A man for all seasons: Glover offers inside look at his acting world
By BILL GREEN
A generation of television viewers knows him solely as Lionel Luthor, the villainous father of Lex Luthor on the popular Warner Brothers Superman prequel series Smallville. But John Glover is known to many generations for his vast work on stage, screen and television. Yet little appears to be known about the man behind the alter egos. Quick quiz: Did you know Glover is openly gay? He also likes to shop for stage props at Goodwill and he's a dedicated supporter of the Alzheimer's Association.
What's that you say? John Glover is openly gay? 'When people ask I just say … I mean I don't think there's a time I decided to [ come out ] . It just is,' Glover says via telephone from his L.A. home. He commutes to the Smallville set in Vancouver.
Did it ever cost the actor work? 'Not that I'm aware of. But I don't know if, in those rooms, somebody would say 'Oh no he's gay we don't want him.' So I don't know.'
Long before it was considered a wise career move for actors to transition back and forth from television to movie roles, Glover was doing just that with finesse and aplomb. 'I just like to work,' Glover replies matter-of-factly. 'And I like to play interesting roles. So I would take roles that were offered to me if they were interesting.'
Glover gained TV prominence thanks to parts in Miami Vice, Murder, She Wrote, and Frasier and his villains became ever more quirky in features like Gremlins 2: The New Batch and Robocop 2. Offering a side of himself rarely seen by audiences, he played artist Leonardo DaVinci in the 1991 made-for-TV feature A Season of Giants, and then portrayed another villain, this time the biggest of them all—the devil himself—in the 1998 television series Brimstone. Beginning in 1992, Glover did voice work as the Riddler, among others, for the then-popular superhero cartoons Batman: The Animated Series and Superman.
While Glover may have found himself more-often-than-not typecast as the villain, with Lionel-Luthor-like cunning he turned a disadvantage into an advantage, and a glut of roles. 'I think [ being typecast as a villain ] started happening with 52 Pick-Up—that movie I did that John Frankenheimer directed with Ann-Margret and Roy Scheider in about '86. It's from an Elmore Leonard book ( of the same name ) and it was a very successful villain and I think that kind of did it.
'Film and TV people, they're not as daring with casting. I guess because there's more money at stake they like to be sure what they're getting.'
Glover built a reputation for taking on villainous roles in projects like Masquerade, Scrooged and Batman & Robin with gleeful abandon and a subtle touch of humor, always injecting his baddies with an element of quirk and personality. 'I try to look at them as people and realize that they are trying to succeed in life and survive. Some of the more ruthless characters, they're simply hungrier than others,' Glover observes. 'Well that's how I try to look at it. But in their minds they don't see themselves [ as villains ] . Well some of them do, perhaps. Like the guy in 52 Pick-Up that I played—Alan Raimy—who was the most immoral man I've ever seen. He made no pretense in justifying anything. But I think Lionel Luthor in his mind has—he's ruthless—but he's got it figured out why it can all be justified.'
One of Glover's most over-the-top villains, Dr. Jason Woodrue, in Joel Schumacher's feature film Batman & Robin, gave him a chance to work with another really bad seed, Uma Thurman as the deadly Poison Ivy. 'I was kissed to death by Uma Thurman, my dear, my dear,' he says with the zeal of a 13-year-old boy.
A bit of a campy role? ( Laughs ) 'I guess so. It just happened. When Joel offered me the part, I asked for that kind of Bride of Frankenstein wig. I had no idea what I was going to do. And then when I came in they'd given me this sort of white linen suit to wear. But then they gave me those big rubber gloves and those glasses and it was the rubber gloves that allowed me to be the character. I couldn't be the guy without the rubber gloves.'
Though Glover's big-screen work served as his bread and butter, it was his more sympathetic television appearances—as a valiant AIDS patient in An Early Frost ( 1985 ) and a dedicated doctor in L.A. Law—that earned the actor a pair of Emmy nominations. And in 1994, Glover earned a Tony for Love! Valour! Compassion! He portrayed a gay man with AIDS, and his straight twin brother.
'In the play, the house is in the imagination of the audience,' says Glover. 'And all the characters speak to the audience. We talk to them. There was a kind of intimacy, an imagination, in the play that wasn't there in the film. The film was wonderful but the play was magnificent.'
What you may not know is Terrence McNally wrote the part with Glover in mind. 'Terrence wrote a play called It's Only A Play and he was getting ready to do it in L.A. and he wrote me a postcard and asked if I would do this part in it. I had another job and couldn't do it. But on the postcard he put his phone number in New York.
'I was living in L.A. then and I had gone to New York to see—this was later—to see another play of his called Lips Together, Teeth Apart at the Manhattan Theatre Club and there was a role in it that I wanted to play very much and I called him up on the phone and asked him when they did it in L.A. could I play that part. And I did.
'While we were working on it in L.A. he came up to me when we were doing rehearsals and he said, 'There's a new play I'm working on and I've started writing the character with your voice.' And it turned out to be Love! Valour! Compassion! It was the role of a lifetime. It was amazing. Just amazing. I was very lucky.'
In his own life, Glover has been in the same relationship for the past 12 years with well-known sculptor Adam Kurtzman. So, it appears Glover may also hold the sacred key to a mystery that has puzzled both gays and straights alike: the secret to a successful relationship. Without hesitation he reveals his knowledge: 'Communication and honesty.'
It's clear that Glover also has a passion for his first love. While on break from Smallville Glover is headed back to the New York stage. 'I'm about to go away for four months now to do this play. It's a new play by Jon Robin Baitz in New York at the Roundabout called The Paris Letter.
' [ I play ] a guy named Anton. I guess he's a 60-year-old gay man that since he was in his 30s, or like 20s, that's been in love with this man that couldn't deal with being gay … and he married a woman. His friend that he is in love with, they've remained friends. Very, very, very close. It's a story about betrayal—love and betrayal. It's a very interesting play.'
Glover wrapped up production on the fourth season of Smallville in April and it was quite a year for his alter ego, Lionel Luthor, who started out the season going to prison. Glover sacrificed his beautiful, long hair for an emotional introduction into prison life. So, one might assume, the emotion on Glover's face is real when his head is being shaved in that episode?
'Nah. It was just acting,' Glover says. With a good actor you never can tell. 'You never can tell,' he repeats.
'I offered it up. It had gotten so long in the three seasons that I've been doing the show. It was a pain in the ass and a bit restrictive so I asked the producers. I offered it up. I said, 'If you'll film it, I'll shave it.' '
Another Lionel Luthor-heavy episode—one he spent two weeks in Vancouver shooting—is 'Transference.' In the episode, Luthor switches bodies with Clark Kent. For the actor that meant taking on Tom Welling's role for much of the episode. 'Yeah that was fun. We had a good time with that,' he says, admitting to working closely with Welling to shore up the role.
'I was there on the set for all of his work. And he tried to be there for as much of mine as he could but because he's got other episodes and things that he's doing, it was difficult for him. He was so much busier. So he couldn't be there for all of mine. But I was there for all of his.'
In one scene, where Welling is playing Luthor, he's checking out his impressive new body and he looks inside his pants to check out the package. Was Glover responsible for that bit of direction?
Because that's the first thing this writer would do if he found himself in Tom Welling's body.
'Of course,' Glover offers up willingly. 'I think it was in the script, though. I think it was. But Michael [ Rosenbaum ] and I, last year when I had a scene where I was having a massage and Michael came in, we worked out a father/son thing where I stood up and was sort of putting my bathrobe on where he looked down and checked out his dad's package. That didn't make it to the final cut.'
It appears he tries to insert himself into the characters a lot and make a lot of suggestions to the producers and writers. 'I'm very pushy. Yeah,' Glover says. 'The writers, I think they're smart and they know we've been playing those parts now for … this is the fourth year ... we know the characters pretty well.'
WCT: Was it fun for you to play Clark, such a naïve and innocent character?
JG: It was. But what I found, because I play so many kind of neurotic, psychotic characters that the problem I had right at the beginning was I kept doing too much. … Tom plays that hero thing so well and so simply. And it was the simplicity thing I had the most trouble with.'
WCT: There is a question any gay man in his right frame of mind would want to know—as many of my brethren would attest: Do you, John Glover, secretly lust after Tom Welling?
JG: No ... but he's a terrific guy.
WCT: But unfortunately married?
JG: Or fortunately.
WCT: So what else do you do when you are not working?
JG: What do I do? ( laughs ) I don't know. I just live my life.
For the record, Glover is a Salisbury, Maryland, native who pursued his higher education at Towson State Teacher's College. He often returns to his alma mater ( now called Towson University ) to work with the drama students at the school's Fine Arts College.
'Right now I go to an acting class that I found, with a wonderful teacher named Milton Katselas. I did a scene last week for class and I'm about to do another scene. Camille Saviola … she was in the original Nine; she's an incredible actress. She and I are doing Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting for Godot. It's usually two men. But we're dealing with gender and stuff.
'Remember the Cockettes? I'm sort of going at it from a Cockette perspective. Did you see Before Stonewall? There's a woman called Bricktop. Remember Bricktop? She's going to do it sort of a la that in a man's suit. I think with the costume I put together I'm kind of like Liza Minnelli or a combination of Liza and Judy—Judy Garland when she's singing 'Get Happy.'
'I found these kind of leather stretch pants that lace up the sides in Goodwill yesterday. I think they were about $3. I go shopping for my scene costumes at Goodwill. I bought a huge bottle of Pine-Sol to wash them in ( laughs ) to get all the lice and vermin out of them.'
Do people ever recognize him on shopping sprees?
'Sometimes. They don't know my name. They just ask me. 'Are you that guy on Smallville.'''
Why acting classes?
'I was at a point several years ago. I was starting to not enjoy what I was doing. So I decided to sit in on a class. He's just an amazing teacher. I've been going about four years now.
'Especially with Smallville, where I work sporadically and I'm back and forth [ from his home to the set ] . It's like I'm exercising my mind, just stretching myself. Because I have a contractual obligation with Smallville, so it makes it very difficult to do any other jobs except for that three-month period we're on break. I can't really do anything else but I have so much free time. So now I'm more or less busy all the time.'
Another project that keeps Glover busy is his work with the Alzheimer's Association, a disease that claimed his father's life three years ago. 'We didn't notice until Mom died. She was covering for him, as many mates do. Pulling up the slack. Pretending none of this was happening. We were all ostriches with our heads in the sand.'
Does he worry about an Alzheimer's diagnosis for himself down the road?
'I watched him become so frustrated when he lost his metal capacities,' Glover says. 'So I know how painful that can be. Sure I think about it a lot. That's why I try and do so much with the Alzheimer's Association, because they're doing research and trying to help people.'
John Glover: actor, lover, humanitarian and a lot more difficult to typecast in real life. He's truly a man for all seasons.