As a junior high schooler, I used to record "Late Night with David Letterman" on a VHS cassette tape every night and watch it the following morning because my parents wouldn't allow me to stay up that late. In 1987, during summer break, while watching my trusty VHS tape, I witnessed an event that forced me fall in love with popular culture. I mean, "gun to the head, you have no choice in this matter," forced.
During a very uncomfortable appearance, Crispin Glover -- who, at the time, I only knew as George McFly from "Back to the Future" -- came very close to kicking David Letterman in the face. So close that a surprised Letterman walked off the set. This moment changed me forever. This was a "you had to see it" moment. And I had. (Obviously there was no YouTube then. Luckily, now there is.)
So, now, when interviewing Glover for the first time -- along with "Freaky Deaky" co-star Michael Jai White -- I had to ask about this, as well as his more normal appearance on the same show just a few weeks later. Sure, Glover has a standard response, but I kept asking. I don't know if he really answers how it happened, but I do think, now, I know why it happened.
Both Glover and White are in New York to promote the Tribeca Film Festival entry "Freaky Deaky," a caper film based on an Elmore Leonard novel that takes place in 1974. For more description than that, you probably just need to see it for yourself. (OK: Bombs, dirty cops and blackmail are involved. Oh, And Glover's character is very rich, while White's character would love to be the recipient of an inheritance.) Here, Michael Jai White, for the first time, expresses his disappointment with "Spawn" and Glover, after much prodding, discusses why one of the most infamous appearance in late night television came to be.
I imagine it's fun to be in a movie that takes place in the 1970s.
Glover: I only knew that I was going to do it in the last week before shooting. I arrived the day before to do wardrobe. I tour with my own films that I make and I was a little bit distracted, frankly, and there were things that I wasn't quite sure about when I first read it. And then they kept offering and, finally, I was able to say, "Yeah, this is something I should do." But it was only within days. It's hard to tell, but I wear teeth in the film -- it gives it a subtle nuance to the character. And, of course, the wig. So, for me, it wasn't just like an, "I'm in." Michael and I met on the day of shooting and, of course, our characters have a lot of scenes together.
You two had a really good chemistry.
Glover: Yeah, we had a fun time working together. The first thing we, I think, talked about was what your character felt like around my character. Or something. And we also discovered that we both like to rehearse. Which, not all actors do. But, we got along very well.
White: I love the '70s. I think the '70s had the best music and the best movies.
"The Taking of Pelham One Two Three" can be seen on a marquis in this film.
Glover: Yeah, [director] Charlie Matthau's father [Walter] is, of course, in "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three."
White: That's why I wrote "Black Dynamite." I love the '70s -- 1974, I'm in.
There's a lot in this movie that's not explained, at first.
White: Right, but that's something that's Elmore Leonard -- people are not just cut and dry. There are a lot of shades of darkness, so I think that's something that goes with the territory.
Crispin, early in your career, you made appearances on "Happy Days," "The Facts of Life" and "Family Ties." Those don't seem like appearances that you would normally make. Was that a good experience?
Glover: Well, when I was 18, 19, and 20, I had three separate occasions where there were times when they wanted to develop situation comedies around me. It's a true thing. I was always relatively uncomfortable with television. I don't regret having done it, but I essentially stopped doing it after being a teenager. You know, when I tour with my own films -- my first film is called "What Is It" -- and most of the actors in the film have Down syndrome. But the film is not about Down syndrome at all. What it really is, it's my psychological reaction to the corporate constraints that have happened with corporately funded distributed films. Where anything that could make an audience member uncomfortable is excised -- or that film will not be corporately funded or distributed. I think that's a very damaging thing. I think 98 percent of our films are either actual, genuine propaganda or distractions.
Propaganda for what?
Glover: Well, I don't like to start getting into too much detail. But, business interests have a lot of control over what is happening in our culture -- the media and academia and politics. I don't want to get overly political, but that Occupy movement that's going on -- of course it's confusing because it can mean a lot of different things -- but the part I agree with about that movement is there is a legalized bribery that's happening. Business interests are able to have influence on politics, which, of course, should be protested ...
[Glover's publicist enters the room to deliver an unrelated message to Glover.]
Glover: So ... now I forgot what I was saying.
I asked about some sitcoms, but then things seemed to get very serious.
Glover: Oh! The reason I stared talking about that is that I always felt this, even when I was a teenager. And it's especially true in television. There's so much effect on what the content is. And I don't mean to say things negatively 100 percent. I'm grateful to the corporate world that I've grown up working. And that's made me be able to go and find my own films and tour with those. Because that's what I'm most passionate about. I loved working with Michael and Charlie -- it's a fun film and all of that, but I really am passionate about finding my own things.
I'm not exactly sure how to transition to my next question after that. But, here's my segue: Michael, were you surprised that "Spawn" didn't turn into a franchise?
White: I don't really think about it, but, they talked about making a sequel to it for a while. I thought it was a no-brainer. And superhero movies started becoming darker.
Was that one too dark too soon?
White: Well, there were some elements with the storytelling part of it that I had a problem with. To this day, you'll never find any print or any interview that said "I loved the movie." This is the first time I'm saying it out loud: It has its problems. There's an earlier version of it where the story was intact -- it was a story of a guy who lost everything and he was trying to get back to it. Somehow, the director started getting rid of that stuff -- and there's no heart anymore. I would love to step in there and do ["Spawn 2"], being that I understand the filmmaking process a bit more. It may take me being more proactive and producing it. It would be a killer money maker. But, you know, I'd really want to represent it in a way that it should have been. It should have been an R-rated movie from day one. But, this time, you'd be able to do a movie where Spawn could be Spawn. The same Spawn as in the comic book -- that's what it should be.
So, Crispin, there is something I've always wanted to ask you about...
Glover: You can ask anything.
You had an infamous appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman."
I assume Letterman wasn't in on that?
Glover: Well, the thing that I say in media, which we're in right now -- what I always answer is, "I neither confirm nor deny that I was ever on the David Letterman show." Which, of course, there's a sense of humor to it -- you can make what you want. When people ask me at my shows, I go into a lot of detail about anything. But, in media, that's what I always say.
But my question isn't about that appearance. It's about the second time you were on, about a month after that first appearance. Letterman can be an intimidating guy, were you nervous? Coming on as yourself, out of character, after the first appearance went the way it did?
Glover: [Laughs] Well, again, I neither confirm nor deny that I was ever on the David Letterman show.
You were on it. I saw you. And I just watched the clip again before I came in here.
Glover: [Laughs] You can say that. But, I mean, when I started acting, my concept about publicity ... my interest was just to be an actor. I was never really that comfortable with publicity.
You seem comfortable right now.
Glover: I'm OK because what's really made me especially aware of why it's important is because I make my own films. At first, as an actor, I had a different philosophy about it: My initial idea was to never do any publicity at all. I would just be a mysterious actor who would play different characters and you'd never see me do anything.
But you've achieved that. People think of you that way.
Glover: Well, no. I mean, I do publicity.
Right, but people still think of you as a mysterious actor.
Glover: But my real initial intention was none at all. Like, when "Back to the Future" came out, I didn't do any publicity for it. The next film that I had come out was "River's Edge" -- and I was proud of "River's Edge." And it made sense at that point for me to be the person who went out and did publicity for it. So, I did do publicity for it. But my sense of how to go about doing it, maybe, is a little bit different than I would go about doing it this point. I have respect at this point in my career as to what media is for as a businessperson and as a filmmaker. And, of course, now, when I work in corporate film -- and even at that time -- I understood I was helping the corporation that had paid me to be in the film and it's goodwill to publicize the film. And there are different ways of publicizing: You can publicize in a very sober manner or you can publicize with a kind of entertaining, flippant manner. At this point in my career, I think it's very good to compartmentalize things so that people don't get confused by what you're doing. So, I'm grateful to be in this film, "Freaky Deaky." I was paid to be in the movie. I enjoyed working with everybody. So, I'm here to do my job and I appreciate talking to you. My way of thinking about publicity is probably very different than it was 25 years ago.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com, GQ.com, New York Magazine and Movieline. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.