This is an interview with Danny Glover on July 26, 2011 about the Age Of The Dragons television film.
Can you talk about what it was like to play Captain Ahab and how you identified with his obsession?
There's so many who have read Melville's book or we saw the performance greatly affect, you know, it seems like eons ago. It's a film classic. Certainly, the idea of not simply just playing someone who is physically mantled or dismantled, or physically just torn apart, the idea of it is emotional part of it which is what really attracted me to it, the idea of the kind of emotional torture as opposed to the physical, it's just that he's crippled by that; he's crippled emotionally.
So all those kind of things that were important to me. And bringing that back to his childhood, Melville's book certainly focused on his obsession with the whale as a result of the fact that this is who he has been and the whale was his obsession, kind of need to kind of conquer this whale. The same with him as a boy; he had panicked - the idea about him being afraid and panicked at a moment of crisis and trying to redeem himself as a result of that. I think those are the kind of things that I think were enjoyable for me in trying to find a center for the character in the story.
What did you find most challenging for you or was there something else that you found really challenging for you about that role?
Well the combination of the two things; certainly the physical part of that and the finding the kind of physical language for the character. There's a physical language for a character and finding center and yourself in it. And the emotional language behind that, because as a point was revealed at the end was not only the obsession itself with the reason why and all the fear that is masked by the kind of ugliness of the physical scar, the ugliness in the scene of that part of it. And the fear evoked because of that; his authoritativeness comes from somewhere else that is centered his emotional pain. Always hiding his emotional pain is the one thing that I focus on and because there is the physical danger that we have of the beast itself, there's that physical danger of the beast itself.
And certainly in trying to find it where the deeper part of his emotional pain beyond the scars that were left from not only his - this attack on him as well as the scars left by the fact that his sibling had been murdered by the beast; all those things and he is his own fear and his own pain. All of that was the rich part that you have to play with, you know, and the script allowed you to find that too.
If we just look at Leverage and this movie Age of the Dragons, the characters couldn't be more different. What would you say is the key to your versatility as an actor?
Well I don't know, maybe I don't take myself seriously. And I think when I see the play mapped out on the board and the Director and Writer, Athol Fugard; that's A-T-H-O-L Fugard, F-U-G-A-R-D. Athol Fugard said that the one thing that he appreciated about me was that I gave whatever I had to give to the moment itself, to the truth of the story; that's what I gave, you know, all of that. And that simply means that the story exists in itself and the story is bound by the character's relationship, emotions, et cetera like that; his relationship with himself and his relationship outside out that.
What I try to do is find as the story's art focuses on that essentially through the characters and who they are, who they think they are who they are in real life and the relationship between each other; so that made the story and certainly redeems itself. So the idea is that I fit in to what that is, you know, I don't try to be bigger than the story, I don't try to dominate the story, I don't try to use myself in some sort of way in which it now circumvents what the story is about; I try to be right within the story itself whether it's "Sergeant Murtaugh" or whether it's "Mister" in The Color Purple or whatever it says.
Or whether it's Leverage or whether it's been the "Captain" in Age of the Dragons. So those are the kind of things that I think when I think about prying myself to think about who I am as an actor; those are the kind of things that focus on me whether I've been able to work, whether my face is the kind of face that is manageable in many situations, many characters or whatever it is. But there's some part of it that - and I think that comes out and Sammy Davis Jr. said, "You remind me of the guy who lives next door to me" which killed me. I don't know whether it's a compliment or a compliment to my versatility or my ordinariness.
How did you actually got involved with this particular project?
Well they came to me; they came to me and I read the script and an actor likes to work and an actor likes to feel that he's capable of needing the test of many challenges and everything else so I said, "What about this?" It's kind of deformed - and that's the word I was looking for deformed, mad; was not only deformed physically, but deformed emotionally, and some of those characters within stories themself are really dynamic to me. So this deformed man; he's defined to some sense by his physical appearance of this deformity, but there's another emotional deformity as well. All those things are part of it. Fear, guilt -all those things of my part that I'm allowed to explore in this role; so that's how I got to it, they came to me.
What do you think is the biggest challenge that comes along with doing film remakes for classics, especially one as huge as Moby Dick?
Well, Melville's theme in the story is a tragedy; it's Shakespearean in some ways. It's such a great tragedy of man against nature, of man against beast, of man against himself. Finding himself, and responsibility because there's a responsibility too as someone who's taken his role, but the obsession with this dragon or obsession with the whale itself, you know, clouds his degree of responsibility.
And it really announces his madness now - this is one, as the beast he is conquered by the beast. He isn't conquered by the beast, it's the beast in himself basically and that's what man is always having to deal with, the beast himself. It's the beast in himself, that part of him where he teeters on the edge of madness and sanity, or stability. Or chaos, all of that; all of those are kind of the emotion - the human emotion and great classics come out of that. So whenever you're trying to remake them or reconfigurate them in some sort of way; it's always interesting. You find it in every single one, you can do it you get a classic, every single one.
Whatever generation you put Macbeth in, it still works because the same human emotion; it could be as its own period in time. Or it can be in a modern time it all works, the same emotions come up there. So I think trying to find the connection between those emotions, that humanness in it; that human frailty is a challenge.
From viewing the trailers for the Age of the Dragons, it seems like there's some pretty amazing video special effects. I'd like to know how has this modern technology changed the movie-making process for you?
Well I'm an actor, and it seems that as itself special itself dwarf the role of an actor, dwarf the film itself, It's so amazing, I mean some of the things that we did in the first Lethal Weapon 25 years ago, and the way in which it's done now; it's like in another age and time. So certainly, I think the challenge of it is that in what is 3-D or the format that it's placed on, you see the film on, or whether it's just a pure, amazing technology; amazing development in technology in terms of special effects bring an audience closer to feeling in a different other kind of way.
But those things don't affect me because I love to know I'm to blame and I'm always kind of dealing with the nuance of language and the relationship that language has to what we're doing, what we're trying to convey; and that's still real. Whatever the Lethal Weapons were, they were still the relationship between two men or the relationship that gathered between those two men and the people that they came into contact with; their own human frailty, all the special effects came out of that and off chance creates that. The special effects create a degree, for the most part, a physical danger; that's what special effects I want to see.
And we're looking at Transformers, Iron Man, to Consumer Man to Spider Man, whatever it is; we're looking at those special effects and the creative, the emotional, they physical danger created by that. It's still the actor's role to find the emotional danger within that and the emotional danger is what connects the people to the stories self and themself.
Your role looks like it could be really strenuous. Do you follow some sort of exercise and eating habits because you're in incredible shape?
Danny Glover:I want to walk with this man who feels this pain physically and emotionally all the time, and you have to contort your body in such a way to find the script in that. And also find incentive; I'm trying to feel this physical pain, it's painful to drag that leg around and yet it is in some sense it drives me, the fact that I dragged that leg around and dragged that body around keeps me upset and moving toward my obsession.
And so I try to find the place where the physical is greater than the pain and it does feel painful, it does feel awkward in a sense; if you're walking on sand, you're walking on sand. It's the physical pain of walking on sand is different than the way you feel physically if you're walking on grass or if you're walking on sidewalk or walking on dirt.
Because walking on the sand and having to lift your legs in a certain way and the weight of your legs from walking on the sand for a long time; and those are the kind of things that I use for my own kind of like memory. I want to be physically in pain when I do that and you got to be in shape to be physically in pain, you know what I'm saying; to experience that, change your body so your body reverts back to what it is.
Imagine someone who is already, really physically in pain and imagine they're alive when it's constantly in pain so that every movement whether because of age or by some accident or by some physical abnormality. But to be physically in pain was a portion of that. Hiding behind that pain, feeling that pain and watching other people recognize and know that you're in pain. That everyone is spying on you, everyone looks at you with contempt because of that; because you could have a certain feeling because of what you experienced as well. You experience something that no one else as a dragon has experienced, you survive; at least they think you have. You survive whatever his wrath was.
In the movie, the writers saw fit to give an explanation as to why your character, Captain Ahab, was chasing his white whale in the form of he dragon in the way of flashbacks which is somewhat in contrast to the plot of Moby Dick in which the reader never learns the source of Captain Ahab's lust for revenge. Do you think the addition of these flashbacks helped the movie-goer connect with Ahab on an emotional level, taking the story in a somewhat new direction?
I think you have to reduce altering human behavior is demystified through knowing something about what the person's past is and how that past is. You can look at a hardened criminal man and he can tell you a story about what had happened to him as a child that could bring you to tears and you could understand who he is.
So or we can flashback, in fact I have experienced with Mr. Armani who was doing right and some time in the state prison; and had come and told his story. This is why I heard his story, he had some sort of empathy for them and you can only have empathy for people despite who you may think they are or see how they are by knowing their story. So the flashback what I think were could in that vantage point, because that vantage point is it allows us to understand who Ahab was more than just this vile or deformed, angry human being.
Having felt this physical and emotional pain of various characters over the years, what type of insight does that give you into people?
I think the inside of the people come from a desire to be able to have empathy for people; the inside for people comes beyond just acting, you know, we have an opportunity all through our lives sort of with family members, of friends or even strangers to hear somebody's story. Every time I look at and look at a homeless person on the street, and I think about what is the story, what is that story brought him to that. You can even look at him and try to find it in his eyes. There's some people that I've seen repeatedly in the same place.
There was a man that I saw and every time I would give him a couple of dollars or $5 bill, he'd be in the same place everyday; and then at one point in time I said, "What is your story?" You know, you have a gracious smile, being gracious with him and everything else, then I'd listen to him talk about his story a little bit and then I had a different understanding with him.
So I think on the one hand it begins with a desire to do what we do is honored as actors, you know. I think there's one or two choices that you make, that you're able to gather from people vicariously in some sort of way what happens in them and know what they are simply by that; and utilizes that, utilize yourself and your own senses within yourself in projecting, or immersing yourself in the character and projecting that character's story. On the one hand and so for me wanting to know, hear people's story is not so much about acting as looking at a picture; and looking at a picture and dividing something from that picture and seeing a story in the picture, you know, whatever it is, and being moved by that picture and everything else, you know.
One of the most incredible moments was looking at Dr. Martin Luther King and I hear what he says, but all you have to do is look at his eyes; if you look at his eyes in the picture, you see something so deep in his eyes, something so if you could imagine, that what is in his eyes, what he feels, what he believes, this feeling and everything else; what he believes and the idea that is so it manifests itself in what he talks about and it manifests itself to the point that he moves people by what he talks about so all you have to is look in his eyes.
There have been several movies over the years, actually since the 1950s, that have reinvented or tried to retell the story of Moby Dick; how well in your mind in Age of Dragons reinvent the classic Moby Dick tale and in which ways did it succeed?
I'm an actor in it. My purpose is to kind of find a center and try to be that. I didn't try to tell or retell the story of Moby Dick; of course, I'm influenced by it, I mean you don't get away from the fact that the physical and emotional deformity that you find in the character itself there. But I mean, the idea of that is a classic story because it lends itself to so many different interpretations; is a classic story that in some sense is captured at this particular point in time, not only the issue of allowing this man's obsession, but the issues around what happened and what is happening at this period in time, you know, in the whaling industry; an industry where men come from all around the world who've become a part of this experience.
The bounty of this not only and the value of what they do; the value of this is at a point of time in oil and whale oil and the use of the oil itself is quite, you know, it is what this is about so they have value in itself. These men have value and yet they are men who explore the full spectrum of benefits of the value that they bring to the situation so there's so many different other things about that. Like I said, you can play the classic story in any time, in any period, as long as if you're able to kind of lend or translate those same temporary values or post-contemporary values to the story itself, then you fall within the framework of doing justice to the original story.
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