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Sunday, November 22, 2015

An Interview with Danny Glover

Daniel Lebern "Danny" Glover, born on July 22, 1946 is an American actor, film director and political activitst.  Glover is well known for his roles as Albert Johnson in "The Color Purple," Detective Sergeant Roger Murtaugh in the "Lethal Weapon" film series, cowboy Mal Johnson in "Silverado," Michael Harrigon in "Predator 2," corrupt cop  James McFee in "Witness," Colonel Isaac Johnson in "Shooter," detective David Tapp in "Saw," and George Knox in "Angels in the Outfield."  Glover has also appeared in amy other movies, television shows and theatrical productions.  He's also an active supporter of various humanitarian and political causes.

Glover is also a supporter of union causes, crediting that to his parents, both members of the United Postal Workers Union, while he was growing up.

In Chattanooga recently to tour the Volkswagen of American plant, I had the opportunity to sit down with him and talk about his memorable career in films.

One of the beauties of the degrees of success I’ve had, is that we can remember movies by a certain topic or gestures or lines, and I’ve had the great fortune of being in those types of movies that have memorable lines, gestures and topics.  You go from one film to the next film to the next film to the next film, and sometimes you don’t recognize the cumulative impact of a career when you see it in retrospect.  I had a guy stop me in the gym where I was working out, and he asked me about getting into films.  I told him that everything I do is, to a large extent, is to increase my capacity.  

I also told him the cumulative impact of what I’ve done allows me to get into a particular state of mind and focus within a process of doing a film, within the work methodology of doing a film.  I didn’t just develop that overnight, it’s a process, and I realize that each film is a testimony to my own growth, to my own development, my own development, my own understanding about what I’ve done.  I think it’s a metaphor for life in a way, the level you live life, the better you get at living life.

Are you a method actor?

You want to call it method acting, but I call it “emersion acting.”  I’ve studied the great theories about acting, and sometimes you read something and starting thinking, I do that organically, I don’t have a name for it, but organically that’s where I go.  

I remember early in my career, I had a difficult time auditioning, because of a combination of a couple of things.. I felt uncomfortable in the process, I felt intimidated by the process.  The other thing is, you go into an audition and you do what you want to do, you read the material and the material responds to you intuitively and instinctively, not what you expect the director would want.

In the early stages when I started doing that, I’d audition one, two scenes, a little part in television or something like that, what I began to realize is, I felt more comfortable after the audition.  Yeah, I would want the job, but I felt ‘Danny, did you accomplish what you wanted to accomplish when you went in to the audition?’  ‘Was this how I wanted to respond to the words and to the scene and to the moment and this was your presentation’ and not what I expect the director to say?’  The director could say  ‘oh I like that’ or he could say ‘I don’t like that, but try this… that’s interesting, but try this.’  If we did it that way, I would feel real comfortable and so I began to judge myself during the audition process and I became less intimidated by the process itself.  Within the framework of the audition, you’re able to get the most out of your performance. 

8 year old Daniel Glover

My mother was born in Lewisville, Georgia.  Part of my moral upbringing was my mother always saying ‘I’m eternally grateful for the upbringing I got from my own mother, because I didn’t pick cotton in September, I went to school in September.’  She went to Payne College, graduated from there in 1942, made her way up to New York after teaching a year in high school, met my father in 1942 or 44, courted and married at the end of 1944.   By that time, they had relocated to San Francisco because my father had been transferred in the Army to out there, from upstate New York to LA to Oakland.

Danny and James Glover

With my mother and father, you have to understand how they were in the emerging movement of civil rights.  Eventually, they went to work for the U.S. postal service, and they always felt that they were doing something important.  It was interesting to see how they were seeing the emerging civil rights movement and were right at the very start of it.  The postal service was primarily African-American at that time, and to see the civil rights movement get started, they felt that they were doing something very important.   I go around the country and speak and one of the things I ask is, ‘how many of you had parents, grandparents or relatives in the postal service?’  A lot of hands go up.  The post office was always a place where you could work and build a family at home, or you could use it as a jumping off point to another job.  They could be anywhere.. San Francisco, Chicago or New York, but they could tune in to see what was happening in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and some of the civil rights battlegrounds.  That was the childhood I came into.  

When I was watching the Montgomery bus boycott on television in 1955, the meaning of that was reinforced by my parents, the dynamic, the importance of that news item.  I was fortunate to have my parents reinforce how important that was to my future.  Not everyone who came in that generation had that.

On "The Color Purple"

It’s celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, you know.  You always feel like you’re endowed because you’re chosen to do something that’s important.  As actors, producers, directors and participants, we felt this was an important film.  Every one of us came into it with that, from Steven Spielberg the director, to Quincy Jones the producer.. I’m thinking of even the CEO of Warner Brothers who came to the set and spent time with us.  Everybody felt that within their hands, this was something that was very important.

Every one of us gave so much of ourselves in our relationships to the roles and in the way in which we bonded, not just as actors but as people.  To have something that’s important to do and feel that it’s important is special.  People still talk about The Color Purple.  I run into people that weren’t even born when The Color Purple came out and say ‘I hated you in The Color Purple!’  All of us as actors were in the early stages of our careers.  Every single one of us.  None of us had done anything, I don’t know that Whoopi had ever done her first film, Oprah hadn’t done anything except her TV show, it was her first film.

It got enough nominations.  Do you think "The Color Purple" should have won an Oscar?     I can’t tell you that.  Geraldine Page (who won the 1985 Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for The Trip to Bountiful, and beat out Whoopie Goldberg) was a brilliant person, gave a brilliant performance.  She’d been around as an actress, everybody knew who she was… Lionel Ritchie did win an Oscar for his original song ‘Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister, Sister)', Margaret Avery and Oprah Winfrey may have canceled each other out (for Best Supporting Actress), I don’t know.  And then, it may have been the kind of social dynamic at that time.   I think the conversation surrounding the image of African-American men at that time was valuable.  I think it was important discussion, essential discussion.  I would have been disappointed if that discussion had not emerged at that time, because what The Color Purple does, is, because it’s an expressive film, it gives people the chance to have opinions, their own questions.  

The issue of racism promotes a sense of self-protectiveness, like ’there’s no spousal abuse in the black community,’ ‘there’s no child abuse in the black community’ and all that.  It makes you protective about the historical portrayals about things that we know, happened.  For years, people bought into those stereotypes.

On the "Lethal Weapon" movies

It was fun doing those movies, it was a great experience, a great time working with Mel Gibson.  I loved working with Mel, just the improv we were able to do, the easiness, the comfort in the situations.  I can say for myself, and I hope Mel can say the same thing that there was a level of comfort.  I really think of the special moments.  We did four of them, and I think that’s enough.  No more 'Lethal Weapons.'   To quote a phrase, ‘we too old for this @#$%.’ (laughs).  But it was really, really, really special.

On "Predator 2"

I’ll tell you a little story.. I was offered a role.. I was in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theater, doing a play, 1986, the beginning of 1986.  I got offered a script and it was the first Predator.  The reason why I looked at it.. the first thing that you see, the first action in the role they wanted me to play, is where the man is abusing a woman.  I could not do another role abusing a woman… I’m sitting in Chicago and the hotbed of discussion after The Color Purple… I just couldn’t do another role abusing a woman, so I just turned it down.   And then, they came to me with Lethal Weapon and I took that one.  They came with three different roles, and I took that one.

Wonderfully, incredible guy came to me about Predator 2 and he presented the idea of doing it because the whole team was back, the writer was back, the special effects team was back.. I have two films I’ve done that I feel that I was bigger than life in, in which I felt that I could control the space.  Silverado for me, and Predator 2.

Silverado was the one where I played this iconic cowboy you know, and the character carries this one gun, a Henry rifle.  And then, when he’s around his father, he has two of them.  An iconic role.. against all odds. 

Then in Predator 2, it was like ‘who’s the baddest cat in your space, and the baddest cat says ‘I’m gonna challenge you.’   Mano y mano.  I was the baddest guy in his space.  What happens?  I kill him, and then the others come around, and I’m like ‘alright…. who’s next?’  (laughs)  That’s a form of movie making, a form of storytelling.  You see it in the graphic novels, and things like that.  I was about 42, 43.. in the best shape in my life, best shape I’ve been in.  I was running on the beach, had my training, I was lifting weights a lot more than I am now.  I was really feeling it in that movie.

On his new Christmas Movie, "A Meyer's Christmas

It’s really a lovely little story.. we’ve got a super cast, a who’s who.  I play the patriarch of the family, a very successful man with a very successful family, and I lose my wife the prior Christmas and this is the first Christmas without her.  There is the realization of how much we depended on her for the big things and also the little things in our lives.  She was the mediator of our arguments, she prepared all the dishes that we all enjoyed, and she was part of all of our relationships.  Now, she’s gone.  

At the end, we find out that we have to find a new way to adjust our lives and adjust without her.  All of us are rather tense, especially my sister-in-law Mo'nique.  I’m the one who organized the family get-together this time, my wife normally did that, the woman that I had been married to for 40 some-odd years.   Christmas was always special to our family.

  It’s a lovely little script, David Talbott is the writer and director, and really did an admirable job.. it’s funny, crazy at times, but it’s beautiful because it’s family. 

Welcome to Southeast Tennessee and welcome to Chattanooga.

Thank you.  It's been a good visit.

                             ---Calvin Sneed