Crispin Glover

Actor/director of the new film What Is It?

Dec 01, 2006 Web Exclusive Photography by Wendy Lynch Bookmark and Share


 

Crispin Hellion Glover is also known as George McFly, Willard, Andy Warhol, Cousin “I’m making my lunch!” Dell, Rubin, the guy who went crazy on Letterman, the Thin Man, and, imminently, Grendel. Crispin Glover has been the epitome of the cult actor since the mid-’80s, when his star-making turn as Marty McFly’s dad in Back to the Future charmed audiences and his portrayal of Layne in River’s Edge guaranteed that he was a performer to watch no matter how big or small his roles. Though his persona has garnered him a devoted fanbase (including early-’90s fanzine, Mr. Density), for the most part, the actor, writer, and filmmaker was and still remains enigmatic to many.


For the past ten years, Glover has been working on What Is It?, the first part of a planned trilogy of films that perhaps only Glover could have envisioned. With a cast made up almost entirely of Down syndrome actors, Glover himself, and emotive snails, the film draws on influences from such diverse filmmakers as Fritz Lang, Werner Herzog, Luis Buñuel, and David Lynch. With the first part of his magnum opuscompleted, Glover, whose works in progress have screened sporadically over the years, is now road-showing his film throughout the U.S., signing books and even presenting a slideshow about his creative work.


In this interview with Under the Radar, Glover opens up and talks about how he got his start, Back to the Future and suing Steven Spielberg, and how Charlie’s Angels afforded him more freedom as an actor than most of the films he’s ever worked on. We spoke to Glover in the living room of his Los Angeles house, after he screened What Is It? for us and some other journalists on a video projector in his bedroom. We now pull the velvet curtain back on one of the most singular talents of modern cinema.


Nick: You’ve had such a career.


Crispin: I guess so, at this point. I started when I was 14, and I’m 42 now, which is weird. [Laughs] So that’s 28, is that 28 years? I think it is.


Nick: How did you get started? Your dad was an actor, correct?


Crispin: Yeah, he still is. He’s in the sequel to What Is It? Both my mother and father are in the sequel. My mother was primarily a dancer and did musicals. She played Lola in the touring company of Damn Yankees. And other musical things as well. My parents met in New York on an audition. My mother retired when I was born, and my father still acts. And both of them have actually significant roles in part two, Everything Is Fine! They both did a good job.


Nick: Do you have any siblings?


Crispin: Well, I was raised as an only child, yeah.


Mark: What do your parents think of What Is It?


Crispin: They have not yet seen the 35-millimeter print of it. They haven't seen anything since what you saw as a bootleg. Which I should say, you better be very, very careful. If they find out about bootlegs or anything like that, I really, I wouldn’t be easy about it. Because it’s just so much of my life. Somebody did try to sell it on eBay at one time and I was nice about it that time. But I wouldn’t ever be nice again. So if people come across bootlegs, they should let me know. [Laughs] Because I don’t want them around.


Nick: Can they get in touch with you at your website?


Crispin: Oh, yeah. I mean I don’t use the website really as a personal contact space. It really is for booking the film. Theater owners often book me and write letters. I have a long list and then I’ll be continuing to be touring around with the film for years to come, really. And the big slide show, which is an hour dramatic presentation. A narration of eight different books that I have slides of and I've been doing it for many years. I do that for an hour before the film, and the film is 72 minutes. And then I have a question and answer period that lasts for about 25 minutes and then I have a book signing. Wait, I was saying something before that about, I can’t remember.


Nick: Well we were talking about your upbringing and how you got started into acting.


Crispin: Right. So when I was— I was around 13, 12 or 13 when I kind of became aware that it was…really an understanding that it would be something that I would be able to do. Not, I can’t say it was a drive in the way that it is. I mean now it is my career. I can’t imagine not doing any of the various things that I do. But at that point in time, I just, there was a logic to it. I knew kind of what the business was about and I knew I would be able to step into it. I did not, it’s not necessarily that my nature was an actor’s nature. But I knew it was something I’d be able to assimilate. It’s hard to describe. Like, I think my father has more of a personality of an actor than I do. My father loves being on the set and kind of on some level of being the center of attention. And I’m a little more comfortable with the concept being the center of attention than my own self. I think my father is comfortable—he like’s talking about things, too, but there is a slight differentiation. So I think, I’m sure of the fact that I grew up around the business had a great influence on me. My first job I got was when I was 13. It was a Coca-Cola commercial, but I wasn’t there on the day, I don’t normally get sick and I really wasn’t nervous or anything. But I did get the stomach flu and I wasn’t able to shoot it. I was really mad. The first job I actually did was The Sound Of Music at The Dorothy Chandler with Florence Henderson. And I played Friedrich Von Trapp, one of the Von Trapp children. And then we toured to San Francisco and that was a good first job experience.


Nick: I can imagine.


Crispin: Yeah. And then I did some more commercials. I did a television pilot when I was 16. But I didn’t work a lot as a child actor, until I turned 18. ‘Cause the child labor laws, they might be a little easier now, but I really found that I didn’t work a lot until I turned 18. And that’s when I started working in film more. And then I started working a lot.


Nick: Were you afraid of typecasting in some of your earlier adult roles? You seemed to be pegged a little bit as sort of the you know, dark troubled youth.


Crispin: No, I…


Nick: I’m thinking of Teachers and River’s Edge.


Crispin: I liked those roles very much. And I particularly liked the film River’s Edge, it was a good movie. I probably did three movies that I really like that I’m in that are, as movies as a whole. They would beRiver’s Edge. A film I did at the the AFI. It’s called The Orkly Kid. It’s a 35 minute film. That’s a very good movie, and I do like What Is It? Those are really three movies that I like that I’m in. But, no, one thing that I get asked about that a lot—and one thing that I think actors, especially when they're starting out—is to be recognized for something. So I don't think that’s a bad thing. The concept of having an element that people kind of think of on some level when they think of you, I think is a very good thing to have a kind of identity. And I believe within that identity, there’s a myriad of, or a universe of ideas and elements that can be explored. That isn't to say you know, there are other roles or different types of roles that I wouldn’t mind playing. I mean I’m very glad to be working and I’m very glad to be able to be funding these films of my own. And so I don’t have a complaint about that.


Nick: In those roles, how close were you in real life to those roles? Were you emulating yourself in those roles?


Crispin: I would say those characters are pretty different from myself. But I mean of course you're taught in acting class to utilize elements of your own psyche and portions of your self that are true to the character. But it doesn’t mean you're actually like that person.


Nick: Did you have formal acting training?


Crispin: Oh yeah. I studied really solidly for five years straight. And I started studying formally when I was 15? Yeah, 15. And I studied straight through till I was 20. I had always planned to continue studying. But at a certain point it did become apparent that, it made sense to not. I was in a teenage class when I was 15 and then, with the same teacher I ended up going all the way through till I was 20. But I simultaneously went to another class that was improv with technique as opposed— it wasn’t comedy improv, which is different. Uta Hagen and Michael Chekhov and of course Stanislavski elements are woven into pretty much anything that is taught. And the I did scene study at The Loft studios, which a lot of well known people, like Sean Penn studied there and his brother who, and that was…I’m sad that Chris Penn died. And Nicholas Cage was there for a while. And Eric Stolz and Michelle Pfeiffer, I think, was there. It was a good set up for scene study. But I had learned a lot of technique prior to that. And which I was able to, which was good to utilize in a formal scene study.


Nick: You worked with Eric Stolz in Back to the Future.


Crispin: Right. We actually did a television commercial together when we were 16. I think he’s a year or two older than I am. And he played my older brother and it was a Bayer aspirin commercial.


Nick: How weird that he played your older brother in the commercial, then you played his dad.


Crispin: Mmhmm, we played related people twice.


Nick: How was that? That’s always kept hush-hush that Eric Stolz shot most of Back to the Future as Marty McFly before Michael J. Fox replaced him.


Crispin: Yeah I had shot most of my character when he was replaced with Michael J. Fox. So it was a lot or reshooting. But they did utilize a lot of footage from [the original shoot], so I’m actually playing off of Eric Stolz, but it’s cut in with Michael J. Fox. But then anything I’m in the shot with Michael J. Fox of course it’s with Michael J. Fox.


Nick: That must have been quite odd.


Crispin: Well, it was, it was, it doesn’t, it isn’t easy to re-shoot things, especially if you felt like they went well. You're like, “Oh, did I get it right? I felt good about it the first time, did I do it worse this time?” It’s hard thinking back about that film, my memory of it is tainted by what happened with the subsequent films and the lawsuit [Crispin sued Amblin entertainment over the use of his likeness in second and third Back to the Future films without his permission and financial compensation] and how they had taken another actor and put him in prosthetics with a false nose, chin and cheekbones to make him look like me and then interspliced it with a very little bit of footage of myself, to fool people into believing that was me in the film. Which is still disturbing. Then the lawsuit, which now there is laws in the Screen Actors Guild that make it so producers and actors aren’t able to do that. But strangely, I just worked with [Back to the Futuredirector] Robert Zemeckis again, doing Beowulf, which is interesting in that Angelina Jolie played my mother and Anthony Hopkins played my father.


Nick: You play Grendel, right?


Crispin: Ray Winston played Beowulf. And I played Grendel. It was great to work with all three of those actors. And there were other people around too that I wasn’t in such direct scenes, but I had direct scenes with those three. They were all great. And then I had a really great working experience with Robert Zemeckis himself. So it’s funny how that was, you know, 20, I guess 21, 21 and a half years later that we [laughs] worked again. It’s interesting, you know. Another interesting thing is that when I did the firstCharlie’s Angels film, I did have a kind of a strong differentiation in how I started choosing to do movies. They had wanted me to come in for the film and I looked at the screenplay and the character they wanted me for had a lot of dialogue. But it was really quite a lot of exposition and I did not like the dialogue and it was not something I wanted to go in for. But they kept being persistent and asking and they said they wanted to hear my ideas. So, I went in for the meeting and they said, “Well what do you think about this character? What would be good for it?” Then I said, “Well, I think it would be better if the character just didn’t talk at all and was a silent, fighting antagonistic character.” [Director] McG, who can be very enthusiastic, stood up and said, “That’s exactly what we want to do, that’s great, that’s how we’ll play it.” And then they showed me footage of the Juen Woo Ping family that were going to be doing the fight choreography. I realized I had known some of their work and I liked them and I realized it really could be an interesting thing having this silent fighting character working with that team. And strangely, that character, I ultimately had far more influence on than I have had in independent films or studio films. It’s just, there are a lot of things that, the hair stuff. It wasn’t in there originally. And strangely, I knew that I could take that money from that film and directly fund the Steve Stewart film [Everything Is Fine!] whose lung had collapsed earlier that year, or the year before. It became apparent that if we didn’t shoot something soon we may not get to shoot it. So that is what I did. I took that money directly. I did one small independent between them, then there was a six month production with Steve. About three mini-productions inside of six months. And we got the film done and then within a month of that, he died. It was really good that we shot it because that film is getting close now and it’s going to be one of the best films I’ll have something to do with in my career. But since that, in my realization of it, that it was a good thing for me to continue making movies specifically to fund my own films. Prior to that, I was trying to look for films that somehow would reflect my own interests or my own psychological values. And it was always very frustrating because it would not happen that way. Now that I’ve separated myself psychologically from it, and I did go in whole heartedly with the concept of helping the director and the filmmakers realize whatever it is that they are really wanting to realize. And yet doing the best job I can in the film and then feeling less guilty, so to speak, about it, knowing that the money that I’m making from those things I’m putting directly into these films that I’m truly passionate about. And strangely, those films, I am making more money, and the films, the film roles are also becoming more interesting for me. And I’m able to fund these films of my own. So they're all, it’s all correlated together. Which is interesting. And that’s why ultimately coming around back to working with Robert Zemeckis again, it’s, you know, I thought about it when I first heard they were interested. I did not expect to work with him again. And then I thought, ‘Well, what I’m doing now is funding my films.’ And actually I gathered the material was interesting. It was Beowulf and playing Grendel.


Nick: Aren’t Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary involved?


Crispin: Yeah, those two wrote the script. And in this particular, as opposed to the Charlie’s Angels, Grendel originally was a silent character, but I do have dialogue in this. And I worked with a college professor where I’m speaking old, genuine old English, which is a different language. But it’s trying to utilize it as much as possible to make it understandable.


Nick: Is this a motion capture film? LikeThe Polar Express was?


Crispin: Yes it is. They've made the technique more advanced. But yes, you go into a soundstage and you're surrounded by 120 different cameras. And you have reflectors all over you. And it’s a very advanced digital technique where you go in, you can stand and then they're able to recreate all of your motions very exactingly. It’s interesting. It actually was a good thing for acting, because you don’t have marks. It is a different medium than working with film. And every single actor is in close up on all takes. And there is no such thing as a take. And it’s in 360 degrees so they can make all of their decisions later. You do have reference cameras that I think they kind of position in areas that they're thinking about. But if they want something to change from that, they can alter it. So for a director, you can understand why they really work in it. I asked Robert Zemeckis when will they be able to make it photo realistic and he said well we’re just about there. And then I read that, what’s the director of Titanic? James Cameron, he’s doing his next film in that technique and I believe it is photo realistic there.


Nick: It’s also in 3D.


Crispin: Yeah. Any of them they can make, they can 3D just like that, because all it does is shifting that perspective by just a little bit.


Nick: I am curious, you've been showing this movie [What Is It?] around, what kind of general reaction are you getting from audiences? You know, there’s obviously a lot of interesting you know, buttons you're kind of pushing in the movie.


Crispin: Yeah, I get, well you know, the people that are coming to see the film by and large are people that are familiar with me in various movies. And they generally have a kind of a concept in advance that it’s going to be something that’s unusual on some level. So for the most part, people are enjoying the experience. Early on, and maybe I can say— actually I haven't in the last several shows had such aggressive questioning. And I think because things have been written about it, people that might not be wanting to experience some of the more, some of the taboo elements in it, don’t come to the show. So I’m getting less aggressive questioning. But I have experienced very aggressive kind of questioning, but when I have those questions, I definitely go into them because the purpose of the film is to explore these areas and to go on tour with it and having these forums is generally an important thing to me.


Mark: What is your ideal reaction to the movie if somebody sees your movie and talks about it?


Crispin: Ideally if people get something where they're generally forming thoughts from it, that’s what I want. Yeah. Sometimes I’ll have people, you can tell, but sometimes people really do feel like they can’t put anything of it together. Which is always funny to me personally, because I naturally will put things maybe even that aren’t supposed to be put together, somehow I put them together in my own head and form an idea or a thought behind it. But, that isn't to say it’s, you know, people pay the money to see the film and I want them to have an experience. And so if they question that, I try to talk about that. There is something that’s really going on with the story. But it’s funny to me. I can tell that some people really have a hard time with putting anything together of it at all. Like, it just seems like random imagery. It’s so much not, that to my own mind that it’s hard for me to see how that could be, because it definitely isn’t [random imagery]. There are abstractions of poetry with it. But the film won best narrative film at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, which is the oldest experimental film festival in the U.S. But I was very glad to get that particular award. First off I was just glad to get an award because I have had reviews from people that were just, it was nice to have something that there is a body that, a group that sponsored it. And someone said this [film] is a good thing.


Nick: Right.


Crispin: But particularly that if it’s also in the narrative category. It was a film festival that Stan Brakhage would go and show off his work whose films are very beautiful. I really like his films. I don't know all of his work, but the ones I have seen are very abstract. Very beautifully abstract. Moving paintings, virtually. And yeah, interesting footage, found footage pieces of things that he’s put together on the film, drawing on the film. Butterfly wings, all kinds of stuff. It’s really neat stuff. That’s specifically why they have that category, because that would not be of a narrative. Whereas What Is It? is.


Nick: Do you encourage people to come up with their own interpretation? Or would you rather them stick to what you intended?


Crispin: No, I encourage that whatever it is in somebody’s head is accurate. Even the people that can’t put anything together of it, that’s accurate as well. I mean I like it when people are able to put something in their head together and sometimes people have things that sound quite close or have an interpretation that’s similar to my own thinking. But usually, even I don't know if I know anybody that’s said exactly what it is that I've been thinking. But that doesn’t matter. It’s interesting to me to hear how people are interpreting certain things. That is the truth. And I’m glad that's accomplished, that has happened. There are people definitely that have come together with thoughts from it that are their own personal thoughts. And that’s good. That’s an accomplishment that I’m glad of.


Nick: I worked on a David Lynch magazine for years called Wrapped In Plastic.


Crispin: I’m glad to have worked with David Lynch. And he had said he would executive produce what now would be part three of this film [It Is Mine?].


Nick: He would put his name on it like he did for Crumb?


Crispin: Correct.


Nick: Okay.


Crispin: Which can be a good thing. I haven't talked to him about it in a long, long time. And we’ll have to see, you know, originally when he had said that when I was trying to get corporate funding. Now it’s apparent to me I’m going to be funding the film myself. So we’ll have to see what makes sense at that point. I mean it would be great to have his association. But it’s been you know, over a decade.


Nick: You worked on Wild At Heart, it’s the first thing you worked on together.


Crispin: Right.


Nick: That’s a pretty famously known part and it’s about maybe two and a half minutes of screen time?


Crispin: Yeah.


Nick: How long did that take to shoot?


Crispin: I think I worked on that two days, actually. And I think the one, the second day was the day my character comes back in a gas station. Is that in there? I can’t remember. Yeah, it was changed around, the story. I haven't seen it in a long time. And the structure is changed around. Originally, and I don't think that’s in there. There was stuff about Christmas. Actually, I’m forgetting about stuff. I suggested something about Christmas, which he shot. He didn’t put it in.


Nick: Yeah, you're in a Santa Claus suit.


Crispin: No, that was always in there. That was in the script. And I suggested something about a Christmas present or something, which we shot but that isn’t in there. But originally it had much more structure to do with the character losing his hair. There was a structure in it that had to do with that. That was changed around.


Nick: Later on when you're in the Santa Claus suit…


Crispin: Yes, right, and originally there was a story element to that, that was changed around. But you know, he is an expert editor and he’s an expert actor’s director as well. And that scene particularly, everything was very, for my character, extremely finely tuned. It wasn’t loosely directed, which you know, with a lesser director, it would be the kind of thing that would drive one insane. It would, or you wouldn’t like it. You could really react badly to it. But he’s such a great psychologically in-tune director, it’s just fascinating to— I could understand what the psychology was very clearly by everything that was being directed. But like that “I’m making my lunch” sequence, it was so specifically timed out as to how long it was to take, what I was to do. It was not something that I interpreted, you know, how I said the line, I guess. But I think, you know, even the fervor he would say. I can’t remember, you know it was a long time ago now. I can’t remember how much that part was directed. But I remember the timing was very, very specifically directed. And it was a great experience as well.


Nick: Did you actually put cockroaches in your underwear?


Crispin: No. That was of course just a fantastical film.


Nick: How did Lynch get in contact with you?


Crispin: I had met him, I had met him for a different film that he never did end up making. The first time I met him was for…


Nick: Ronnie Rocket?


Crispin: No, which…


Nick: One Saliva Bubble?


Crispin: Yes. After he did that, I had told him how, when I first met him I had already read Ronnie Rocket. I read Ronnie Rocket when I was sixteen. Which was around the same time that I had seen Eraserhead. And I had the script of it because I was friends with, I had done a television show with Nicholas Cage when I was 16. His name was Nicholas Coppola at the time. And we’re still friends. And his uncle, Francis [Ford] Coppola, had a copy of Ronnie Rocket that I think he had given to Nic. And then I was talking about how much I liked Eraserhead. I took Nick to one of the midnight shows of Eraserhead, I’m pretty sure, yeah. And then Nic gave me a copy of Ronnie Rocket. So I read it relatively young. And then when I met with him, I told him how really it was one of my favorite pieces of literature. I really love that screenplay. I still do.


Nick: A lot of it, in part, sort of came out in the Twin Peaks series and in the film, in a sense.


Crispin: Perhaps. Maybe I haven't seen all of the Twin Peaks episodes that would have things. But for me, the structure of that screenplay was really, really excellent. And of course that structure wasn’t made. And I was really surprised when it didn’t happen. Well I worked on Hotel Room, I had run into him at Musso And Franks. It was after I had done Wild At Heart. And I had heard that Ronnie Rocket was going to be made. And I went up and I shook his hand and I said, “I heard Ronnie Rocket’s being made. I’m so excited, that’s one of my favorite pieces of literature.” He said, “I know it is and you're going to be in it.” And so I thought, “Great, great.” And then I wondered what character I would be. I didn’t know, I think I asked Johanna Ray. No, I don't think it was exactly ascertained what it would be. But then I know Kyle McLachlan was going to play the detective and then I heard that he didn’t want to do it. And I somehow had his telephone number. I had worked with him and he was in The Doors movie.


Nick: Yeah, he was in The Doors.


Crispin: I met him, you know, I knew him around a bit. And I actually called him and said, “Why don’t you want to do Ronnie Rocket? [Laughs] You've gotta play it. That’s like, going to be just a great film.” And he had some, I don't know what it was exactly. There was some…


Nick: I think he was burnt out on playing Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks.


Crispin: I noticed that there was a rewrite of Ronnie Rocket that happened later that started incorporating things from Twin Peaks. I didn’t like that as much 'cause I had this vision of it from when I was 16 that I wanted it to be stuck to. But then I was working on Hotel Room and I realized Ronnie Rocket never happened. And I was talking with Monty Montgomery, who was the guy who played the cowboy character [and who] was the producer on that. Cowboy character, what was it? The Lost HighwayLost Highway. [It was actually Mulholland Drive] And he was the producer. And he was going to be the producer on Ronnie Rocket at the time. And I said, “Whatever happened to Ronnie Rocket?” And he said, “They just didn’t want to do it.” And I said, “Why?” And he said, “I don't know.” And David Lynch was sitting right there. And I said, “Why didn’t you want to do Ronnie Rocket? And that’s one of my favorite pieces of literature.” I think I kept repeating that. And he said, “Well it just doesn’t do it for me,” or something to that effect, I don’t want to quote something that’s inaccurate. And I said, “But you've got to make that film some time.” And he said, “Well maybe we should sit and have some coffee and talk about it some time.”


Nick: You should do that. You could co-direct.


Crispin: I never did. I do wish he would make it. But I guess I can understand. It’s like it did feel very much in the world of Eraserhead. That’s what I always pictured. And his films that he’s making now, I think he’s thinking about different things. But I do think people like him can come around to different ideas and thoughts at different times, and maybe it is something that he’ll come back to. I hope he does, 'cause I still very much would like to see that movie realized.


Nick: Hotel Room was sort of a little known project in a sense, I think, for you and Lynch because it’s not available on DVD.


Crispin: Yeah, that’s right. I wonder who [has the rights]. It was HBO, so I don't know who…


Nick: HBO aired it. I don't know if they produced it.


Crispin: It was put out on VHS. They put a long version of it out in France.


Nick: There was a Laserdisc that was overseas that came out.


Crispin: I heard, I knew about that, yeah. And I also believe they actually have filmed a film version of it in France. I could be wrong about that.


Nick: I don't know about that.


Crispin: That I might be wrong about.


Nick: But I think that segment is really smashing. You and Alicia Witt. It’s really an amazing piece. And I really wish it would come out [on DVD]. Was there any talk during that, that it would go to series?


Crispin: Well that was the concept. See the concept wasn’t to have recurring characters but more like theAlfred Hitchcock Presents and that was the whole idea. And I guess HBO didn’t want to do it. But I very much enjoyed getting to work with him again. And we shot it in very long takes. Like, 12-minute magazines and Alicia and I had worked through it, rehearsed a lot…she was very good at memorization. My memory, well, has never been [that good].


Nick: She’s a bit of a childhood prodigy. She was playing piano…


Crispin: Yeah, she is very intelligent. I enjoyed working with her. And we rehearsed a lot. And then so by the time, it was almost kind of like shooting a play and David Lynch is just a crack director. So he knows what to do.


Nick: You mentioned The Doors and McLachlan. I have to bring up The Doors real fast because, well, you played Andy Warhol. And that’s pretty significant. What, did you research, what did you do?


Crispin: Well what happened was…


Nick: How did that come about, what did you do to prepare for it?


Crispin: I had met Andy Warhol at Madonna and Sean Penn’s wedding. Which was like, 1980…


Nick: Five?


Crispin: Five, I think. It was right after Back to the Future had come out. And I had just worked with Sean Penn. I almost directly went from making Back to the Future to Tennessee to shoot At Close Range. And then Madonna and Sean Penn got married just a couple of months after that.


Nick: That was a crazy wedding, right? With helicopters an…


Crispin: Yeah, I remember they were all talking about the helicopters before hand, how they wanted to avoid it. But then they had it outside like, perfectly set up, you know. So, I don't know. But it was enjoyable. And even the helicopters were enjoyable. And then afterwards, I was going out with a girl that had, well she knew a lot about Andy Warhol. I did as well. And she went up to talk to him and she said, “Oh, he wants to meet you. And he’d seen Back to the Future and liked you,” or something. So I went up and I talked to him for not too long, but a bit. And he was very nice and after I talked to him a bit, I stood back and watched how he moved and how he held himself, 'cause I thought he would be an interesting character to play at some point. And I wanted to really get his way of being. And then he died pretty soon after that. And I am glad that I got to meet him. And then that movie came around fairly soon after that. It was the first real opportunity for anybody to play him. Then I did do additional research looking at things. And that was another time when I asked to have a reduction of dialogue. There’s a little bit, not too much more dialogue, but there was some more things that they had him say that I thought it was better if I didn’t say it. And I think Paul Williams, who was in the scene, ended up saying some lines, which was good. He was really good to work with and I had seen that movie, The Phantom Of The Paradise when I was a kid. I was at the right age where I genuinely thought of him as being like, a bad person in that movie. And he had all the albums out and I looked at the album covers thinking this is a very bad person. But he was good in that movie and I told him that story and I liked working with him.


Nick: Yeah, I was just in San Francisco, and one of the theaters there is playing The Phantom Of The Paradise at midnight. So it’s become quite a cult movie.


Crispin: It’s funny, 'cause I think I saw it again later on. I rented it just to see, and it had a very different effect of when I was a kid. I somehow didn’t think of him as such a bad person. But I guess I was at the age, when I saw it, that somehow I was more where you genuinely blur the lines of reality and fantasy.


Mark Redfern (Under the Radar): Wendy’s uncle was involved with Warhol and was in Chelsea Girls.


Crispin: I played What Is It? at the Andy Warhol museum a few months back. And they showed me some of the Chelsea Girls. And I have some of them on video. I particularly like Vinyl. I think that’s a really good one.


Wendy Lynch (Under the Radar): I think there was one called The Loves of Ondine.


Crispin: That’s right. I haven’t seen that one. And that’s your uncle? That’s neat.


Wendy: Yeah. I mean he died I think in ’89 or so. And you know, he wasn’t so interested in [the rest of the family] so much. [Laughs] But I really didn’t get to know him as much as I would have liked to.


Crispin: Right.


Nick: But it’s pretty cool, you know.


Crispin: Yeah.


Nick: So Oliver Stone. How did that come about? How did you get approached?


Crispin: I had met him for Platoon, and I liked him. We had a really good long meeting. For whatever reason it wasn’t right for me to be in that film. But I heard about the Andy Warhol thing, and I had my agents call and find out about it, saying I wanted to go in and meet and read for it. And he had me come in and I got the part. Recently, he invited me to see the World Trade Center movie. And he had produced, he was I think the executive producer or one of the producers on the Milos Forman film, The People Vs. Larry Flynt. So it’s like I’d know him over the years, throughout the years and I’ve always liked him. So I've always gotten along with him.


Mark: Same with Nicholas Cage, he’s in World Trade Center as well.


Crispin: That’s right, yeah. But he wasn’t at that screening. It was Oliver Stone. I think he was off shooting in Bangkok.


Nick: What did you think of the film?


Crispin: I thought there were effective things about it. I thought there were good emotional elements that were interesting, I did.


[We take a break to shoot some photos of Crispin.]


Crispin: We’re about to talk about digital. What Is It? was shot on sixteen millimeter. The Backwards Swing, I started shooting on video, just regular video. And I do want to finish those at some point.


Nick: What’s that project?


Crispin: What Is It?


Nick: The Backwards Swing?


Crispin: It’s based on one of my books. I started shooting it in the 80s. And it’s neat. But I’ve got to, I want to finish the Steve Stewart film and hopefully get back into the editing on that. We shot with a lot of primary sets that we were building. I directed that with David Brothers, who I also co-directed the sequel to What Is It? with. And he designed the sets. The set ended up being based on a German photograph. I didn’t know what it was, but I was watching Siegfried, and that tree that Steve Stewart comes out from under in the clamshell, Siegfried came under. I was sitting on the horse. And he just cleared that same branch, so it was probably about a third size of what the Babelsberg Studios, the Fritz Lang version was. But we, if you see that film, you'll recognize the set design. and it’s What Is It? It’s in color, nothing’s black and white. But then there was also influence from a film called Green, I think it’s Greener, Green Pastures, or Greener Pastures [it was actually called The Green Pastures], which was a kind of a heaven, a black version of heaven, that was made in the 1940s. A musical. People floated in clouds and we incorporated some of that into What Is It? And then he was watching a film called The Mole People, and that’s where the women coming out of that, those poles came into being. But the film is shot on sixteen.


Nick: And the second one?


Crispin: The second one is also shot on sixteen. I used a CP 16 for the second film. I’m having my CP 16s, I had one of them already converted to Super 16. And I’m gonna get the second one converted to Super 16. So whatever I shoot next will be on Super 16, which will make the aspect ratio more similar to regular 35-millimeter film. The grains and the emulsions, the grain patterns of today’s 16-millimeter films are so fine that when it’s done, goes to a digital intermediate, which is what I did, and then blown up to 35-millimeter, on some levels, it has a similar grain pattern structure to older 35-millimeter films. It’s really very beautiful.


Nick: Leaving Las Vegas was shot on Super 16.


Crispin: Yeah, I know, yeah.


Nick: It looks beautiful.


Crispin: Yeah. It’s also really, when you're shooting on Super 16 and blowing up to 35, it is difficult to tell. Somebody has to be pretty expert to know. So that is the cheapest way still to make a feature film. It is far less expensive to shoot on Super 16, go to the digital intermediate, an HD intermediate and out to 35. It is more expensive, when shooting on HD. I acted in the first, for the first time in a film that we shot on HD. I did a film called Simon Says, last year.


Nick: When will it come out?


Crispin: I think they're about to show it in Texas. I think next month or something. I actually had a really good time on that. The role, I played two different characters: Simon and Stanley. And it was actually quite enjoyable. But, that was shot on digital….[When researching formats] I saw various formats that had been converted into 35 millimeter. I saw mini-DV. I saw regular 16 millimeter. I saw 35 millimeter, and I saw HD under different circumstances. I saw HD shot with no controlled lighting, basically people in a room blown up to 35. And I saw it with incredible controlled lighting, also blown up to 35 millimeter film. And the stuff that was shot with the HD, just people standing in a room with I don't know what kind of fluorescent lighting or whatever, looking extremely electronic. And it had the quality of looking at a video. When the stuff that had the controlled lighting, that you could tell it had a big budget, and that the lighting was perfect, you couldn’t tell for a second that it was a digital technology. It looked beautiful. You wouldn’t even want to change a thing. It was gorgeous. That’s the key to shooting with HD. If you have a crew, a big crew and big, good lights, good lighting situations and you're gonna go to film eventually, basically at the point of having a one million dollar budget, then you're saving money at that point because you don’t have to spend the money on the film. You put it into the crew and the people and it’s a good point, a savings point at a million dollars. Before that, if you're making a two hundred thousand dollar film, a hundred thousand dollar film, five hundred dollar film, Super 16 to a digital intermediate, out to a 35 millimeter print is by far the cheapest way.


Nick: Do you think the third film will also be Super 16?


Crispin: Yeah.


Nick: Okay.


Crispin: But I don’t know when I’ll make that one. It could be a while, 'cause I…


Nick: Yeah, 'cause you still have to finish the second one.


Crispin: Yeah, I have to finish the second one. I would like to get back into The Backward Swing, and I’d like to shoot another film that has nothing to do with these movies at all. And then maybe then go back. I don't even know. I just shot the Steve Stuart film before finishing What Is It? because of his health and I’m glad I did because he died within the month of finishing the shooting. I would not have done that if that wasn’t the case. But I mean I’m glad I was forced to do it and it’s gonna be a great film. But I want to take a breather away from that theme. There is a theme on some level that connects the three. They actually are going to all be very different films from one another. Particularly the Steve Stuart film. His film is quite different.


Nick: Will you put out these films on video?


Crispin: I don’t, well you know, technologies are changing so much. I mean does anybody put anything out on video now?


Nick: I’m sorry. A home viewing format.


Crispin: Right, I don't know. And I tend toward believing by the time that I have exhausted my touring withWhat Is It? and Everything Is Fine, probably DVD will not be the format that is [prevalent.] There are so many questions about piracy. You know, it really puts fear into my heart every time I hear, you know, like you said you had a bootleg, it’s a horrible feeling 'cause I put a lot of money into it and I need to continue touring with it in order to make my money back. And if that was posted on You Tube, that would be horrible for me. So it’s very difficult. But the one benefit is that the bootleg that is out¬—which I can’t even say it’s out in great numbers, but I’m sure it’s spread a bit—but I would know that anything out there would be really poor quality.


Nick: I couldn’t even watch it. I had to turn it off, 'cause I figured, what's the point?


Crispin: Right.


Nick: I mean the sound was terrible.


Crispin: Yeah, I’m sure what you got was many generations removed from the original copy.


Nick: Yeah, it’s probably like, the eighth or ninth. I don't know, I have no idea, it just looked bad. And I’d seen the trailer online. I’d much rather see it for real.


Crispin: It isn’t the film.


Nick: Opening credits, the whole opening structure was really different.


Crispin: Yeah, it was quite different. And I toured around with it while I was editing. And I was getting feedback and then I locked the film and I did not want to tour around with it again until I had a 35 millimeter print and that was quite a struggle.


Nick: Yeah, the benefit I think for I guess DVD or a home format is just more people can see it, since it’s going be very difficult for you to hit every city. You know what I mean?


Crispin: On some levels it’s true. I could probably put some kind of commentary on it which is similar to the question and answers I do. But there’s a monetary reason for me to do things as well. If I manufacture the DVDs myself, seems like DVDs sell for about twenty dollars now. I know David Lynch was selling his for a bit more for a while, but then he finally put Eraserhead for a more…


Nick: It’s actually being distributed now outside of just his website.


Crispin: Right. I bought it when it was on his website. It was pretty expensive. Yeah. And now I think you can get it for 20 or 25 dollars.


Nick: Twenty-five, I think. Then you lose the cool box…


Crispin: Yeah, and I am glad I have it.


Nick: Eraserhead was supposedly one of [Stanley] Kubrick’s favorite films.


Crispin: Yeah. That was, I had heard that when [George] Lucas and [Steven] Spielberg visited [Kubrick], [Eraserhead] was the film that he showed them, which I always found quite amusing.



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celinarpinkston
February 21st 2017
5:44am

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