Crispin Glover Goes Back to the '80s in Hot Tub Time Machine
The beloved actor returns to the decade that made him famous with his latest comedy
Actor Crispin Glover will forever be known to generations of fans as George McFly from arguably the most famous time traveling movie of all-time, Back To The Future. Now Glover returns to time traveling themed films and the '80s, the decade that made him famous, with the new comedy Hot Tub Time Machine starring John Cusack, opening on March 26th. The movie is a comedic homage to the '80s and in addition to Cusack and Glover also features film actors from the decade such as Chevy Chase ((Fletch) and William Zabka (Johnny from The Karate Kid). For several years now, Glover has taken roles in mainstream films just in order to fund his personal independent films, of which he directs. The eccentric actor also gained a strange reputation when he appeared on Late Night With David Letterman in 1987 and later when he sued the producers of Back To The Future for misrepresenting his image in the sequels. We recently had an opportunity to sit down with Crispin Glover in Lake Tahoe, Nevada while he was doing press for Hot Tub Time Machine. He spoke candidly to us about the new film, his hilarious role, working with Cusack, revisiting time traveling and the '80s, his bitter feelings over the Back To The Future lawsuit and the "Letterman Incident." Here is what he had to say:
For starters, how much of a thrill was it to go back to the 80's for this film?
Crispin Glover: It was fun. Everybody was nice, funny and enjoyable to be around. Steve Pink, the director, liked getting into the organic sense of what was going on. It feels like people like the film. There is a good humor to it, the characters are likable and it has a good pay off for all the characters so it seemed like a satisfying thing and I'm glad to be in it.
Because of your image from the '80s do you get a lot of offers to do spoof movies like this that you have to turn down because they aren't quite right?
Crispin Glover: No, since about the year 2000 I've been funding my own films that I tour around with and self distribute and self finance. I've been financing the films and enabling myself to be able to take time recouping in this fashion. I also perform a live show when I present these films. People can find out where I'm going to be with what film from www.crispinglover.com. But its made the way I choose films very different from how I had chosen to do films in perhaps the '80s and '90s when I was really quite selective of things but to a point, in retrospect, where it wasn't really that good for my acting career. After Back To The Future came out and it was so financially successful I felt a certain responsibility to find films that somehow psychologically reflected what my interests were and the first film that I did that was released after Back To The Future was River's Edge, which is still a film that I'm proud of and I like that film a lot. But subsequent of that film a lot of the films I did didn't really reflect what my philological interests were and they didn't necessarily make that much money. They weren't necessarily that good for my acting career.
But in the year 2000, this fellow who had a severe case of cerebral palsy, which is not a degenerative disease, wrote the second film that I made but one of his lungs had collapsed. I had really wanted to make this film. I put him into part one in order to make his film a sequel but he had written it a long time before. I knew that the money I made from the first Charlie's Angels film, which was coming to me at that time, I could put straight into making that film and that is exactly what happened. Then that Charlie's Angels film ended up making a lot of money and that was very good for my acting career. I was also able to utilize that money for a movie that I'm really, extremely proud of. But I had a good time working on Charlie's Angels. I liked the character and what has happened since that time period, what has changed is how I decide what films to act in, in order to basically fund these films of my own its made it so I have been in films that are higher profile and the characters have been much more interesting. So it's been better on both levels, both for my own personal filmmaking and for my career as an actor.
For the most part when a film comes to me, as long as it is in my quote range and I feel like I can do it, because there are sometimes parts that I feel like I just can't make work, but if I can feel like I can make it work on some level then I'll do it. Sometimes I can make it work better than other times. But if I feel like the attempt is worthwhile then I will do it. So no, its not like there are tons of movies. Since the year 2001 probably by far most of the films I've been offered I've done. There are some that I haven't done for sure but most of them I've accepted and am glad to have done them.
When you were offered "Hot Tub Time Machine" and read the script, obviously it pokes fun at the '80s and time travel and you have had a big affect on '80s movies and of course were in possibly the most famous time travel movie of all time so were you concerned at all about taking the role on or was it fun to get to spoof yourself and the past a bit?
Crispin Glover: Yeah, I wasn't really concerned about it. It was evident to me that that was part of why there was an interest in me. It was obvious that there were a lot of similarities in that there was a time travel element and sure, I was fine with that. Like I say, I'm glad to be working. I'm glad to be funding my own films and this was a really enjoyable group of people to be doing it with so I was very glad, absolutely.
What do you remember best about the '80s?
Crispin Glover: You know in the '80s, I was sixteen in 1980 so those years were coming of age years for me and I was serious about acting, working within the industry and forging an identity. That's what I think of when I think of that time period. I was also making my books that are part of my show now. I made some in the '90s but most in the '80s and that kind of energy transitioned into making my own films. That time period does kind of shift into the next phase and the '80s do have a particular element to me. I think well of them but it is also that time period, and maybe it's not true for everybody but I kind of think it is, when you are in your '20s there is something about forging an identity. Finding out what it is that you are going to do. Sometimes maybe people don't do that until they are in there '30s or something but definitely for me in my 20's that is what that period was about.
You have a great run-on gag in the movie where your character has only one arm in the present, when the film begins, so when he is introduced later on, in the past, we are waiting the whole time to see him loose it. Could you talk about developing that gag and working it out on the set with the director and the other actors?
Crispin Glover: Well most of it was written in there. It was apparent that one in there didn't feel completely satisfying. It was something to do with a tire being changed and it didn't quite visually ... there was something about it that didn't play quite well. Because they were still working on the screenplay while we were working on the film and there was an openness to figuring certain things out. The elevator idea came into play and that was a good one that was both playable and visually interesting. Everybody ended up agreeing that that would be a good thing. Then the studio said that they would be able to build the set for it and it all worked out well. There was another scene that wasn't in the script originally and when I first met with John Cusack and his co-producer I told them that I did feel like there should be a pay off for my character at the end. When they return (to the present) there was no scene of seeing him with both arms and I felt that that was an important element and it ended up working in. Other than that all the other scenes were pretty much written but how one got to the same thing, in dialogue or whatever wasn't exactly the same necessarily. Some of it's similar but there was this like openness to finding things organically and I think you can see it in the film, that there is a playfulness coming from that organic sense.
How did you get involved in the production? Did John and the other producers come to you directly or did you audition for the role?
Crispin Glover: Yeah, I got a message from my agents that they were interested in me for this part in this film called Hot Tub Time Machine. I got the script; I read it, met up with John Cusack and his co-producer and had lunch with him. I had met him a couple of times over the years and had nice complementary hellos. We didn't know each other very well and they had just gotten the script themselves two weeks before. There was some kind of time frame that they had. They had to say, "Yes," that they were going to do it and it had to be shot on a certain date because the film already had a release slot. So it was kind of all configured yet they knew that there were things that they wanted to fix with the script and that there was work to do. So there was sort of this open element about changing things.
That kind of happened on the first on Charlie's Angels film as well, on the second one there wasn't as much openness but things changed a lot. Strangely on the first on Charlie's Angels film I had more influence on that character probably than any other film I've ever worked on whether it was a small independent or a studio film. For some reason the circumstances just worked out on that film and I had a lot of influence on how that character ended up looking, being and the things that happened to him. It was strange, that doesn't usually happen but on some level this was something similar where it was a big studio film and yet there was an openness to things changing in an organic way. This one had more to do with improvisational elements vs. on Charlie's Angels, which was because there was a lot of choreography and things had to be very structured. Yet there were things that happened that I was surprised that they came through. Like the hair pulling or the fact that I didn't speak in it, originally the character had lines, the way that I looked in it, I don't know? It was strange how much of that came into play in that film. Strangely in this film there was a little bit of that but it's different at the same time. But there was definitely an organic quality that happened. There was just a good feeling by and large. They were just a nice group of people with a good sense of humor and it was a pleasant film to work on. I'm glad I'm in it.
What do you think about the trend of hard R-Rated comedies, like there was in the '80s, coming back into the mainstream? Are you a fan of those types of films?
Crispin Glover: Well, I think nudity can be a good thing in films. Both of my films What Is It? and It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine!, have a fair amount of nudity and even some graphic sexuality in them but its in a different way. Neither of those films would be categorized as comedies specifically. So there's maybe a different quality to the nudity in hard-R comedies or the way it is in my own films but I'm not against it. I mean sometimes it can be handled better than other times but it seemed like in general in this film there was a good hearted feeling behind it so I'm glad I'm in the movie.
Are there any films of your own that perhaps you feel are underrated or didn't get the attention it deserved?
Crispin Glover: I don't know? I never really think of it that way. I kind of feel like films do get what they deserve. I guess you could make the argument that some don't but I just feel like it is better to be interested in what your interested in at the time. If something gets attention, fair enough and if it doesn't get attention then, fair enough as well. I don't really like to compare things. Its always a great way to make yourself feel great or bad. You can always compare yourself to somebody or something that is doing terribly or somebody or something that is doing great and say, oh I'm doing better or worse but non of those things matter. Its more important that you're really interested in what you are doing and to me making my own films and everything that comes from that really impassions me. Then to be working in other people's films, corporate filmmaking, to make that work is great. I'm ever more grateful that I'm able to be doing that.
Finally, when you look back on your "Back To The Future" experience is it kind of bittersweet because of your lawsuit and what they did with your character in "Back To The Future Part II?" Is the film ultimately something that you look back on fondly or was that entire experience sort of ruined for you because of what happened with the sequels?
Crispin Glover: It's unfortunate that that happened with the sequels. That the film is so recognizable and it is so well thought of, I'm glad. I'm glad that I'm in the first film but it is unfortunate that that happened in the second and third film. But there is one thing in particular that I don't like and I have been talking about it a little bit, which is that on the DVD to the Back To The Future trilogy, Bob Gale, who is one of the writers and one of the executive producers said something that is totally fabricated. I really don't like that and I'm very, very upset by it. What he said was that I was asking for twice the amount of money that Michael J. Fox was asking for to be in the film. I didn't do that! It has nothing to do with reality. Michael J. Fox I believe made $2 million, I could be wrong about that. But he made $2 million on the sequel, which means I would have had to ask for $4 million and I didn't do that! But what the fabrication is, and I've been kind of analyzing this is, what they did with the sequels and in particular Back To The Future Part II, which is what my lawsuit is about, is that they did some thing highly illegal that you couldn't do today.
The way propaganda works ... you've heard the line, the bigger the lie the more people believe it. Basically what they have done is, to overshadow the fact that they have done something extremely wrong by putting another actor into false nose and cheekbone, in order to fool people that I was in the film, they don't really address that on the DVD. What they do, Bob Gale specifically ... Robert Zemeckis who I have worked with since doesn't do that and I had a good experience with him and I appreciate that. That does somehow take a little bit of the displeasure element out since I had a good experience with him on Beowulf and ultimately had a good working experience with him on Back To The Future. But this very specific lie that Bob Gale told on the DVD is specifically to not address that what they did was totally immoral, illegal and just wrong. Rather than addressing what they had done I feel like they felt that it would be better to make up this thing to make it sound like I had done something really wrong. I didn't do anything wrong. Except that we didn't come to a financial agreement.
I've been careful about talking about it because it is complicated. There are a lot of elements about it. In the negotiations for the second film, they offered me to return to for less than half of what they were offering any of the other actors that were being asked to come back to the movie, which included Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd and Thomas F. Wilson. But they had all done studio films that made money in between. The film I did between Back To The Future and Back To The Future Part II was River's Edge. I did that for scale. So they seemed to argue that it was okay to offer me far less than any of the other actors who were coming back because I had done this independent art film, which I really like and am still very proud of. But I was being penalized. Then there was another aspect to it that I've kind of thought about but I'm careful to talk about, which is the "David Letterman thing." The way I talk about it ... what I always say is, I do not confirm nor deny that I had been on the Late Night With David Letterman show.
But it should be noted that that happened before the time that the negotiations for the Back To The Future sequels were going on so there seemed to me to be an aggressive quality toward the negotiations. It was not a normal negotiation. In fact, what normally happens in negotiations is they'll make an offer, you make an offer and then you usually meet somewhere in the middle. Or at least that's what usually happens. In this situation, they made an offer and I didn't even make a counter offer, we just said that what they were offering was too low. At which point they came back with an even lower offer and to me at this point what was apparent was that they did not want me to be in the film. I have various reasons, like I named this "David Letterman thing," I'm sure there could be other reasons as well but it was very apparent to me when we were doing the negotiations that I was not wanted. Or if I was going to do it, it was going to essentially be a punishment that I was going have to take less than half of what anybody else was taking to do the film and it just didn't seem fair on any level.
Then there was this thing that they did, which is extremely illegal at this point in time. I mean how can you calculate anything from that but really a very aggressive, mean spirited element coupled with the comments that Bob Gale made on the DVD. There is something, I'm sure you can understand that is irritating about that. I've been careful not to talk about it but at a certain point I don't have the platform that the DVD to Back To The Future has and I just feel like I could be totally quiet about it and let people think that I did this wrong thing or I can tell the truth of what I think has happened. I've talked about it very little but I'm beginning to because its been 25 years and also I notice that Bob Gale didn't just do it on the DVD, he's been going on radio shows and talking about it too. I don't know why he's doing that. It's very upsetting.
Hot Tub Time Machine blasts back to the '80s in theaters on March 26th.