HEAT VISION

Scott Glenn on 'Greenland' and the Silver Lining of His 'Sons of Anarchy' Recasting

Scott Glenn
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
In a career-spanning conversation, the actor reflects on missing out on the FX show, only to wind up in one of his favorite roles: "anything that would’ve gotten in the way of 'The Leftovers' would’ve been really bad because it was the single best acting experience I’ve ever had."

Whether it’s a biblical flood in The Leftovers or an interstellar comet in Greenland, Scott Glenn is no stranger to stories where the world is being threatened. With the real world now stricken by a global pandemic, Glenn recognizes a through-line between his work and the real world as far as survival is concerned. In times of crisis, familial love is essential, and Glenn’s Greenland character, Dale, extends a helping hand to his estranged son-in-law, Gerard Butler’s John Garrity, despite having every reason to harbor resentment towards him.

“When I read the script, I thought that it was well-written as a disaster film. And then there’s one place that the film slows down, so you can really see what gets us through something as huge as this,” Glenn tells The Hollywood Reporter. “In some ways, the pandemic is more insidious than Greeland’s threat because it’s invisible. You don’t see the sky on fire and stuff raining down on you. But that one section of the film lets you know that the way you survive these things is with love, quite simply, and interpersonal love with family. There needs to be a willingness to sacrifice where you’re put in hard times.”

Besides Urban Cowboy and 1998’s off-Broadway rendition of Killer Joe, Glenn’s most cherished role is that of The Leftovers’ Kevin Garvey, Sr, a former police chief who may or may not be a prophet. In the acclaimed HBO series’ final season, Glenn considers his character’s showcase episode, “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” to be "the answer to so many wishes and dreams,” and that’s saying something for an actor who’s also been a part of Apocalypse Now, The Right Stuff and Silverado. According to Glenn, The Leftovers co-creator Damon Lindelof captured his voice in a way that only Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts has via Killer Joe. In retrospect, Glenn is all the more grateful for the role of “Senior” since a disappointing event several years earlier could’ve easily changed the trajectory that led him to The Leftovers.

“I came out so far ahead at the end of the day. Sons of Anarchy, what can I say about it?” Glenn ponders. “I was really disappointed when they shot the pilot and I got a call from [creator] Kurt Sutter saying, ‘They bought the pilot, Scott, but not you.’ And I knew why. My contract was, I’m sure from their point of view, unworkable. It had things like top billing, always, irregardless of who the guests were. But you know what? It was really fun doing the pilot for Sons of Anarchy. But… anything that would’ve gotten in the way of The Leftovers would’ve been really bad because it was the single best acting experience I’ve ever had.”

As an avid motorcycle rider, Glenn certainly fit the patriarchal role of Sons of Anarchy’s Clay Morrow, who also served as the president of the show’s eponymous outlaw motorcycle club. Oddly enough, after moving to Idaho in the late ‘70s, Glenn just so happened to strike up a friendship with an Idaho-based outlaw motorcycle club that informed him of another reason to appreciate how things turned out.

“This is going to sound like I’m bad-mouthing that show, but I don’t really mean it in that way. I ride motorcycles and all kinds of bikes. So I have friends in an outlaw motorcycle club called Brother Speed,” Glenn explains. “Once, when I was hanging out with those guys after the show came out, they said, ‘We’re so glad you didn’t do that show.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ And they said, ‘Nobody commits crimes wearing colors ever. Nobody would do it. Do they think we’re fucking morons? So you’re driving around, you’re wearing colors, as Sons of Anarchy, and you’re committing crimes? It doesn’t work and it doesn’t happen in the real world.’ So I was kind of let off the hook, socially, in whatever weird life I live outside of making movies.”

In a recent conversation with THR, Glenn also looks back at his famous seven-and-a-half page monologue on The Leftovers, how Denzel Washington talked him into doing Training Day and why he appreciated Daredevil’s Stick compared to most roles.

Does Greenland come to mind when you watch the news and see our own world in a perpetual state of crisis?

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. When we made Greenland, I had never heard the word coronavirus. Now, anyone who sees this in real time is also in the middle of our own world crisis, the pandemic. I’m sure that gives the film an extra bite.

You really make the most of your time in Greenland as you add a layer of emotion and humanity that can sometimes get lost in disaster-driven films. Similar to a sixth man in basketball or a late-inning reliever in baseball, was there a specific point in your career when you first realized that you could elevate a movie in just a few scenes?

(Laughs.) I try not to predict the effect that I’m going to have on audiences. That’s a rabbit hole I really don’t want to crawl into. I just go with my sense of appetite and what’s on the page. But you’re quite right. When I read the script, I thought that it was well-written as a disaster film. It moves along and it works. And then there’s one place that the film slows down, so you can really see what gets us through something as huge as this. In some ways, the pandemic is more insidious than Greeland’s threat because it’s invisible. You don’t see the sky on fire and stuff raining down on you. But that one section of the film lets you know that the way you survive these things is with love, quite simply, and interpersonal love with family. There needs to be a willingness to sacrifice where you’re put in hard times, and I kind of just saw that in those scenes. In terms of pacing, it doesn’t really slow down because shit is still coming out of the sky and the threat is still there, but emotionally, the film slows down enough to let you understand real specific individual human values in the middle of the whole thing. So I saw that when I read it. He’s a friend of mine now, but I was just on the phone talking to [director] Ric [Roman] Waugh. We got along so well. You can tell when a director has a strong vision that’s specific and individual, but is still willing to let you find yours on your own. So that’s why I did it, and it seemed to work out.

Training Day is another example where you added a whole new dimension to a film in just a few scenes. “I follow all the good players” is a line of yours that’s stuck with me all these years.

(Laughs.) Yeah, with Training Day, it was funny. I had been working for a little over two years straight with no time off at all. I’d done an off-Broadway play called Killer Joe, and then I went to New Zealand to do Vertical Limit. Then I went straight from New Zealand to Germany to do a film called Buffalo Soldiers and on my way home to Idaho, I stopped off in New York to have lunch. I didn’t even know if it was about a job, but they just said, “Would you mind having lunch with Lasse Hallström?” And I went, “No!” So not only did I have lunch with Lasse, but we wound up walking all around mid-Manhattan for most of the day. At the end, he said, “I want you to be in The Shipping News and I want you to play this part. I know producers and agents normally get involved in all this stuff, and I’m sure they will, but I want you and it’s going to happen if you say yes, so say yes.” And I said, “When do you start?” which was in three weeks. So I thought, “Oh, fuck, I’ve got three weeks. I can go home, hang out with [wife] Carol [Schwartz] and play in the mountains. I really need this time off.”

And when I got home, I was offered Training Day and I sort of automatically said, “No, I don’t want to do it. I’m really wiped out.’” But then D [Denzel Washington] got ahold of me. I’d already known him from Courage Under Fire; we instantly got along with each other. Those things either happen or they don’t, and he said, “Look, Scott, I’ve got this part and the script is great. You’re going to get it pretty soon, but I really need you to say you’re going to do it because you’ve got to be my best friend, a white guy. And at the end of the film, when I kill you, my entire audience, including the Black audience, has to really be pissed off at me for betraying that friendship.” And then he said, “And you’re the only person that can do that. That’s our relationship, and so here’s the way it works. It’s going to say ‘Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke in Training Day, starring Scott Glenn.’ This is how much money you’re going to make and you’re going to work no more than five days. Please come to L.A.” We had that conversation on a Friday, so I said, “Okay, get me the script.” Then I got the script, and I loved the two parts. So, that Sunday, I was in the valley, getting my physical, getting wardrobe and props. Then Antoine Fuqua, the director, came over to introduce himself because, as he said, “This is the first time in my life that a part’s been cast in something I directed and it wasn’t up to me.” (Laughs.) But D told me what our relationship was, and then Antoine said, “This is just a blueprint, so you can take off on this stuff as much as you want.”

Sometimes, you just have these scenes that are such gems, and they just kind of jump out at you. And from my point of view, it doesn’t really have to do with the size of the part, the billing or anything. With Urban Cowboy, I read that script and I thought, “Irregardless of who Wes Hightower is and whether he’s evil, horrible, off-putting, compelling, sexy or whatever… what I see is a film about people who live in an extended fantasy.” They’re not real bull riders. They’re not real cowboys. They’re mainly oil workers who dress up like outlaw cowboys on the weekend and ride bull machines, not real bulls. And in comes a guy who’s a real bank robber, a real outlaw, a real bull rider, and he’s just out of Huntsville prison. If I don’t fuck this up, forget about being good in it. If I just get that part of it, then I’m going to stand out from everybody else in this film like a black diamond in a big heap of rhinestones.

You briefly touched on this subject, but when you first worked with Carrie Coon on The Leftovers, how soon did Killer Joe come up? [Writer’s Note: Coon’s husband, Tracy Letts, wrote Killer Joe for the stage and screen.]

(Laughs.) Right away! There are three parts that I’ve had in my life that played me. I’d wake up in the morning and I’d say, “My job is just not to get in the way. Just stay the fuck out of the way because this thing will play you.” And I had that experience on Urban Cowboy, Killer Joe, and then one other time in TV with Carrie on The Leftovers. You’re talking about writers like Aaron Latham and Jim Bridges, Tracy Letts and Damon Lindelof. So how can you miss when you’re working with those people?

When you first read The Leftovers script for “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” was that a rather emotional day for you?

Huge. (Laughs.) Yes, it was. It was the answer to so many wishes and dreams. Damon called me up and said, “I’ve written your show, Scott.” And then he said, “One scene will probably take a lot of shots because even though there’s another person in the scene, David Gulpilil, essentially, it’s a monologue and it’s the longest monologue I’ve ever written.” And I go, “What is it? A page and a half? Two pages?” He said, “No, it’s seven-and-a-half pages.” (Laughs.) And I thought, “Oh man, seven-and-a-half pages?” So I called Damon up after reading that whole script and I said, “Do you have mics in my bedroom? You’re channeling me in ways that nobody ever has.” Maybe Tracy with Killer Joe. Of course, I went right to that seven-and-a-half page monologue, and it was funny. Sometimes, you just get so lucky. I was reading a book about dog training, called Don’t Shoot the Dog! It’s by Karen Pryor, and she was talking about positive reinforcement and using it to train dogs, as opposed to hitting and punishing them. Giving treats, things like that. And she said, “If you use this philosophy correctly, you can also use it to train your friends, your wife, your whatever and in fact, yourself.” And then she said, “For instance, if you have something really long to memorize...” So I thought, “Okay, I do have something to memorize. I have seven-and-a-half pages.” Then she said, “Try this. It may take a bit longer, but try to memorize from the last sentence backwards to the first sentence.” So I started at the end of the seven-and-a-half pages and worked backwards. So by the time you have the whole thing down, you’ve gone over the end many more times than you have the beginning. And her point in doing that was once you’re really doing it, as you get further and further into the scene, you’ll be getting into more and more familiar territory. It’ll be like you’re walking home and all of a sudden you say, “Hey, I recognize that street lamp. Oh yeah.” So you get little rewards as you get towards the end of the thing because it becomes more familiar and more secure. And it worked like a charm.

Have you thought about the fact that had Sons of Anarchy worked out, you probably wouldn’t have been available for The Leftovers? Your entire trajectory would’ve been different, so I definitely think you came out ahead.

You know what? I came out so far ahead at the end of the day. (Laughs.) Yeah, I mean, that’s very, very true. Sons of Anarchy, what can I say about it? I was really disappointed when they shot the pilot and I got a call from [creator] Kurt Sutter saying, “They bought the pilot, Scott, but not you.” And I knew why. My contract was, I’m sure from their point of view, unworkable. It had things like top billing, always, irregardless of who the guests were. You know, dumb things like that. But you know what? It was really fun doing the pilot for Sons of Anarchy. This is going to sound like I’m bad-mouthing that show, but I don’t really mean it in that way. I ride motorcycles and all kinds of bikes. So I have friends in an outlaw motorcycle club called Brother Speed. Once, when I was hanging out with those guys after the show came out, they said, “We’re so glad you didn’t do that show.” And I said, “Why?” And they said, “Nobody commits crimes wearing colors ever. Nobody would do it. Do they think we’re fucking morons? So you’re driving around, you’re wearing colors, as Sons of Anarchy, and you’re committing crimes? It doesn’t work and it doesn’t happen in the real world.” So I was kind of let off the hook, socially, in whatever weird life I live outside of making movies. But, yeah, you’re right. Anything that would’ve gotten in the way of The Leftovers would’ve been really bad because it was the single best acting experience I’ve ever had.

Have you ever taken a role where you and the character were dealing with something similar, and you knew you’d have to work it out in the process?

That’s a phenomenal question. Yeah, in an odd way, it was a play that I took on Broadway after two other people had played the part. It was called Burn This by Lanford Wilson. John Malkovich opened it, and then I guess he ran out of his contract or whatever. Eric Roberts also took over for a brief period of time. I was making a movie and when I finished the movie, I took over for Eric. So I was the third person. And inside that play, Pale was working through problems that he had with his brother. His brother was gay, and he grew up in a part of New Jersey where that was not cool then. So he was part of the world that came down on his brother and criticized him and shit all over him. But then he realized his brother was the bravest, most honorable, best person he’d ever known and he really truly loved him. Once he died, Pale’s way of dealing with that was to stay pretty consistently drunk. That was not my way, and that didn’t happen to me with my brother or anything, but I did see a way of dealing with my own weakness or cowardice in standing up for the right things at the right time.

Do the voices of your past directors or collaborators ever resurface in your mind?

Yeah, sometimes, they come back in terms of performance and sometimes they’d just come back… I was all the way down in Georgia, and I remember watching people try to segue from being actors to models for still photographs. And Bob Towne said to me, “The face is always its most beautiful and attractive when it’s at its most relaxed state.” So you kind of let the air out, take a little bit of time to relax and let it happen. But I’ve been lucky because I’ve worked with so many masters and a lot of them were at the beginning of my career. By that, I mean Bob Altman, Nashville or Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now. So I remember huge amounts of stuff that I learned from both of those guys that stood me in good stead. And sometimes, you’ll remember a piece of advice and you’ll think, “Where did I hear that? Oh! I heard that from Lee [Strasberg] at The Actors Studio. Yeah, that’s true.”

If I time-traveled to the ‘70s and showed you a reel of the roles you’ve been playing the last 10-15 years, would they align with what you expected you’d be playing at this point?

Not really. The truth is when we moved to Idaho, I didn’t know what my life was going to be. I was almost positive that it wasn’t going to have anything to do with being in front of a camera. That just wasn’t going to work out. I mean, it’s a terrible lesson to give anyone and I wouldn’t counsel anyone to do this, but having said that, here’s my personal lesson in life. Get really, really, really strong legs and core, find the windiest place you can find, squat down and jump up as high as you can and see which way the wind blows you. And that’s it. So I didn’t have any visions of what I would be doing. I’m just happy to do anything when it comes my way. But no, every now and then, you get something like Kevin Sr. in The Leftovers. Larry Kasdan wrote Silverado for me, so that character is, from the get-go, a gift. I never saw it coming in a million years. Sometimes, I’ll go to Carol and I’ll say, “They’re offering me all this money and box office bonuses. Don’t they realize I’d fucking pay them to let me do this?” She says, “Keep your mouth shut.” (Laughs.)

Has your approach to the work changed over the years?

On some levels, as an actor, I feel like, metaphorically, I’m a sophomore in college. I haven’t scratched graduate school. So I’ve got a lot to learn, and what I know about acting is not a whole lot. With The Leftovers, it was the best opportunity of all to do what I’m going to say, which is letting go more and more of my prediction of where the scene is going to go. I’m no longer trying to make a meal out of the big scene. My manager, Johnnie Planco, who’s no longer alive and who I really miss, used to say, “Try not to have a conversation with Oscar because it’ll show.” So just let it go and let it go and let it go. And please don’t think I’m being egotistical because I’m not comparing myself to Jackson Pollock. I’m not comparing myself to him as an artist. But early in Jackson Pollock’s life, he could sit opposite of you and sketch you, and it would look like someone had taken a photograph of you. That’s the kind of control he had over what he was doing. He wound up picking up buckets of paint, climbing up on a ladder and pouring them down onto a piece of canvas. So I’m kind of at the stage now where I want to start climbing the ladder and turning loose. So I try to be honest with anybody who wants me to do a part. When the director tells me, “I need this, I need that,” if I feel like I’m going to be put in too much of a straitjacket, I’ll just say, “Look…” Again, I’m not comparing myself at all to Miles Davis other than in this way. With “My Funny Valentine,” you can go to any horn player in any good jazz band or, for that matter, any symphony orchestra in the world, and they’ll play it note for note, pause for pause, beat for beat, exactly the way it was written. (Glenn sings.) “My funny valentine…” Or you can go to Miles Davis and you will get: (Glenn imitates Miles Davis playing the trumpet.) You won’t get every note the way it was written. You won’t get the pauses and the beats, but what you will get are the values that you wanted. It will break your heart more than any reproduction of what was written from a horn player or symphony orchestra. So hire me, and you’ve hired Miles Davis. Yeah, I know that sounds arrogant.

Since playing Kevin Sr., has your definition of crazy changed at all? Are you less likely to slap that label on someone from afar?

Absolutely. I talked to Damon about that, and at one point, he said, “What do you think? Crazy or a profit?” And I said, “Both. Both for sure.” And I love that you keep bringing me back to that part because it’s so meaningful to me. When I wrap most parts, I’m ready to walk away. Stick [from Daredevil] was a little bit different because that was just as much about being a stuntman and a martial artist as it was acting. I mean, I could go back and do that part again and again just because of the physical challenges and the physical fun that it was. But Senior, I really miss. I still miss Senior. And I think, “Wait a minute, Senior didn’t die at the end of The Leftovers. Senior’s out there running around. Where is he? What’s he doing? Did he join an Australian outlaw biker club? Is he running around with indigenous people, trying to get a new vision? Where the hell is he? Where is this guy? What’s he doing?” So I want to keep him alive and keep going with him. I mean, that’s something that I really do miss.

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Greenland is now available on-demand and digital.

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