backtothefutureI’ve always admired Crispin Hellion Glover (yes, that’s his real name, lucky duck!) and the unusual, interesting choices he’s made in his career. He’s probably best known for his role as George McFly, Michael J. Fox’s put-upon father in Robert Zemeckis’ phenomenally successful 1985 film Back to the Future. After making some negative comments about the message of that film (Glover took issue with the film’s ending in which the McFlys sudden affluence seemed to be tied to their ultimate happiness) he was not asked back for the two sequels. Instead, another actor was hired to play George McFly and fitted with prosthetics so that he looked identical to Glover. Crispin successfully sued the producers (including Steven Spielberg) for using his image (the actor also imitated Glover’s unique voice) without his permission or any compensation. He received a settlement from the studio and the lawsuit brought about a new clause in Screen Actors Guild contracts that prohibits producers from using such methods to reproduce an actor’s likeness.

Glover also had memorable roles in films like River’s Edge, Charlie’s Angels, Willard, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Hot Tub Time Machine among many other much smaller films. His real passion project is his own trilogy of films. Two of these unusual films are completed (What Is It? and Everything Is Fine) and Glover tours the country presenting the films with live performances and a Q&A (he won’t allow them to be distributed on DVD or online). To fund these projects, he continues to act in, as he calls them, corporately-funded and corporately-distributed films including his latest, a crime thriller called The Bag Man, directed by David Grovic and starring John Cusack, Robert De Niro and Rebecca Da Costa. The Bag Man  tells the story of a criminal (Cusack) spending time with a strange costumed woman (Da Costa) in a seedy motel run by an eccentric wheelchair-bound manager (Glover) while waiting for his ruthless boss (De Niro) to arrive so that he can hand over a very mysterious bag. Glover is a perfect addition to the very eclectic group of characters. It’s always fun to see him on the screen and I enjoyed talking to him by phone.

the-bag-man-movie-posterDanny Miller: I’m always glad to see you pop up in a film. You’ve played many interesting roles in some very offbeat films. What goes into your process these days of deciding which films you want to get involved with?

Crispin Glover: It’s funny, because I’d say from 2000 to 2010 I did virtually every film I was offered. That was an interesting decade and a real insight into the kinds of movies people tended to consider me for. Then, in 2010, I did two much bigger studio films, Alice in Wonderland and Hot Tub Time Machine. I expected to get a lot of offers after those two films came out, and I did, but I ended up not working again in front of a camera for several years.

Why not?

Because I suddenly started getting offers for roles that I really didn’t like. I hadn’t seen that before in my career, and believe me, I didn’t want to turn any movie work down. I basically fund my own films with the money that I make as an actor in the corporately-funded and corporately-distributed film industry. It was difficult for me but I just couldn’t bring myself to do a lot of the films that they asked me to do during that period. I’ve only made a few films since then. One was based on an Elmore Leonard novel called Freaky Deaky about a pair of 60s radicals and the other was a Polish-language film called Hiszpanka that takes place in 1918 in which I play a German-speaking character. That one was quite a challenge for me because I don’t speak German!

What attracted you to The Bag Man?

bagman2The thing is, I’m not independently wealthy so I do have to bring in income and it can be a difficult balancing act to find things that I want to do. Sometimes it just happens that I need to work and a film comes along that I find really interesting. When I read the screenplay for this film, I thought it was very well written, I really liked the dialogue. I also enjoyed working with David Grovic. We did a lot of takes for most of the scenes which I like to do, trying different interpretations. He was very easy to work with.

Are you ever wary of working with first-time directors?

What I’ve become wary of over the years is first time writer-directors who’ve never been on a set before and don’t understand the kind of freedom that actors need when they’re playing a role. Sometimes a first-time writer-director will be very much in their heads about the words and that can crush the spirit or creativity of actors. In the end, while the words are very important, that’s not what it’s really about — it’s about what’s underneath the words, and there are some first-time writer-directors who may be unaware of that. I had some bad experiences with that a few times early in my career, back in the 80s. A few years ago I had to turn down a very good monetary offer for a lead role in a film by a first-time writer-director because I could tell he was going to be controlling in that negative kind of way and that it wasn’t going to be a fun experience. I think you have to have fun on a film in order to give a good performance. But on this film, David Grovic was very open to the creative process.

I see you’re quite busy touring the country with your two films, What Is It? and Everything Is Fine. You just played two dates in Chicago and are headed to a bunch of other locations. I hope you’ll be heading back here soon.

Yeah, I’m way overdue to come back to Los Angeles. People can find out where I’ll be appearing by signing up for my newsletter on I actually have two different shows that I do with the first two films in my trilogy and one thing I’m doing now is showing ten minutes of edited footage from my next feature that I’m shooting with my father, Bruce Glover. We’ve never acted together before so I’m very excited about it. But that movie isn’t the third part of my trilogy, it’s something completely different. I still have a lot of work to do on it.

Is it hard to balance your own work with these other projects you do?

I love touring with my films and talking to people about them but I’m looking to go out and make other films to bring in money so I can continue shooting my new film! I would love it if I could eventually concentrate exclusively on my own filmmaking but at the same time I’m very glad and grateful for the chance to continue to act in corporately-funded and corporately-distributed films.

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As if on cue, my corporately-sponsored iPhone suddenly started breaking up and while I could hear him perfectly, Glover could barely understand anything I was saying. Rats — I look forward to talking to him again in the future about his films and the books and CDs that he publishes through his company Volcanic Eruptions. I would also love to ask him about his career as a child star on TV and the stage. Did you know that Crispin Glover starred as Friedrich in the national touring company of The Sound of Music opposite Florence Henderson as Maria von Trapp? Now that’s something to contemplate!

The Bag Man opens today in select cities and is available on VOD.