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Scott Glenn has been acting for 48 years, and anyone who’s going to share the screen with him better be prepared.
“When I hear an actor say, ‘I don’t want to rehearse this too many times because I want to keep it fresh,’ well, excuse my French, but that just tells me they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing,” Glenn said to IndieWire. “There is no such thing as too much rehearsal. When Daniel Day-Lewis told Steven Spielberg he needed a year for ‘Lincoln,’ I understand that.”
But no amount of time could have prepared Glenn for what happened when he tried out a new acting technique during an episode of “The Leftovers” — not a two-and-a-half month heads up from Damon Lindelof; not receiving the script three weeks before he even left for Australia; not a thorough list of advice on how to prepare for an episode Lindelof described as Kevin Senior’s “version of a walkabout.”
It took preparation, coincidence — or is it fate? — and two key partners for magic to happen, and now Glenn is just hoping it happens again. Below is IndieWire’s interview with Glenn, in which he describes the unique way his outstanding performance in “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” came to be. A bit like “The Leftovers” itself, the story is somewhat extraordinary — in every sense of the word.
“I learned the whole thing like a play,” Glenn said. “Prior to that, I said [to Damon], ‘What can I work on?’ And he said, ‘Walk in the woods a lot. Read Bruce Chatwin, ‘The Songlines.’ Read books about the clever men and clever women. Get a didgeridoo. Learn how to play it.’ He just gave me all this stuff to do, and I did it.”
While Chatwin certainly helped, it was another book that made the biggest difference: A training book. A dog training book.
“I was reading a book about dog training,” Glenn said. “It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life.”
Before we continue, it’s worth noting how strange this statement sounds immediately after watching Glenn’s performance. In “Crazy Whitefella Thinking,” Glenn was given a seven-page monologue where Senior explains to an indigenous leader how he got there, and why the man, Christopher Sunday, should teach Senior his culture’s sacred song.
In the middle of this lengthy speech, covering everything from the voices in his head to a two-week acid trip, Senior has a line of similar peculiarity to what Glenn just said about a dog training book:
“Do you know what I saw in that TV, Chris?” Senior says, prefacing his next sign from God. “A chicken!”
Senior goes on to explain the great relevance of that chicken, just as Glenn quickly proceeded to not only justify why this book — “Don’t Shoot the Dog” by Karen Prior — was one of the best he’d ever read, but to show how circumstance doesn’t just affect people in “The Leftovers.” It affects people on “The Leftovers.”
“If you read the book, it’s really about training your partner, your kids, and, ultimately, yourself,” Glenn said. “It’s about positive reinforcement and operant conditioning. In the section of the book I was reading when I got the script, she says an interesting way of memorizing long speeches is starting at the end and memorizing to the beginning. It will take you longer, but once you’ve done it, you’ll find you know it in a more thorough way.”
“[That way] once you launch into [the speech], as you’re getting near the end, you’ll be going into more and more familiar territory. It’ll be like walking home. You become more and more relaxed and feel better and better, rather than what has always happened to me in memorizing speeches not even half that long. I’m great at the beginning, and then as I get to the end and [Glenn gives an exhausted look].”
Glenn’s first opportunity to implement the technique came with one of the biggest challenges of his career: that intense seven-page monologue, shot by director Mimi Leder.
Below is Glenn’s recollection of what happened on set:
“So Mimi said, ‘We’ll probably have to shoot this in bits and pieces.'”
“And I said, ‘I don’t think so. How many cameras do you have?'”
“Can you keep ’em running?”
“Well, let’s just see what happens then.”
“So we did the scene, she said, ‘Cut,’ and said nice things about it. And then…”
“OK, so when you pick up the tape recorder…”
“And I said, ‘I don’t remember.'”
“Well, you remember playing the tape recorder?”
“No, I don’t.”
“When has this happened to you before?”
“It hasn’t — in 48 years of acting, ever. Let’s do it again.”
“And Mimi said, ‘You’re telling me, right now, the way you’re working, you can’t direct yourself?'”
“And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s right.'”
“If you can’t direct yourself, no one else can. How do I get into the scene to get what I need from you?”
“Just keep shooting.”
“I’ll exhaust you.”
“No, you won’t.”
And she didn’t.
“We did six or seven takes of that scene, again and again, and I didn’t remember one of them,” Glenn said. “I didn’t remember key lights. I didn’t remember any of it.”
“Scott Glenn is an extraordinary actor,” Leder said in a separate interview. “He’s stronger than all of us. He’s just an ox. He did everything.”
Reflecting back on shooting that scene, Glenn said he “almost burst into tears, I was so happy.”
“I love poetry,” he said. “I love to read, and I’ve read about those moments, and it actually happened to me. It was the happiest I’ve ever been.”
For the rest of the shoot, Glenn was able to replicate the technique.
“Most of it went like that,” he said. “I would wake up in the morning and say out loud, ‘Scott, your job today is to not let yourself get in the way. Don’t pick that moment that’s really dramatic or really funny and make it work. Don’t do that. Just dive into it.'”
“Every inch of his face is memorable and photographable,” Leder said. “The creases on his cheeks, and his eyes — everything he does is very real and very visceral. Working with him is one of the great experiences.”
Aside from the dog book, Glenn is quick to note how Leder and Lindelof helped him reach this new level.
“I credit it to, No. 1, Damon Lindelof,” Glenn said. “I said to Damon, ‘Do you have hidden microphones in my fucking bedroom?’ It’s like he has my voice better than I could’ve written it for myself. Damon writes stuff that goes from raw emotion to laugh-out-loud funny with very unpredictable, circuitous, phenomenal writing.”
“And then, to have Mimi Leder as my tour guide, it’s almost not even fair. Mimi would give me hints of things to think about before it would start, and what she said was all she wanted me to do was always go to the deep end of the pool as quickly as possible.”
“With those two, I just had to show up.”
But Glenn isn’t sure if he can get back to that moment, and he knows he won’t be able to on every project.
“I’ve been doing this for 48 years, and it’s never happened before and it certainly didn’t happen over the last six or seven months working on ‘The Defenders,'” Glenn said, referencing the Netflix superhero series he’s still shooting.
“The show happened to me more than I made it happen, if that makes any sense,” Glenn said.
It does — at least in terms of “Crazy Whitefella Thinking.”