Crispin Hellion Glover: The Interview


Writer/Director Crispin Hellion Glover in his film ‘What Is It?’; photo by Rocky Schenck

It’s these sad little abuses of power that make it all worthwhile. Crispin Glover stopped into town a few weeks ago to promote his film, What Is It?, and Eye spoke with him about the cult of celebrity, renewed interest (courtesy of YouTube) in his crazy “I can kick!” appearance on David Letterman; the power of this website; who are the most skilled talk show hosts; and even…sigh…why he doesn’t watch TV. Glover will have another stint in the city Friday, Nov. 10-Sunday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Anthology Film Archives to screen his film and present a slideshow performance of his published works.

Would you ever put any clips on YouTube? There’s already like 50 on there related to you. There’s a lot on there. I don’t like to confirm or deny anything, but you should take a look and see.

Right, didn’t the New Yorker write about some actress you found on YouTube? I did contact that actress, Stevie Ryan, and there’s a movie that I want to make in the Czech Republic that she could be interesting for.

Would you promote it on YouTube just like What Is It? I can’t confirm or deny that I’m promoting anything on YouTube. [Eye looks at YouTube later. There is a video with Stevie Ryan’s YouTube character, Little Loca, which features a man who claims he is not, in fact, Crispin Glover—followed by a trailer of What Is It?]

There are so many diehard Crispin Glover fans out there with websites devoted to you. One even has a birthday countdown. I learned how many months and days it is until your 43rd birthday. I hope it’s the correct date, because it’s reported that my birth date is September 20, and my real birthday is April 20.

I read you celebrated it twice. The only reason that’s written is because it’s incorrect information. That’s the problem with the Internet. If a rumor is written several times on the Web, it becomes a fact in people’s minds.

About the Letterman clip, how do you feel about the fact that it’s still around on YouTube? It’s been about twenty years since that appearance. It gives an interest and a curiosity about me. So I’m actually quite glad that it’s had this new life.

Can you confirm or deny that you were high or you were playing a role? I like to leave it a mystery: my film, What is It?; the David Letterman appearance; my record (“Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution. The Solution=Let It Be”) there’s often a question. And what it is that people think about it is really the more important thing. And if I just state something, it defeats that purpose.

What purpose, exactly, is defeated? Well, what happened [on the show]. I think it’s interesting that there is a question. After all of these years, I’ve always thought it would be very evident what the actuality of the situation is, but it’s apparent that it’s not evident because there’s a lot of people that think a lot of different things. And I think that in itself is interesting, the fact that some people say one thing and other people say another thing.

Can you extend this discussion to TV? I was talking to someone on reality TV who said it has nothing to do with reality. I’m sure. I actually don’t own a television, and haven’t since I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 18 years old.

Why not? I actually grew up watching quite a lot of television. It’s something I just didn’t want as a distraction.

What did you watch when you were a kid? I did like Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. But I also watched those ’70s sitcoms that everybody grew up watching. And I definitely don’t miss those things. There’s something interesting I guess about the culture element of it, but in the same way my film is very much a reaction to certain types of corporate controls that are going on in film. It’s even far more exacerbated on television. What kind of thoughts and ideas can come through these things where corporate control is concerned about offending anybody?

When I was 18, 19, there were several times that people wanted to develop a television series with me. I was already very uncomfortable with that medium; I knew I didn’t want to be involved in it. And I don’t regret not having done it. At the time, there was much more of a differentiation: People who were on television were on television; people who were in film were in film. And that changed right around that time. But even still, there’s something about that medium. . . .

So you left it. You started out doing TV?
My very first job was actually in the theater. But I did do commercials. And I did some situation comedies.

Right, Family Ties. Yes, but before that, I did The Best of Times, which was a pilot. And I did Hill Street Blues, a Happy Days episode. Oh, I did a television movie called High School USA.

Yeah, there’s a clip from it on YouTube. You say, “Do you like cheese?” Yeah. I actually liked the character I did. But by and large, I really did not like doing television. I could see very readily that there was a much more limited thought process in television than film, and now I feel there’s a limited thought process in film. It’s always been like that. When I was 13, I thought it would be neat to be on a television commercial.

But now you don’t really want to sell Coca-Cola or Fresh Direct? The fact is, if Coca Cola wanted to put money into me making a film that I had control over the concepts, I would have no trouble with Coca-Cola sponsoring me. The differentiation lays when Coca-Cola says, ‘You can’t do this because we put money into your film.’ And that’s what continually happens in the corporate world.

How do you feel about being interviewed on talk shows like Letterman? Do you think they manipulate their interviewees? Oh yeah. You do a pre-interview on all those shows: you talk with the producer. What conversation you have is selected. You’re given . . . it’s not really a script, but basically what the questions are going to be. The talk show host is filled in on what the answers are going to be. And the writers come up with what the jokes are going to be. Some [talk show hosts] will veer away from it, but some won’t. Letterman in particular tends toward sticking very much to the script, and I think he becomes uncomfortable when scripted things are veered away from. Because he has his jokes pretty well planned out. I mean, he’s also a witty guy. He can come up with things pretty quickly.

I understand it, but if you look at those shows, starting in the 1950s, it was less about the cult of the personality of the talk show host and more about an actual conversation..looking at Dick Cavett or even Steve Allen or the early people on The Tonight Show. Even Johnny Carson was more conversational.

Strangely, two of the best interviewers I’ve been on with were Carson and Howard Stern. David Letterman and Jay Leno tend to be more about getting the jokes. But if you watch those shows, even a long interview is not 7 or 8 minutes. Most shows are about the skit, the monologue. It’s their show, and they feel that pressure. But Howard Stern tends toward being a talk show non-celebrity-fluffer. Even Letterman will for the most part interview the guests about what they want to be interviewed about. Even Stern will support what’s being promoted, but he will delve into the personality of the person against what the personality they’re putting forth is. Often what a celebrity is putting forth as a persona is not what their true personality is. Howard Stern is very aware of that and will get underneath that and expose that.

For me, I have the opposite problem: Many people think I’m much more insane/crazy/weird/bizarre than I actually am. I don’t mind if Howard Stern goes in and tries to get to the truth of it, because I don’t have something that I’m trying to hide. Sometimes it’s a bit irritating, but it’s easier for journalists to make a sensational element of me being this crazy/weird guy than getting into the nuances and truths of thought about things. Even if I give an intelligent interview, it’s easier for a journalist to go in and say, ‘Oh this person collects things,” which I don’t actually have a collection. I have one thing, but it’s turned into a collection. Howard Stern will tend toward getting into an actuality.

What did he do with you that you were impressed by?
He wanted to know what happened with Back to the Future negotiations . . . He would go to the point of things where most interviewers would step back and say, ‘Well, I know this is a territory that I’m not supposed to get into.’ He was braver with that.

I remember I saw him on with LaToya Jackson one time, and as I recall, she was on with her manager that she was married to. And he got into the sexuality of their relationship, and there was a question about how you’re not actually married until intercourse has happened within the marriage. And LaToya looked at him and was like, ‘Really?’ So it became apparent that she hadn’t had sex with her husband. That’s what it felt like.

They should get Oprah and Steadman on. Of course she wouldn’t do it.

Howard Stern has a persona as well. He’s intellectual, but that’s not his persona. So off the air, he’s more mellow and gentler and nicer and more intellectual.

I wanted to go on with him for promoting [my movie], but it’s the first time he turned me down. I think he knows that there isn’t a lot of dirt to get with me. When I tell the truth, it’s actually less sensational.