Inside Danny Glover is an extraordinary regular guy

November 04, 1990|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

He looks gigantic. He is gigantic. The only movie star who JTC currently rents out rooms in his house, all 6 foot 4 of him, now sits splayed and loose on sofa in a downtown hotel room, tie askew, legs up, watching some jocks hustle and scramble on the television. He looks like a regular guy, in fact, home from work, in those first relaxed moments before the tie comes off, when the weary body just wants to sag into something soft for a few minutes of downtime.

If Danny Glover seems so much like a regular guy in person, then perhaps that's the largest part of his considerable charm on screen. That regular-guyism, first evident in Robert Benton's "Places in the Heart," then boisterously deployed in the two wildly successful "Lethal Weapon" films and soon to be blown up even bigger in "Predator II," is also part of his performance in a much smaller movie, Charles Burnett's "To Sleep With Anger," released last month.

Asked if that's how he wants his career to go -- big picture for bucks and fame, little picture for artistic accomplishment -- Glover laughs and smiles infectiously.

"I guess you can say that to some degree. First of all, that I'm able to do that kind of big picture is an accomplishment in its own right, above anything else. But if my presence can help people see movies by filmmakers like Charles Burnett, that makes me happy, too."

In the movie, Glover plays Harry Mention, an old Southern con man who just may have a larger metaphoric meaning, who comes up north (to L.A.) to visit some old friends, and in just a bit of time manages to unleash a particular and horrifying kind of mayhem. Besides starring in it, Glover executive produced for Burnett, a highly respected non-fiction filmmaker whose first feature (and largest budget) "To Sleep With Anger" is.

"I'm fortunate to have people around me who allowed me to see the script," Glover says. "Sometimes you don't get to projects like that. It takes a lot of energy to get something like this in motion."

The movie, which in symbolic terms explores some of the pathologies prevalent in black culture, has been looked at in some quarters as an exercise in racial self-criticism.

"I clearly understood its significance," says Glover. "I think that the film has certainly allowed me to understand my own culture better, and we certainly hope that will happen with larger numbers of people. Certainly that evil exists; you have to make that statement." As likable as he is, Glover has played a few bad guys before. He was most notable as Whoopi Goldberg's tormentor in Steven Spielberg's version of "The Color Purple."

"It's not a particular relief to play a bad man, or anything," he says. "I don't think about him as being a villain or anything. He's a man of so many complexities. I like the fact that we can't determine whether he's good or bad, or that we really know what he's in search of. You have a sense of Harry's past and his fear."

Harry, needless to say, is a great distance from the family-loving Roger Murtaugh of the "Lethal Weapon" films.

"Roger is a different image," Glover says of the character that made him famous. "Even though the films are big action numbers, you're looking for something to make it real. Family is something I could act on. It was a precedent I could take, something for me to work on."

The success of those films, however, has taken Glover's stable quiet life and somewhat mangled it. He's been living in the same duplex in San Francisco he bought before he turned to acting -- when he was 30, 13 years ago -- and he still rents half of it to tenants. He's married to the same woman; his daughter is growing up.

"You can't imagine what it's like. But I try and make it fun. As much as I can, I try and play it down. It could be overwhelming. But living in San Francisco takes some of the sting out of it. My neighbors still remember when none of this was happening, so it's no big deal."

And that's another part of Glover's extraordinary "regular-guyness." Unlike so many film stars, who've been immersed in show-biz culture at professional schools and college theater departments and actors' workshops since they were sentient, Glover had a "regular life." He was a municipal employee in San Francisco for five years until he decided to

take the plunge and try to earn a living as an actor full time.

"Everything was leading me to that point. So here I am. Did I have to make that decision? No. I could have stayed doing what I was doing. But I'd reached the point where I felt like this is what I wanted to do, even though I knew it meant hardship. But I felt strong about it. You feel comfortable about what you do, and you keep growing and you say, why not? I had had the house for two years and I don't know, was that by chance? [The rental income kept him going in the early days.] Once I made the decision, I didn't let up. And things just kept turning up."

Now, Glover is grateful for his "real life" before he had his actor's life.

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