Crispin Hellion Glover, It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine
Put simply, Crispin Glover is not from here: there is an otherworldly quality to the actor-turned-director’s appearance, manner and aesthetics that make even his friend and mentor David Lynch seem pretty normal. The son of actors Bruce and Marie Glover, he came to prominence in the mid-1980s with performances in Back to the Future (1985) and River’s Edge (1986). Very much treading his own path, he combined a career playing eccentrics on screen with painting, writing books, like Oak Mot (1991) and Rat Catching (1992), and also releasing an album, The Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution, The Solution Equals Let It Be (1989), which he released, like his books, under the name Crispin Hellion Glover. Having worked with Lynch, Oliver Stone, Milos Forman, Gus Van Sant, Jim Jarmusch and Neil LaBute (not to mention McG on both Charlie’s Angels movies!), Glover made his directorial debut in 2005 with What Is It? A wildly bizarre experimental film that he also wrote and starred in, it tackles numerous taboo subjects, features a cast predominantly made up of young people with Down Syndrome, and is described by Glover as “the adventures of a young man whose principle interests are snails, salt, a pipe, and how to get home.”
Glover’s follow-up, and the second part of his It trilogy, is It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE, which was written by the late Steven C. Stewart, an actor with cerebral palsy who appeared in What Is It? Co-directed by David Brothers, the film stars Stewart as his alter-ego Paul, a man who also is confined to a wheelchair and whose speech is almost indecipherable, but who is perfectly understood by women, most of whom want to sleep with him. The film indulges Stewart’s sexual fantasies and fetishes, but more importantly underlines the fact that Paul, despite his disability, is capable of good and bad just like anybody else — a point made all too clear when he strangles every single woman he beds. Shot and acted in an eerie Lynchian style, and boasting a carnivalesque cast — everybody from a Rainer Werner Fassbinder regular, Margit Carstensen, and a Playmate of the Month to a dwarf, an amputee and both Glover’s parents — It is Fine! is a grand cinematic statement. A meeting of Stewart’s ideas and Glover’s stylistics, the film is audacious and shocking not only because of its graphic sex and violence but because of the directness with which it attacks seemingly unbroachable subjects.
Filmmaker spoke with Glover about his unique writer-star Stewart, fearlessly tackling taboo subjects, and how he reacted when Robert Zemeckis stole his face.
Filmmaker: What was the genesis of this project?
Glover: Steven C. Stewart had been locked in a nursing home from when he was in his early twenties for about 10 years — and, coincidentally, the nursing home that we shot in, we found out when we got there that was the nursing home Steve had been locked in. And you can see that was not a fun place to be living all of your twenties. Once Steve got out of the nursing home he lived in an assisted living place so he was able to get out, and he started writing this screenplay. He showed it to [director] Larry Roberts, and there was a younger filmmaker that he thought might be interested in it, named David Brothers. David was pretty amazed by the screenplay. He started telling me about this project and I read the screenplay, and as soon as I read it I knew it was something I had to produce. It was particularly the scene where he proposes marriage to [Margit Carstensen’s character] Linda; you could tell that there was a reality within this fantastical structure that he had that was extremely revealing and had a lot of pathos and a cathartic element.
Filmmaker: What was it like working with him, as both an actor and a screenwriter?
Glover: You can see it in the film, Steve had a kind of a graceful, charming quality about him. For David and I, it was imperative that we kept the integrity of the naïveté of Steve’s screenplay: we didn’t want to mess with that because that was what was really beautiful about it. Steve really would have let us do anything we wanted to do. He wasn’t a prima donna worried about if something was puce or not. His [script] was 120-some pages and I cut it down to 50 just so I could shoot it. He had written it in a genre style like a television murder mystery from the ‘70s wherein he was the bad guy. That was what was important to him. He felt that as a handicapped person he should be able to play the bad guy instead of the nice guy. That’s part of what I think again helps: because he’s being truthful on some level about what his real experience is. There’s these genre structuralisms, but yet he’s a man in a wheelchair, a man with a hair fetish, which is at least as important as the wheelchair element. [laughs] But it’s his reality, so he’s not straying too far from that, yet it’s a fantasy, so there’s fantasies within his reality. It’s not like he gets up out of his chair, but there are certain elements: women understand him quite readily (though he’s obviously difficult to understand), and they fall in love with him and want to have sex with him very readily. It’s very interesting stuff.
Filmmaker: What sense did you get from him of what it was like to play out his long-held fantasy?
Glover: Well, another thing is that Steve was a real ham. He really loved being in front of the camera, acting, he loved to sing show tunes. In 2000, one of his lungs collapsed and it became apparent that if we didn’t shoot anything soon we may never get to shoot anything at all. I met with Steve, we started building the sets, I went back to L.A., acted in an independent film for about six weeks and then went back to Salt Lake and we shot over a six-month time period. Within a month after we finished shooting, Steve died. When he was on his deathbed, I got a call one morning and I was told that Steve was basically asking us for permission to take himself off of life-support, because his lung had collapsed again. Cerebral palsy is not degenerative, but he was choking on his own saliva and had pneumatic problems. So that was, of course, a very sad day and a heavy responsibility to let him know that yes, we did have enough film and that was that. But I know that if I had said, “No, Steve, we don’t have enough film, we need more stuff,” he would have got the operation and stayed alive to make the movie. He needed to get something across and this was what his life was about, in a way.
Filmmaker: Did he ever make it clear just how significant it was to him?
Glover: There was a day when we were shooting, and David had to bring [Steven] back [home]. As they were driving home, it was in a rush and the toupee had to come off and there was glue on his head and he was all messed up, and they were driving home and Steve apparently said, “This is the best time of my life.” David said, “No, come on, you’re a mess. What are you talking about? This is all rushed…” and then Steve made some kind of [forceful] motion and said, “No, no. This is the best day of my life.” He made it very apparent and serious that this was really what it was about for him. I knew it was important, but in retrospect now I really know how important it was. If I hadn’t got this movie done, I would have felt that I had actually done something wrong, like I had done a bad thing. I would have never felt right about it if I hadn’t gotten this movie made. When he died, I realized how much this person had influenced my life, in a big way and in a positive way. He was a powerful communicator.
Filmmaker: People who see this film will think that you have a desire to shock.
Glover: I didn’t write this movie. I really have zero interest in shock and in a certain way part of the reason I put this as a second film to What Is It? is because it’s more what I like to call “exploration of taboo subject area.” I think right now in corporately funded and distributed film, anything that can possibly make an audience uncomfortable in any way is necessarily excised, or the film is not funded or distributed, and I think that’s a very bad thing for the culture. It’s the moment when an audience sits back in its chairs and looks up at the screen and says, “Is this right, what I’m watching? Is this wrong, what I’m watching? Is the filmmaker right or wrong? Should I be here or not?” It’s at the moment that these genuine questions are being asked that true education can happen. And true education isn’t happening in the cinema right now in this culture.
Filmmaker: The film seems to be the meeting of Steven C. Stewart’s thematic concerns and your stylistic concerns.
Glover: Yeah. And in What Is It? there are thematic elements that are related to the thematic elements [in this film], and part of it is because I put him in the film, and there’s graphic sexuality to do with his character in What Is It? also. I’m really not that interested in making films with graphic sexuality, but for this movie it was extremely important. When [Steven] wrote the screenplay, the graphicness of the sexuality was very detailed. The hair [fetish] was in extreme detail. No detail about where they were, what it looked like, or how the people were, so this is where David and I brought in our [expertise], trying to make it look as opulent and as beautifully fantastical of a world that would look like a corporate funded and distributed film as much as we could.
Filmmaker: You have an incredibly diverse cast: a man with cerebral palsy, one of Fassbinder’s muses, a former Playboy Playmate of the Month, and both your parents.
Glover: That’s right. I wanted, in casting the women particularly, to have a certain kind of fantastical perfection of women, because it was written like that. Most of the women in it I knew one way or another. I went out with Jami [Farrell] and she was always a nice person. My father is an actor and acting teacher, and my mother is a former dancer and actress. I needed people that were willing to do it, and also that I didn’t have to pay. Margit Carstensen is a different story: I did pay Margit Carstensen something, but not very much compared with what she makes [usually]. I originally had a different conception for her character; it was more similar to the actresses who embodied the other roles, [but then] I started thinking, “Who are great actresses?” I’d been watching a lot of Fassbinder and as soon as I thought of her I thought, “I’ll bet she’ll be attracted to this,” because she worked with a great filmmaker that was interested in interesting things.
Filmmaker: What’s your biggest extravagance?
Glover: Sometimes I like to eat at nice restaurants and I have some cars that are a hobby, but I’ve got them inexpensively. And I’ll go to classical concerts, museums and parks and castles, historical things. But everything else has to do with my filmmaking. I own property in the Czech Republic, it’s an old chateau that was built in the 1600s and next to it are horse stables that I’m turning into a soundstage to make movies. It’s a nice place, but I wanted to buy a place where I wanted to be.
Filmmaker: When can we expect It Is Mine, the final part of the It trilogy?
Glover: The screenplay is written, and probably will be cut down. I’ll be funding this myself and shooting it in the Czech Republic. But it’s going to be a long time before I shoot that film. I need to make at least a couple of films in the Czech Republic: it’s a new culture, a new language and there will be certain difficulties that I haven’t encountered. I need to make simpler films at first and then build up to It Is Mine.
Filmmaker: What’s the strangest thing you’ve experienced during your time in the film industry?
Glover: Probably the least pleasant thing I’ve experienced was the situation that happened with the sequels to Back to the Future and the fact that the producers hired another actor and put them into a false nose, chin and cheekbones and interspliced it with a little bit of footage of me from the original film in order to fool audiences into thinking that it was me. There was a lawsuit about it and because of my lawsuit there’s laws in the Screen Actors Guild to make it so that producers and actors could never do that again. Strangely, I just finished [playing] Grendel in Beowulf, and it was directed by [Back to the Future’s] Robert Zemeckis. We never talked about it, we just talked about the work at hand.
Filmmaker: Finally, is Crispin Glover the actor and Crispin Hellion Glover the artist?
Glover: It’s not quite that, but it has something to do with that. I started acting professionally when I was 13 but previous to that when I would draw things or write, I would sign it “Crispin Hellion Glover.” That’s my birth-given whole name, and when I started acting I thought it was a bit long so I just used Crispin Glover, and that’s my name in the Screen Actor’s Guild. Publicly it seems like I’ve chosen this name late, but that isn’t what it is. I know sometimes people go, “Oh, what is this pretentious thing?” but it’s my real whole name and it makes sense to use for those things.