An Interview with Danny Glover
Known liberal political activist Danny Glover has 89 acting credits to
his name. From his debut in Escape from Alcatraz (1979) and his television
work throughout the 1980s, Glover first acted in films with few socially
conscious attributes. Iceman (1984), Silverado (1985), Lethal Weapon (1987),
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989). Other than the small television exception of Mandela
(1987), Glover’s first significant piece of political filmmaking was Charles
Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger.
This was followed by Bopha (1993), Queen (1993), Buffalo Soldiers (1997),
Saw (2004), and others. While making these films Glover did blatantly mainstream,
often reactionary, films such as Predator 2 (1990), Flight of the Intruder
(1991), Lethal Weapon 4 (1998), Barnyard (2006), and several television
shows. Amazingly, more than any other actor I can think of, certainly one
with a strong political personality off screen, Glover’s market-driven
movies and politically conscious/independent films have remained separate.
That is, until now.
In the 2007 film, Shooter, Glover plays Colonel Isaac Johnson, head of
a paramilitary force working inside the U.S. government. Recently, people
in the Horn of Africa have been getting in the way of corporate interests.
This assertion of human rights needs to be squelched and Johnson thinks
they can do it by using professional “shooter” Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg)
as a political dupe. Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) directed Jonathan Lemkin’s
screenplay based on Stephen Hunter’s novel, Point of Impact. The film’s
acknowledgement of U.S. government corruption at the highest levels is
a narrative few big-budget Hollywood action films dare to venture.
Recognized around the globe for his humanitarian efforts and recipient
of numerous awards and nominations—including the 2003 NAACP Chairperson’s
Awards and the 2004 BET Lifetime Achievement Award. I spoke to Glover about
making movies and making differences.
ESTHER: Why did you want to make Shooter?
GLOVER: Well, I’m an actor and somebody offered me a job. I liked the script.
I liked the role. The director and I had some of the same ideas about the
character and the story.
What do you think you have in common with the colonel?
I don’t know if I have anything in common with the colonel. I try to fashion
a character who has enormous power, the kind of power where he could do
whatever he wants with impunity. And that he got the job done.
How politically relevant is this film?
I’ll let the audience determine that. The content of a film certainly provides
us with a thought/vision/something that we may have suspected. Does the
film empower us simply by introducing us to a thought or reinforcing our
thought? Yeah. It has a great deal of sensationalism that happens with
an event. This event takes place over the course of four days. But what
I’m always interested in, and it’s one of the real patterns in which we
see power exercised, is authority or empire that exercises authority. Empire
has to do more than stand on the corner and say, “Look how many guns I
got. Look how many ships I got.” That doesn’t always scare people. Power
has to find some way in which to reinforce itself through other means and
sometimes the imposition—the placement of the guns and all of that, is
Do you think the film goes far enough in how sinister some plans are executed
in and from this country?
It goes far enough within the framework of the film. It’s not a documentary.
If we just focus on the sensationalism for a moment and the action, which
is determined by the sensationalism, then it’s a good roller coaster movie.
But it’s much more than that. It’s not that simple. We shy away from understanding
the complexities that happen. This happens on several levels at the same
time. If you think, “One moment registered with me” or “I feel something
inside of me other than just a movie and maybe I better go and look up
and read other material.” The movie is relevant in some parts because there
are a lot of issues right now around the Horn of Africa.
Over the years how have roles changed for actors of color?
Movies have changed over the years. That affects roles that are offered
to actors of color. In terms of roles available, black women are still
at the bottom when comparing men and women. It also seems that when we
talk of an actor of color, we’re describing him or her as a “crossover
actor.” One of the problems with the whole process is that we’re 300 million
people in the world yet we export our culture across the planet. Often
what it does is undermine the development of other cultures and other national
Potentially there are more people of color in audiences than there are
of people who are not of color. They’re not demeaning roles for the most
part, but if we’re still asking the question, then we’re still dealing
with the other problems. We still have to deal with racism; certainly anytime
it manifests itself within the industry. What happens in the industry is
not inseparable from what happens in the general society. What stories
are being told? Who decides what stories are being told, should be told,
and are acceptable to be told? In some sense, that dictates our careers.
Is that something your company, Louverture Films, is addressing?
We’re trying to realize a vision of storytelling. How do we now envision
ourselves? Where is the balance shift? Where is the paradigm shift? What
is the story about? Who are the primary characters? For the most part that
is what we attempt to do. Another part is that we try to see ourselves
as a part of world cinema.
What do you think about interviews where you talk about your work? Do you
think it serves the film? Or do think the work should speak for itself?
It depends on how you want to look at the film. How you want to look at
the work itself. If you ask what is my process, my work methodology, then
it’s all right. If you’re going to ask me what’s the relevance of the film
in today’s world, that is fine, too. I would love to believe that a great
deal of the work that we need to do is relevant to what’s happening in
the world. It can’t simply be just entertainment. If you look at the great
work, the great writers of the past like Shakespeare. His work is not just
entertainment. He was commenting on society. Shakespeare was deconstructing
power and human frailty. He was making some sort of analysis of his world.
If we look at art from the vantage point of that, there’s always a place
to comment. I took a job but I thought there were elements in this story
that I thought could be intriguing. But the basis is, we’re not sitting
here unless somebody asks me to do it. I also have to work, not only to
make a living, but also to keep alive my craft.
What usually happens with work is that we have to demystify it and what
we do. We’re placed on these pedestals. If what I do as a cultural worker
is valuable then it’s important for me to assess the value of that work
and it’s important for me to discuss it and why I think the work is valuable.
It’s an important question what you’re asking, to talk about those things,
and the work and have some sort of understanding of that work and what
you’re providing the audience.
John Esther is a freelance writer. [FYI, the top page of ZNet appears in