Inside the odd man out On screen, Crispin Glover has earned notoriety and acclaim for playing geeks, eccentrics and outsiders. Off screen, things aren’t really that different, writes
RISPIN Glover huddles over his laptop like a gifted teenager engaged in some bafflingly cerebral hobby. “I’ll come down to tea in a minute, Mom!” he doesn’t quite say. “I’ve just got to finish this last circuit diagram.” Glover, a freshly varnished stick insect, is putting the finishing touches to the Dadaist slide show that proceeded a screening of What is It?, his dizzyingly weird first feature, at the recent Darklight Festival in Dublin.
When word oozed out that Glover, still best known as a character actor, was moving into film direction, few of his fans expected him to focus on Jane Austen adaptations or Fluffy Bunny animations. Sure enough, What is it? turned out to be an indescribably surreal nightmare featuring a cast largely composed of young people with Down syndrome. The pseudo-sequel, It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE, is marginally less disturbing, but every bit as unhinged. Would you expect anything else from Crispin Glover?
Well, you might. Yes, Glover made something unsettling out of George McFly, Michael J Fox’s harassed dad, in the first Back to the Future film. He certainly delivered further variations on the deranged nerd in River’s Edge, Wild at Heart and Charlie’s Angels. But that was just acting, wasn’t it? We don’t imagine that Robert Downey Jr keeps a super-charged metal suit in his basement. Bela Lugosi wasn’t really a member of the undead.
Yet some of Crispin Glover’s onscreen persona does seems to have seeped into his public life. Eccentric in interviews, swiveleyed when presenting his slide show, Glover never seems able to fully shake off his Gloverishness.
“Well, well, well,” he machine-guns. “Yeah, that’s right. I am extremely aware of running the persona as a business. I don’t mean to say persona as, er . . . um . . . I mean I am aware of myself. There is somebody called Crispin Glover. That’s me!” Well I’m in the right room then. “Then I am aware of ‘Crispin Glover’ – the name I used for my acting career that I chose at 13. I use my full name, Crispin Hellion Glover, as a writer. Now, I am aware of the name and the images that ‘Crispin Glover’ puts forth in TV and film interviews. As a person – Crispin Glover – I can have influence on that, but I am also heavily aware that there is a discrepancy between that person and the private me. Now, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything about the public persona that reflects me.”
So, who am I talking to now? Is he currently wearing inverted commas?
“I talk about things in a different way in interviews. Look, I am aware of the product – ‘Crispin Glover’ – I am selling. You talk differently when you are selling a product.”
The raw materials for this product were born 44 years ago in New York City. Crispin Glover, named for the St Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V, is the son of Bruce Glover, a veteran character actor, and Marie, a former dancer. After the family moved to Los Angeles, Crispin spent time in a school for the gifted and began contemplating a life in the arts. Surprisingly for somebody so associated with the avant garde, he, once again, talks in coolly commercial terms about his early ambitions.
“I started realising that this would be a good business to be in,” he says, flapping a hand at the interior of the Irish Film Institute. “This felt like something I could do. Initially, I just thought it might be neat if I could be in a TV show or something. But I think, from when I was 16 or so, I had a sophisticated taste in art. At that time, there were still serious, interesting films being made in Hollywood. Somewhere round about that point, that changed.” There is, surely, something of an irony here. Fairly or unfairly, cinema analysts often