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Crispin Glover interview: American Gods’ Mr. World on metaphor and why he’s never read Neil Gaiman’s book

Crispin Glover as Mr. World in American Gods, based on Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name

Crispin Glover, who stars as Mr. World in American Gods, is a rare bird — a meteoric talent many know little of, save for his infamous 1987 “in character” David Letterman appearance and roles in Back to the Future and River’s Edge.

He is nonconformist, erudite and highly intelligent, and not content to let corporate entertainment machines dictate his future.

Glover, who has English, Czech, Swedish and German ancestry, grew up in America but now lives in the Czech Republic and does his own thing, in a similar way to Viggo Mortensen; writing, publishing, creating music, and even filmmaking.

His forte is finding obscure literature and creating films and interpretive art that defies genres.

American Gods author Neil Gaiman, who worked with Glover on the 2007 film Beowulf, picked him for the role of Mr. World in the Starz adaptation of his book.

His character is an “omniscient leader” anchoring the New Gods coalition, who has his eye on Ian McShane’s Old God leader Mr. Wednesday.

But as we learned when we spoke to him, Glover’s approach to his highly anticipated role was to avoid reading Gaiman’s book…

Monsters and Critics: The Old Gods in the book are all ones that have been brought to America by immigrants in the past. Did your family bring any old gods with them in any form when they moved to America?

Crispin Glover: I know that my father was raised Swedish Methodist, and they preached hell a lot.

So as a young person he believed he was going to go to hell. I was raised consequently without any religion. My parents didn’t want to raise me that way.

I have an appreciation of metaphors, which this project definitely is dealing with.

It is fascinating because I think that is not happening a lot in our corporately funded and distributed entertainment media.

I love the project. I’m glad to be part of it.

M&C: What do you think the main message Neil Gaiman is putting forward with American Gods?

CG: The way I came into the project…years ago I had worked with Neil Gaiman on Beowulf, and he co-wrote that with Roger Avery and it was directed by Robert Zemeckis.

There was a good moral in that screenplay — that lies were bad.

For various reasons it had a lot of impact on me. I had talked with Neil — he’s a great guy, obviously a great writer — and that kind of moral element I thought was very important.

Then all of these years later I had a meeting with Bryan [Fuller] and Michael [Green], who developed the series, and they were explaining the show to me and the storylines and what my character was and it immediately sounded fascinating.

They sent me the first scene for my character, I read that and it was great, so I said yes.

One of the things that I will say for the character is that “We are the world, we are the children…”.

It sounds kind of funny, but the show Neil Gaiman put forth was a series of metaphorical elements you can interpret on many different levels, and that really is what the beauty of the piece is for me.

That isn’t happening so much in our corporately funded and distributed entertainment media.

M&C: Have you read the book?

CG: I hadn’t read the novel and I purposely haven’t because I know if I do I will start getting ideas of how it should be interpreted and I don’t mean just as acting, but what things should be focused on. I don’t want to do that.

The dramaturgy that Michael and Brian are doing is beautifully done.

I know this is a good project and I know that there are people who have read the novel that know things about my character that I don’t know. I feel like I’m hopefully on the right track.

After it’s all done, I will read it and I might think ‘Oh, I totally blew this’ [laughs] but hopefully I feel like I’m on the right track.

M&C: I love how you physically transform yourself in every role. I’ve seen the stills, you are in episodes 5 and 8. You have a very precise look to Mr. World. How did you interpret the character and what did you want to relay?

Mr. World has a very distinct look to him, like many of Glover’s characters over the years

CG: There are some things…some things I don’t want to say too much about, because I think the metaphors are too important; to let them be interpreted.

I think part of the beauty of a metaphor is that people think multiple things about it. And if I start dictating what something precisely is, then it could be a little bit distracting.

For now, there were some things that could have been done in the wardrobe department, which was excellent.

But we discussed it. I wanted to pull it back a little bit from being too evident of perhaps what that metaphor might be.

So it is more subdued perhaps than it could be. There could be some very evident kinds of…wardrobe choices for this character that I wanted to stay a little bit away from because I felt it could give up too much.

M&C: You are very selective about the things you do. Is American Gods good art?

CG: Yes. I say it very solidly, this is really good material. It is very rare that…that’s a huge part of why I did it.

It’s genuinely…both the initial inception by Neil Gaiman and then the dramaturgy put forth by Michael and Bryan. It’s excellent all the way through.

And the fact that Neil is the executive producer…so everything is done with his understanding and happiness.

M&C: What gives you the most pleasure as an artist? You publish, do music, direct, so much more than acting…

CG: My own films that I’ve made are things I am very proud of. I’m starting a tour again in just about a month — people can find out where I am at crispinglover.com — but I tour with two different live shows and two feature films.

I’m also editing another feature film that I shot over the last couple of years. The new film was developed for myself and my father [character actor Bruce Glover] to act in together. We had never acted together before.

The filmmaking is definitely a huge part of my day-to-day life. I own property in the Czech Republic and it’s an old chateau that was built in the 1600s with horse stables that I have converted into 18,000 square feet of backstage sets which I used for my first film production, and I will continue to use for subsequent film productions.

M&C: Do you have a crew there you rely on?

CG: No. I work with volunteers because it’s expensive to make films. Really it sounds funny but I work in a very amateur way in that fashion.

But I work with people who have had experience on some level of the department that they are working in.

But it’s very rare for me to work with somebody who is doing their exact job that they do in the corporate world, so to speak.

M&C: If you had to pick an Old God based on interest, not reverence, who would it be?

CG: I think in this particular question I have to answer from the point of view of my character Mr. World.

For that, I have to be working with all of them. I am collaborating with them.

M&C: Do you think technology is killing humanity?

CG: No. I think technology is very positive. What can be the negative is when corporate interests take the messages, the information to be utilized, for their own gain and against the interest of the regular person.

That’s what needs to be watched out for. People using technology to their advantage for communication betwixt with each other is positive.

It’s corporate control of information being used to enrich just the corporation itself at the disadvantage of the humans that are helping that corporation to exist, that’s the problem.

But I feel like there’s a positive thing that is happening. Corporations don’t want people to realize that, and people ARE realizing it.

Part of the reason people are realizing it is the technology of the internet. So I see positives.

M&C: Like the whole upswell for Bernie Sanders…

CG: Yes! Exactly. I am so happy that he was…I’ve been talking about this for years with my own films.

My first film, ‘What Is It?’ was a reaction to the corporate constraints that have happened in the last 30 or more years, wherein anything that could possibly make an audience member uncomfortable is necessarily excised — which is a very damaging thing.

I started making that film in 1996, so I am so happy that Bernie Sanders came out and helped people to understand that there is this imbalance of corporate tyranny essentially.

He wouldn’t use that word, but it was just such a great element of communication. I have been talking about it in terms of entertainment being taken over by corporate interests. But it’s the same thing!

Corporate interests are doing it politically, and they are doing it in entertainment.

This is why I am excited to be part of this project because it’s…I won’t say my film is the same as [American Gods] but what I am dealing with in my first film is on many levels related.

There are thematic elements to me which I can see that are very clearly related.

[What Is It?] is very different — I think most people seeing it would go ‘What are you talking about?’. But I think some people would understand what I mean as well.

M&C: When you look at America from the Czech Republic, and the new president, what do you think and what do you hear?

CG: Well, over in Czech, I think Americans might be more concerned than people in Europe. I am not sure, I don’t know how much Czechs are on the day-to-day element.

In the United States people recognize that somebody who doesn’t come from a political background is suddenly in there. An element of that is why [Trump] got elected. There are people who also realize that could be certain.

Without getting overly political here, I don’t know that the Czech people would know the details of Donald Trump’s background so they may not be as concerned as some Americans are about it.

M&C: You were intrepid enough to just leave the USA and live in the Czech Republic…

CG: That was not easy. I bought that house 13 years ago and I definitely experienced culture shock.

M&C: What inspired you to go there?

CG: Well I do have Czech heritage but that really wasn’t the main reason for it. I had gone to visit anywhere in Europe that I had grandparents and great-grandparents so Czech was one of those places.

I had been to Germany, Sweden, England, and Czech and that was the last one. The first time I was in Prague was 2001, September 11th. So that happened.

Then I liked it [there]. It’s an extremely beautiful city.

M&C: Did Neil Gaiman give you any kind of advice on how to interpret Mr. World?

CG: No, I hadn’t seen Neil until yesterday, that was the first time I had seen him since Beowulf.

He’s been very on top of the project with Michael and Bryan. So I felt very comfortable with what they were saying to me, kind of along the lines of…I want very much to stay within the realm of how the show is being produced, I don’t want to go too much [into the book] even though it’s the original source.

I won’t read that until after the whole project is done, because I know I will start interpreting it perhaps in a different way than Michael and Bryan are.

I don’t want to do that, because of the way that their dramaturgy is really beautifully done. And I don’t want to start getting into thoughts about any other way of interpreting it than how they are doing it.

Also, because Neil Gaiman is the executive producer of the show, he’s on top of them, it’s obviously a very friendly and excellently communicated collaboration with everybody, so it’s very positive.

M&C: Creatively, they knew your talent and they left you alone?

CG: Well Michael and Bryan gave me very specific things, like I said [earlier] about the “We are the world, we are the children…”

That really actually meant something to me.

American Gods airs Sundays at 9/8c on Starz.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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