Danny Glover finds big rewards in small films

May 15, 1992|By Gene Seymour | Gene Seymour,Newsday

It is the morning after the Rodney King verdict and Danny Glover looks haggard and drawn. Understandable, since he worked until 2 a.m. on "The Saint of Fort Washington," a film he's co-producing and co-starring in (with Matt Dillon) as a homeless man. He and Mr. Dillon were shooting take after take in the dark, chilly Manhattan streets.

And yet here he is, arriving at 8:45 a.m. sharp at a Park Avenue office suite, wearing leather sandals and a light beige suit. Though the whites in his large expressive eyes seem stained with fatigue, he is ready to settle in for interviews connected with "Lethal Weapon 3," the latest in a lucrative series of cop-chase carnivals pairing Mr. Glover, as veteran Los Angeles police detective Roger Murtaugh, with Mel Gibson, as Murtaugh's gonzo partner Martin Riggs. Lots of things explode in all three movies -- cars, buildings, Riggs and, more infrequently, Murtaugh.

Somewhere between working on the new movie and promoting the other new one, the real Los Angeles has exploded. Mr. Glover says he has been undergoing a collision of emotion from "great disbelief" over the verdict to "feeling depressed" over the subsequent rioting.

"You can't expect people confronted with a clear injustice not to react with rage," he says. "After all, this country reacted violently to injustice by going to war in the Persian Gulf. So why shouldn't we expect [blacks] to feel justified in doing the same? I hate to make the correlation, but there it is."

Mr. Glover also refers to the rioting when the conversation drifts to his last film, "Grand Canyon," in which he played a garage mechanic who saves Kevin Kline from a street gang in a ravaged black neighborhood.

"People who saw the movie told me they didn't appreciate being beaten over the head with its message," Mr. Glover says. "And yet, you look at the Laker game last night and they're showing fires on the screen there and telling people at the game how to avoid that when they're going home. Well, Larry Kasdan ["Canyon's" director-co-writer] wrote that! That was all from that movie. You know, the whole thing of 'How do you avoid the shark? How do you stay out of its way?' Kevin's thing was how he got lost in it and got found." Mr. Glover beams.

Mr. Glover, at 6-feet-4 and 220 pounds (give or take), evokes steely physical force. Yet, he also conveys a vulnerability that does little to shortchange his strength. He can accommodate without compromising.

That's just part of a matrix of balances that Mr. Glover, who turns 45 on July 22, has maintained through more than a decade of film, theater and TV work. His first film credit came in 1979 with "Escape From Alcatraz." But it was after writer-director Robert .. Benton saw Mr. Glover playing a South African waiter in the 1982 Broadway production of Athol Fugard's "Master Harold . . . and the Boys" that his ascension began.

Mr. Benton offered Mr. Glover a major role in "Places in the Heart" as Moze, the quietly courageous black sharecropper who comes to Sally Field's endangered farm -- and almost loses his life because of it. The film, released in 1984, drew major awards and boosted Mr. Glover's professional profile.

The following year, he played bad guys in "Witness" and "The Color Purple" and a good guy in "Silverado." But it was in the first "Lethal Weapon" (1986) that he showed he could not only hold his own with a charismatic box-office draw like Mr. Gibson, but had more than a little charisma of his own.

All this is balanced by a firm attachment to his roots. He lives in his native San Francisco with his wife of 17 years, Asake Domani, and their 16-year-old daughter, Mandissa, in the same Haight-Ashbury neighborhood where he grew up.

From his home, he is able to take the local bus to the offices of Carrie Productions (named for his mother), his company which co-produced the award-winning "To Sleep With Anger," an independently made film in which Mr. Glover departed from his good-guy persona to play the enigmatic, vaguely sinister Harry Mention.

The attention that Mr. Glover's name draws for a small film like "Anger" is more enriching for him than all the big bucks he gets for the action pictures. Yet Mr. Glover says that if it weren't for his take from "Lethal 2," he wouldn't have been able to finance a quirky venture like "Anger." In similar fashion, "Lethal 3" is helping to pay for projects like "Saint of Fort Washington."

While acknowledging that the "Lethal Weapon" movies are "wonderful films in terms of that genre," Mr. Glover says he "feels a whole lot better about doing ["Saint"] because ultimately when people look at my career, they're going to look at the body of work, not how much money I made or how many blockbusters I did."

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