seeing the films is much smaller than if I were to distribute the films in a more traditional sense.
The way I distribute my films is certainly not traditional in the contemporary sense of film distribution but perhaps is very traditional when looking further back at vaudeville era film distribution. If there are any filmmakers that are able to utilize aspects of what I am doing then that is good. It has taken many years to organically develop what I am doing now as far as my distribution goes.
Do you think society in general underestimates the so-called disabled? Do you think there is any such thing as a truly disabled person?
There certainly can be underestimations of people who are called disabled. A truly disabled person is someone who thinks of themselves as disabled.
When is the last film in the trilogy expected to be done?
I should not go in to detail for IT IS MINE. yet and I will not shoot that next. There are other projects outside of the trilogy that I will shoot next. The Czech Republic is another culture and another language and I need to build up to complex productions like What is it? and the existing sequel It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. IT IS MINE is an even more complex project than those two films were so it will be a while yet for that production. I will step outside of the trilogy for a number of films that deal with different thematic elements. I am in the process of building sets for a screenplay I have been developing for a long time for myself and my father to act in together. He is also an actor and that will be the next film I make as a director/producer. This will be the first role I write for myself to act in that will be written as an acting role as opposed to a role that was written for the character I play to merely serve the structure. But even still on some level I am writing the screenplay to be something that I can afford to make. There is another project that I may make before that I am currently working on the screenplay that may be even more affordable. yet still cinematically pleasing.
Do you enjoy working behind the camera as much as you do in front of it? How do the two differ most?
Yes I probably enjoy working behind the camera more than in front of the camera, but that has more to do with the content in corporately funded and distributed cinema that I can find somewhat stifling. Because I fund my own films I can get in to territory that corporately funded and distributed film cannot.
What was the craziest thing you have ever done?
Drive a car in traffic.
Interview conducted by Tina Hall and is reprinted by permission of The Original Van Gogh's Ear Anthology It is copyright 2014 by Tina Hall and The Baryon Review. All Rights Reserved.