Esquire (Malaysia) - - CONTENTS - Pho­to­graphs by DAVID BURTON

Don­ald Glover is another Hol­ly­wood man of the mo­ment with a golden touch.

Right now ev­ery­one in Hol­ly­wood wishes they were Don­ald Glover. They wish they had the brain that cre­ated At­lanta, the fun­ni­est and smartest show in a gen­er­a­tion. They wish they pos­sessed the charisma that earned him the right to take on the leg­endary role of Lando Cal­ris­sian in Star Wars. He’s be­come one of the most pow­er­ful and in­flu­en­tial in­di­vid­u­als in town. So what’s next? Bi­jan Stephen sits down with the leg­end in the mak­ing.

SHOWS LIKE AT­LANTA aren’t sup­posed to get made. And yet here we are, in the early days of anno Domini 2018, wit­ness­ing Glover and At­lanta hap­pen at the same time. Look­ing back now, I find it hard to imag­ine the pitch—a show about a Prince­ton dropout who wants to be a rap man­ager?—al­though of course Glover re­mem­bers, be­cause go­ing from idea to episode 101 took years. “I re­mem­ber see­ing an in­ter­view where Dave Chap­pelle was talk­ing about how it was im­por­tant to him that the show was per­sonal,” Glover told me. “So I just fo­cused on mak­ing it more and more per­sonal. We shopped it around to all these places. I didn’t get too spe­cific about what the show was, be­cause I just felt like try­ing to ex­plain it was go­ing to be a hard sell.” And it was. Nu­mer­ous net­works passed; in the end, FX was the only one that didn’t blink. “It was a Tro­jan horse to be able to just tell sto­ries,” Glover said. “I’m just not a per­son who wants to give peo­ple what they want, be­cause I’m more com­pli­cated than that.”

Now no one in Hol­ly­wood can get enough of Don­ald Glover or At­lanta. The show that ev­ery­one in town re­jected is the one ev­ery­one in­vokes to get their ideas green­lit, a show that is short­hand for once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion orig­i­nal­ity. Glover told me a story about some­one who had re­cently pitched a show. The net­work’s idea: “Is there a way to make this into the Mex­i­can At­lanta?” he said. “Which I thought was, like, kind of—i guess on a cer­tain level is flat­ter­ing.” But it be­lies a crit­i­cal lack of imag­i­na­tion. A hit doesn’t be­come a hit based on what it’s made of; the sum has to be greater than its parts. “It’s not an A-to-b-type thing,” Glover said. “You can’t take the bones of some­thing and then just, like, di­rect it, like, some­thing else.” A show has to be its own thing.

At thirty-four, Glover has made a ca­reer of frus­trat­ing peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions of him. Af­ter At­lanta’s de­but sea­son, Glover earned a pair of Em­mys and a twin set of Golden Globes—the for­mer mak­ing him the first African-amer­i­can to win for Out­stand­ing Di­rect­ing for a Com­edy Series. He’s more suc­cess­ful than any­body his age has any right to be, and it’s be­cause of his creative en­ergy and cu­rios­ity. “I’m way far­ther up this never-end­ing moun­tain than I thought I would ever be,” he told me. “Not that I thought that I’d never be there.” IN DE­CEM­BER, I MET GLOVER IN AT­LANTA.

It was a few weeks be­fore Christ­mas, and chilly, too; the last leaves on the city’s many trees had de­cided to give up the ghost. He was in a med­i­ta­tive mood. Or maybe he was just tired, hav­ing wrapped the se­cond sea­son of At­lanta only a few days be­fore. What­ever the case, there was a Zen still­ness about him that was a lit­tle eerie.

It turns out Glover was think­ing about the weight of his crown. “Fame def­i­nitely doesn’t help me do what I want to do,” he told me as we took our seats in the back of a black SUV. That might be be­cause he wears its trap­pings lightly. Maybe you know him as the won­der­fully cracked voice be­hind Tracy Mor­gan’s “Tracy Jor­dan” on 30 Rock, or as Troy Barnes, the sweet, washed-up quar­ter­back from Com­mu­nity. Per­haps you were in­tro­duced to him as Child­ish Gam­bino, the mu­si­cian who man­aged to coax a se­ri­ous ca­reer out of a col­le­giate dal­liance with a Wu-tang Clan name gen­er­a­tor, or you watched his stand-up spe­cials. Or maybe you first saw him as Earn Marks, the lost boy who’s try­ing to sup­port his daugh­ter, on At­lanta.

As Troy, Gam­bino, and Earn—and in movies like The Mar­tian and Magic Mike Xxl—glover is im­pos­si­bly com­pelling. His act­ing is very phys­i­cal: He has that abil­ity, like wa­ter, to fill the space he’s given on­screen, even when he’s play­ing for laughs. His songs func­tion sim­i­larly—his bars hold their own on tracks with Chance the Rap­per and J. Cole. The shape of his ca­reer, wend­ing as it does across tele­vi­sion, mu­sic, and movies, feels like some­thing very new, or per­haps very old: He’s the sort of cross-genre tal­ent rarely seen since Hol­ly­wood’s stu­dio days.

But as big as Glover is now, he’s about to be huge. Be­sides star­ring in the long-awaited se­cond sea­son of At­lanta (pre­mier­ing March 1), he’ll play Lando Cal­ris­sian in Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25). And next year, he’ll costar with Bey­oncé in Jon Favreau’s com­put­er­gen­er­ated an­i­mated re­make of The Lion King.

As we ma­neu­vered through At­lanta’s labyrinthine streets, I asked Glover what he wanted to do next. His an­swer was de­cep­tively sim­ple: “I just want more free­dom.” And what will you do with it?

“Make stuff that no one else will make. Part of the rea­son I do what I do is be­cause I’m the only one who can do it.”

THERE’S NO BE­ING OB­JEC­TIVE ABOUT DON­ALD GLOVER—NOT for me, any­way. I re­al­ize that his suc­cess means that Glover be­longs to the world. He’s Lando moth­er­fuck­ing Cal­ris­sian, with­out ques­tion the best-known Don­ald out­side the White House.

But for a young black nerd like me, Glover has al-


ways been some­thing else, too. His ca­reer in show busi­ness started in the mid-2000s, and some of his ear­li­est fans were the self-iden­ti­fied weirdos who felt they couldn’t re­late to the world as it was then. (That was a time, re­mem­ber, when Aber­crom­bie & Fitch was hot and the In­ter­net was a maze of bizarre fo­rums and Live­jour­nal posts.) As he be­gan to make a name for him­self in New York’s im­prov scene, you had the sense that he got it. He looked like us and talked like us, and seemed to be speak­ing for a seg­ment of young peo­ple who were geeky and quirky and mostly ig­nored. We loved him for it.

Glover made such an im­pres­sion do­ing im­prov that when he grad­u­ated from NYU, Tina Fey of­fered him a writ­ing job on 30 Rock, his first big break. He stayed there for three years, ap­pear­ing in front of the cam­era in the oc­ca­sional episode (once as a young Tracy Mor­gan), un­til he told Fey he wanted to move to L. A. and try stand-up.

(That was a time, re­mem­ber, when Aber­crom­bie & Fitch was hot and the In­ter­net was a maze of bizarre fo­rums and Live­jour­nal posts.) As he be­gan to make a name for him­self in New York’s im­prov scene, you had the sense that he got it. He looked like us and talked like us, and seemed to be speak­ing for a seg­ment of young peo­ple who were geeky and quirky and mostly ig­nored. We loved him for it.

Glover made such an im­pres­sion do­ing im­prov that when he grad­u­ated from NYU, Tina Fey of­fered him a writ­ing job on 30 Rock, his first big break. He stayed there for three years, ap­pear­ing in front of the cam­era in the oc­ca­sional episode (once as a young Tracy Mor­gan), un­til he told Fey he wanted to move to L. A. and try stand-up.

In 2009, Glover quit 30 Rock and was un­em­ployed for a grand to­tal of six days be­fore he was cast as Troy Barnes on Dan Har­mon’s odd­ball NBC sit­com Com­mu­nity. Troy was the res­i­dent dumb guy, the char­ac­ter who sold the show’s con­cepts and writ­ing with his per­son­al­ity; he made Har­mon’s uni­verse be­liev­able by play­ing a be­liev­ably re­lat­able role. Glover’s comedic in­stincts made him per­fect for the job, and he quickly be­came the heart of the series. By the time he left, dur­ing the fifth sea­son, Glover was no longer a quirky un­known quan­tity with a few side hus­tles. Now Face­book wine moms and Tim Tay­lor-es­que dads knew him, and Hol­ly­wood was start­ing to re­al­ize that he might be a bank­able com­mod­ity.

JUST BE­FORE WE REACHED THE LAND­MARK DINER JR., in north­east At­lanta, which bills it­self as the place “where the stars meet at night,” Glover looked out the win­dow of our SUV and idly pointed to a strip club he’d once been to. So when we sat in our booth at the diner, I asked him about the city’s fa­mous strip clubs, which are said to func­tion as third places, no more louche—well, maybe a lit­tle—than a Star­bucks in Irvine, Cal­i­for­nia.

Glover didn’t visit one un­til he was well into his twen­ties. “I knew what it was,” he said, “and I also didn’t have that type of money.” You can’t be broke in a strip club; that might as well be against the law. “I grew up know­ing that you go to the strip club to have a good time,” he said. He stopped him­self, then added, “Al­though I don’t know how much fun women have in there.”

In 2012, af­ter a bro­ken foot forced him to post­pone his first big tour as Child­ish Gam­bino, Glover went to Magic City. “Peo­ple wanted me to stop be­ing de­pressed. They’re like, ‘Give us that smile.’ I just don’t want to do it all the time. That’s not me. I’m not go­ing to lie and say, ‘That feels good, you’re my girl.’ ”

Glover’s re­sis­tance to the pres­sures that come with his fame—when peo­ple want ei­ther a piece of your suc­cess (read: money) or some­thing from you that you can’t give, like your love—is balanced by the fact that he is, fun­da­men­tally, an open per­son. Un­til he signed off so­cial me­dia a few years ago, he main­tained a Twit­ter ac­count that was hardly typ­i­cal for a celebrity of his stature. Glover’s tweets were openly emo, in a 2008 Mys­pace sort of way, and they of­ten seemed to of­fer a peek in­side his brain. “lets all get crushes,” he’d tweet one day. “learn to code. god codes,” on another.

Glover quit so­cial me­dia be­cause “I re­al­ized that con­nec­tion was too pow­er­ful for a per­son like me,” he said. “I just would get hurt.” When he goes on­line now, “I try and find sub­cul­tures. I try and find com­mu­ni­ties. I talk to peo­ple as a reg­u­lar per­son. It’s the only place you can be anony­mous.” (As of press time, he be­gan tweet­ing again—his first tweet, since deleted, was in re­sponse to Oprah’s fiery speech at the Golden Globes; his se­cond was a promo for At­lanta’s se­cond sea­son.)

WHILE HE WAS ON COM­MU­NITY, GLOVER FILMED two stand-up spe­cials for Com­edy Cen­tral. The first aired in 2010, and the se­cond in 2011. In both, he es­sen­tially played him­self: a sharp, self­aware twenty-some­thing. The ma­te­rial was mostly con­fes­sional, and it gave nearly equal time to jokes about dicks and jokes about race.

The same week his se­cond spe­cial aired, he re­leased Camp, his first se­ri­ous rap al­bum. Glover had been per­form­ing un­der the name Child­ish Gam­bino since shortly af­ter col­lege. On the record, he cast him­self as a rap out­sider. The sub­jects of his songs spanned ev­ery­thing from past flings to racial alien­ation. While its crit­i­cal re­cep­tion was mixed, Camp de­buted at num­ber eleven on the Bill­board 200. He pre­viewed it on a cross-coun­try tour called IAMDONALD, a poly­mathic fu­sion of hip-hop, stand-up, and sketch com­edy that, at the time, felt like a prom­ise that the world was chang­ing.

In 2013, Glover dropped his se­cond stu­dio al­bum, Be­cause the In­ter­net. Cer­ti­fied gold, it earned Glover a pair of Grammy nom­i­na­tions and a much warmer re­cep­tion from mu­sic crit­ics. Its fol­low-up, 2016’s Awaken, My Love!, brought in five Grammy nods. The al­bum ce­mented Gam­bino as a ra­dio star and put him on the big screen: “Red­bone,” a sul­try, Ge­orge Clin­ton–in­spired funk jam, played over the open­ing cred­its of 2017’s Get Out and went triple plat­inum.

The more con­se­quen­tial hap­pen­ing of 2013 by far, how­ever, was a deal Glover signed with FX to write, star on, and pro­duce what Dead­line called “a com­edy set against the back­drop of the At­lanta mu­sic scene.” Thus came At­lanta, which de­buted in 2016 and was an in­stant hit with crit­ics and view­ers. Its pre­miere drew 1.8 mil­lion view­ers. Two thirds of them were adults un­der fifty—the high­est rat­ings for a first episode of a ba­sic-ca­ble com­edy since the launch of In­side Amy Schumer three years ear­lier. That suc­cess was un­ex­pected, ac­cord­ing to Hiro Mu­rai, who di­rected seven episodes of At­lanta in its first sea­son and di­rected or pro­duced all of the episodes in sea­son two: “It re­ally felt like we made this thing in a vac­uum.” Much of its DNA came from 2013’s Clap­ping for the Wrong Rea­sons, Mu­rai said, a short he and Glover made about a rap star aim­lessly mov­ing from room to room in his man­sion on some coast, drift­ing among the friends and pos­ses­sions he’d col­lected.

At­lanta also messed with TV con­ven­tions, slyly plant­ing sur­re­al­ist notes—a black Justin Bieber and an in­vis­i­ble car—into an al­ready-wink­ing show. It de­vel­oped, Glover told me, as a re­sult of hang­ing out with his brother Stephen, who’s also a writer for the show. “I started see­ing more of the world and get­ting in more ar­gu­ments and talk­ing about more shit. Like black women telling me, ‘Black men don’t do shit for us.’ I’m like, ‘Damn, you re­ally feel that way?’ And they’re like, ‘One hun­dred per­cent.’ ”

The suc­cess of the first sea­son was great for Glover, but he’s



aware the se­cond sea­son has a lot to live up to. The first day back on set, Mu­rai told me, “just felt like Bizarro World.” They took such a long hia­tus that they’d for­got­ten, at least at first, how to make the show. “It feels like it grew into some­thing else. It’s a lit­tle more short-story-ori­ented.”

“I tried to do the Q-tip take on it,” Glover said, re­fer­ring to the co­founder of A Tribe Called Quest. “Af­ter their first al­bum, he was like, ‘I’m kick­ing this sopho­more-slump shit in the ass.’ ”

Glover said it was good to be back in the neigh­bor­hoods that make up At­lanta’s set: “It felt like we could walk through the hood and peo­ple knew who we were.” And then there’s the night they were shoot­ing in Bankhead. “Shots started pop­ping off. Like, pop, pop, pop, pop,” Glover said. The cast and crew stood around, un­cer­tain, un­til they heard faster re­turn fire. “I wasn’t hear­ing it hit the leaves yet. Some­times you hear a gun­shot”—here he ap­prox­i­mated the sound of, well, bul­lets hit­ting leaves— “where you know it’s fuck­ing close.” No one on set wanted to wait to hear that sound. Ev­ery­one got low and went in­side; pro­duc­tion was can­celed for the night.

“That’s part of the re­spect,” Glover said. “If you go in the ocean, you have to re­spect the ocean. You know that you can drown. I don’t want peo­ple to think life is a fuck­ing Dis­ney­land, and we’re work­ing, like, ‘Isn’t it cool that peo­ple live this way?’ It’s not.”

Over din­ner, Glover told me that he gets anx­ious when he’s close to some­thing real. “I know sea­son two of At­lanta is some­thing be­cause it makes me ner­vous.” Bul­lets-whip­ping-through-leaves ner­vous.

GLOVER WAS BORN in 1983 and raised in Stone Moun­tain, Ge­or­gia, the site of the largest Con­fed­er­ate me­mo­rial in the U. S. “If peo­ple saw how I grew up, they would be trig­gered,” he said. “Con­fed­er­ate flags ev­ery­where. I had friends who were white, whose par­ents were very sweet to me but were also like, ‘Don’t ever date him.’ I saw that what was be­ing of­fered on Sesame Street didn’t ex­ist.”

When he was eleven, Glover wrote him­self a let­ter, not un­like the one Michael Jack­son wrote him­self in 1979, when he vowed to shock the world with his tal­ents. Glover’s ver­sion read: “I’m gonna try and I’m gonna save the world.”


Though his par­ents raised him as a Je­ho­vah’s Wit­ness—a faith that has strict pro­hi­bi­tions on pop cul­ture—glover says Star Wars oc­cu­pied a rare space in his home. It was im­por­tant enough that his dad took him out of school to see the pre­quels. (Yup, the pre­quels.) He re­mem­bers bit­ing the lightsaber off his Darth Vader ac­tion fig­ure when he was a kid, but re­calls his blue-caped Lando Cal­ris­sian fig­urine even more in­tensely. Un­til the Jedi Mace Windu came along in 1999’s The Phan­tom Me­nace, Lando was the only black per­son in the Star Wars uni­verse. (Af­ter Windu, played by Sa­muel L. Jack­son, John Boyega’s Finn, from The Force Awak­ens and The Last Jedi, made three.) In the orig­i­nal tril­ogy, Lando goes from a fiercely in­de­pen­dent smug­gler try­ing to avoid the Em­pire’s scru­tiny to a gen­uine hero who saves Princess Leia, Han Solo, C-3P0, Chew­bacca, Luke Sky­walker, and R2-D2. “I had a doll that I slept with— the only black doll in the store—that my mom bought for me. And my dad bought me Lando,” Glover said.

Some years ago, he heard a ru­mor that a movie fea­tur­ing Lando was in the works. “I told my agent, ‘I wanna be Lando,’” but his agent didn’t like his chances. “That was ex­actly what I needed to hear,” Glover told me, “be­cause I’m the per­son who’s not sup­posed to make it, so much so that I don’t think peo­ple rec­og­nize where I came from and what I’ve done. At a cer­tain point, it does look easy. I do some­times look like a Mary Sue. I was like, ‘Oh, okay, cool.’ I stud­ied, I watched the movies a lot, and I killed it, be­cause I was ready.”

Glover called his fa­ther as soon as he landed the role and told him, “Yo, you’re not gonna be­lieve what I’m go­ing to be do­ing next year.” The best part, he said, was bring­ing his fa­ther to the set on the Ca­nary Is­lands, where the pro­duc­tion team had built an en­tire city. Ron Howard, Solo: A Star Wars Story’s di­rec­tor, told me that Glover was so trained and fo­cused that he didn’t al­ways have to use a stunt dou­ble. “I loved his take on Lando and his pas­sion for the char­ac­ter,” Howard said, not­ing how deeply Glover gets the dif­fer­ent ways the char­ac­ter can en­ter­tain an au­di­ence. “It’s charm, it’s hu­mor, it’s an in­tel­li­gence, there’s a rogu­ish­ness he un­der­stands with­out sell­ing out the char­ac­ter’s traits,” he said. “You’d be a fool not to en­gage him cre­atively.”

Land­ing Simba in the Lion King re­make went sim­i­larly. When Favreau of­fered him the part, he again felt the grav­ity of the role, and the re­spon­si­bil­ity to do right by a char­ac­ter that de­fined his child­hood uni­verse. “I get why peo­ple don’t like re­makes,” Glover said, “and I only want to work with peo­ple who un­der­stand why peo­ple don’t like re­makes.”

His ob­ses­sion with qual­ity—his un­shak­able sense of his own taste—comes from his mother, who in­stilled in him a re­spect for things made well. Glover says it started with fast food. “My mom used to take me to Chick-fil-a. We all know it’s all fast food; none of it’s good for you. But it’s bet­ter than Mcdon­ald’s. She’d be like, ‘Look at these cups. Look at the color pat­tern. Look at the way this tastes. Look at how it doesn’t taste great af­ter a cou­ple of hours.’ ”

Glover and his part­ner, whom he won’t dis­cuss out of con­cern for her pri­vacy, now have two young chil­dren of their own. And while he won’t say how young be­cause he’s fe­ro­cious about their pri­vacy, too, he does say that a re­spect for qual­ity is al­ready some­thing he’s try­ing to pass down to them—how to rec­og­nize what’s good and what’s not, how to con­sume dis­cern­ingly.

Glover also al­lows that fa­ther­hood has had its own pe­cu­liar ef­fects on him. “Let me make this short and sweet,” he said. “Ev­ery step of your life once you’re an adult, you re­al­ize what be­ing a teenager is. Once you’re a teenager, you re­al­ize what be­ing a child is.” Each phase, he says, pro­vides con­text for the one that came be­fore it. “Chil­dren are life’s great­est con­text. Par­ent­hood re­ally does make you some­thing more. It asks you ques­tions that no one is ever ready for, and that you’re al­ways ready for. It’s like ayahuasca.”

At­lanta is the clear­est ex­pres­sion yet that Glover has be­come a gen­uine creative force in Hol­ly­wood and be­yond. That’s hard to do even in the most open artis­tic cli­mates, but it’s rarer still in film and TV, me­dia that tend to re­ward same­ness rather than strange­ness. Glover’s ge­nius has been to con­vince those very real gate­keep­ers that lazy, re­ac­tive, im­i­ta­tive dreck won’t cut it any longer— and to show, through his ca­reer and his fans, that large num­bers of peo­ple re­ally do care about the qual­ity of what they put in their minds. It’s not al­ways true that you are what you eat, but Glover’s suc­cess has be­gun to teach Hol­ly­wood the value of eat­ing your veg­eta­bles.

AF­TER LEAV­ING THE LAND­MARK, we got in the car again, headed for In­man Park, one of At­lanta’s older, now-gen­tri­fy­ing neigh­bor­hoods. “I re­ally do be­lieve in be­ing a cit­i­zen of the world,” he said. Home, for him, is a place he builds ev­ery­where he goes. “I haven’t lived in L.A. in over a year. I lived in Lon­don and we made a home there and we had a place and we made new friends. Then we moved here and we built some­thing here and made new friends,” he con­tin­ued. “Af­ter this, then I’m go­ing to an is­land and I’m just go­ing to live there. Just create.”

Just as im­por­tant as his sense of home is Glover’s tight-knit cir­cle of friends and col­lab­o­ra­tors. The team calls it­self Roy­alty, af­ter a 2012 Child­ish Gam­bino mix­tape, and in­cludes Fam Ude­orji, Chad Tay­lor, Kari Faux, Ma­lik Flint, Ibra Ake, Swank, and Don­ald’s brother Stephen. They man­aged his Child­ish Gam­bino tours, write for At­lanta, and are his most trusted con­fi­dants. “I think they’re just a group of kings and queens. Ev­ery­body’s al­lowed to have their own no­bil­ity.”

We found a tapas restau­rant, part of a bourgie


mar­ket on Krog Street, which is lo­cated in Tyler Perry’s old stu­dios. It was early evening, and the vibe was mel­low. No­body, aside from our host­ess, gave him a se­cond look. That is, un­til a tall, tat­tooed guy wear­ing a leather jacket walked up to us, told Glover he was a huge fan, and called his girl over. She was wil­lowy and dark-eyed, with a del­i­cate bone struc­ture. They were beau­ti­ful to­gether—poised and defini­tively alt. Glover made time for them. “You never know who you meet,” the guy mar­veled while talk­ing to Glover. “I love your work. I love how you give it back to the city, broad­cast­ing that shit, bro,” he said.

Glover’s care for black peo­ple and the black Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence is un­de­ni­able. When he says that he wants “to make stuff that no one else will make,” he means stuff that is go­ing to touch black peo­ple. “Black peo­ple do not have the nar­ra­tive over their story. It’s al­ways been writ­ten by some­body else,” he said. “I also think it’s like we have PTSD. There’s a lot of things that have hap­pened to us that we don’t com­pletely un­der­stand and we’re not get­ting help to un­der­stand. That’s why in­for­ma­tion is so pow­er­ful and nec­es­sary. If you un­der­stand, then you don’t let it hap­pen again.”

The night of Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion, Glover said, he con­sid­ered leav­ing the coun­try with his fam­ily. “We un­der­stand most peo­ple don’t have that lux­ury, but it’s im­por­tant, es­pe­cially as a black per­son, to be like, ‘I’m not con­strained to Amer­ica.’ Al­though Amer­ica is part of me, I’m go­ing to be black ev­ery­where.” That echoes James Bald­win’s “Stranger in the Vil­lage,” an es­say about how Amer­i­can his­tory ren­ders race both un­avoid­able and idio­syn­cratic. “The black man, as a man, did not ex­ist for Eu­rope,” Bald­win wrote. “But in Amer­ica, even as a slave, he was an in­escapable part of the gen­eral so­cial fab­ric and no Amer­i­can could es­cape hav­ing an at­ti­tude to­ward him.”

Glover told me that he’d much pre­fer racism to be out in the open so that ev­ery­body knows where ev­ery­one else stands. “It’s like be­ing in a bas­ket­ball game and you’re like, ‘Hey, can ev­ery­body not flop? Can we just agree: If you get fouled for real, that’s fine, but please don’t flop?’ Peo­ple are like, ‘No, pre­tend­ing to fall is part of the game.’ ”

At the same time, Glover rec­og­nizes peo­ple will take what­ever per­ceived ad­van­tages they can get, be­cause Amer­i­can life feels struc­tured like a zero-sum game in terms of race—most of us be­lieve that we lose some of our sta­tus ev­ery time another group makes an equiv­a­lent gain. “You can’t get peo­ple to be hon­est about that stuff be­cause if they can have an edge, they’re go­ing to do that,” he said, be­fore com­par­ing racial strug­gles to the ones women face in Hol­ly­wood from the Har­vey We­in­steins of the world. “I was ac­tu­ally just read­ing about Matt Da­mon and he’s like, ‘There’s a cul­ture of out­rage.’ I’m like, ‘Well, they have a rea­son to be out­raged,’ ” Glover said. “I think it’s a lot of dudes just be­ing scared. They’re like, ‘What if I did some­thing and I didn’t re­al­ize it?’ I’m like, ‘Deal with it.’ ”

Glover says that in ad­di­tion to the new sea­son of At­lanta, and Solo, and The Lion King, there may be another Child­ish Gam­bino al­bum. “I feel like that’s not the end­ing—for me, any­way. I know it’s some­times a hard pill to swal­low, but I don’t care that much about what hap­pens to me. The vi­bra­tions that I make, that’s for the peo­ple.” He went on: “Ev­ery­body al­ways wants to change some­thing and go to the next thing. I would love to be some­thing that just gives and gives and doesn’t take.

“All you re­ally want to do is make some­thing that stands the test of time,” he said. “That’s all that mat­ters. I like Erykah Badu and Lau­ryn Hill and Marvin Gaye and Ste­vie Won­der. That’s ev­ery­day mu­sic. That’s mu­sic that peo­ple just put on and they’re like, ‘Man, this song makes me feel good. This song, it helps me get through the day.’ You lis­ten to What’s Go­ing ON—I get a very in­tense feel­ing when­ever I hear [Gaye] singing. Who’s will­ing to save a world that is des­tined to die? That’s such a real, hon­est thing. It’s like, why even raise chil­dren? Why raise a puppy? Why put so much care in some­thing where you know de­struc­tion is part of the process?”

Glover is so many things to so many peo­ple—man crush, teen idol, creative in­spi­ra­tion, oc­ca­sional col­lab­o­ra­tor—and, through his work, gives them so much of him­self. But how does he see him­self? Near the end of our con­ver­sa­tion, I asked.

He threw the ques­tion back at me: “Do you think Tu­pac was like, ‘I know ex­actly who I am?’ ” Yes, I said. “I know ev­ery­body likens them­selves to Tu­pac a lot,” he said. “I am the new Tu­pac in a strange way. I grew up sim­i­lar. I didn’t have a mom in the Black Pan­thers, but my par­ents were very pro-black. Also, my mom made me go to per­form­ing-arts high school. She was like, ‘That’s where you need to be.’ Some­times you have to play a role for peo­ple to un­der­stand you, even though you’re far more com­plex than any of that. Some­times it’s re­ally hard to sim­plify that so peo­ple can eat it.”

He con­tin­ued: “Sto­ry­telling is just sim­pli­fy­ing what’s hap­pen­ing to you. Life is just a story. Stuff that hap­pens to you, you just put into story mode. I just take what’s there and put it into story mode on a smaller level so that you can be like, ‘Oh my God, that’s life! I to­tally re­late to that.’ ”

Glover men­tioned one of the ear­li­est movies in his­tory, a forty-five-se­cond unedited film by the Lu­mière brothers that shows a train ar­riv­ing at a sta­tion. “I al­ways think about how the train came at the screen, one of the first mov­ing im­ages, and the au­di­ence jumped out of the way,” he said. “The au­di­ence didn’t know what it was. I’m like, ‘How do you do that again? How do you make peo­ple jump out of the way be­cause they thought it was that real?’ ”


Red Alert Jacket, trousers, cum­mer­bund, and pocket square by Gucci; shirt by Charvet; stud set by Codis Maya.

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