A High-Caliber Danny Glover
It should come as no surprise that at the end of “Lethal Weapon 2,” which opened to blockbuster business over the weekend, the film makers have left open the possibility for “Lethal Weapon 3.” If it comes to that, Danny Glover has a subtext scenario ready for his character, police Detective Roger Murtaugh.
Glover, Mel Gibson’s co-star on the first two “Lethal” buddy-cop movies, says he sees Murtaugh leaving his wife and his family for a dalliance with a sweet young thing--then coming to his senses, and returning home, before the final reel. Meanwhile, of course, he and Gibson’s Martin Riggs will slam-dunk the bad guys.
“What do you think? Doesn’t that make Murtaugh sound just a little more interesting, a little more human?” Glover asked, during a recent interview at a restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.
Yes, more interesting, and more sexual, a quality of Murtaugh that Glover says he feels has been “subconsciously” deleted from the first two films. What’s the point in casting the voluptuous Darlene Love as his wife, for instance, if there is no on-screen attraction between their characters?
“You get a sense, in watching these movies, that these two people do everything but sleep together,” Glover said, “You know, he could at least be seen kissing her. Or holding her. I think that in real life I probably bore my own daughter, the way I’m always hugging and kissing her mama.
“But on the screen, well, I get neutralized,” Glover says, inadvertently agreeing with those critics who have compared the Murtaughs’ home life to that of a ‘50s sitcom. “It’s an interesting dilemma. It happens to (a lot of black actors) in films.”
Glover acknowledged that there are built-in parameters to the action genre. In the case of “Lethal Weapon 2,” a sequel to the 1987 film that emerged from a traditionally sleepy spring to gross $70 million, the essential dictate is that Gibson’s Riggs remain romantically unattached--and therefore, attainable for dreamy female moviegoers.
In interview after interview, said Glover, the question that comes up is: What is it like to work with Gibson? It’s an easy question to answer--"A dream; He’s a great guy.”
But to Glover, who towers over his on-screen partner, the question occurs: “Who’s to say some women don’t come to the movie and think about sleeping with me?”
With a broad smile, the handsome 41-year-old actor--who’s made up to look 10 years older for the role of Murtaugh--added: “I’m not saying that I’m some kind of sexy star. I’m saying, think about the way Mel’s character and my character are treated. Think about the subtleties that happen within film.”
Glover said he mentioned his concerns to director Richard Donner, but didn’t press it.
“I didn’t go on about it, and I don’t think that what happened on the screen happened on purpose,” he said. “And you know, there are other aspects of the movie that I do like. The story embraces the issues (of apartheid in) South Africa. And Murtaugh’s being a devoted father is very harmonious to me. And I like the family’s middle-class aspirations.
“I guess what I’m saying is that the film could have been elevated to another level if it had made the choice to be a little more courageous with Murtaugh and his wife.”
Glover, a native of San Francisco, lives with wife Asake (the name, in African, means “favorite one”) and their 13-year-old daughter, Mandisa (“sweet”), in Haight-Ashbury. The family home is just eight blocks from where Glover grew up, and just 10 minutes from the beach where the 6-foot-4, 220-pound actor does his jogging.
“Since we’re part water, I feel right about running there.”
When he isn’t acting, Glover often talks to--and about--kids. He is among the participants at the NAACP national conference, which is being held in Detroit through Thursday.
“I’m going to be there to talk about kids, the hazards of drugs and the importance of education,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in kids--in working with them in one way or another.”
In fact, recalled Glover, when he was 17, and helping to care for a much younger brother, “I used to pretend that I was his father.”
Glover was tutoring kids when he first discovered acting. It happened in the summer of 1966 when Glover, then a student at San Francisco City College, was washing dishes at night at a San Francisco hospital, and spending his days working with kids in a program at San Francisco State University.
“There was this little room that I had to pass by. Inside, there would be local black poets reading their works, and carrying on different political arguments. I’d poke my head in, and watch--and listen. And that was a new kind of experience for me.”
Several years later, as a member of the governing party of the university’s Black Student Union, Glover was involved in the student strike that led to the formation of the ethnic studies department. He had also begun to appear in plays in San Francisco and Oakland.
He went on to train at the Black Actors’ Workshop of the American Conservatory Theater, and later appeared in a string of stage productions on the East and West coasts. Then came bit parts in films (“Escape From Alcatraz”) and TV series (“Hill Street Blues”).
The breakthrough role came in 1984’s “Places in the Heart.” Glover played Moze, the sharecropper who talked his way into a job on Sally Field’s cotton farm and then helped her save it. In quick succession came major roles in “Witness” and “Silverado,” then the pivotal role of Mister, the oppressive husband to Whoopi Goldberg’s Celie, in Steven Spielberg’s “The Color Purple.”
Spielberg’s adaptation of Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was criticized by many critics for patronizing blacks and trivializing the story’s racial issues, but Glover said he was happy with the film.
“I’m glad Steven directed it,” he said. “I think the film represented an opportunity for dialogue about the story, which I see as the story of men and women who learn to love themselves. Mister’s liberation is tied to Celie’s in the same way that the real liberation--as human beings--of white South Africans is inseparable from the liberation of black South Africans.”
More recently, Glover co-starred with Gene Hackman in “BAT-21,” an action film set against the Vietnam War. He has also been in several major TV projects, playing the title role in HBO’s “Mandela” and key roles in PBS’ “A Raisin in the Sun,” the CBS miniseries “Lonesome Dove” and HBO’s critically acclaimed “Dead Man Out.”
Glover just signed with Edward Pressman Productions to star in and serve as executive producer on the feature film “To Sleep With Anger,” a contemporary drama about a middle-class family in South-Central Los Angeles.
If his schedule seems busy, it is partly illusion, he says.
“To be frank, I haven’t had a lot of offers. And those that I have had, well . . . I’m working with my agents to choose roles that are in line with things I want to express, as an actor and a concerned human being,” said Glover. “Hopefully, I’ll translate some of my feelings to my daughter, so she’ll one day step out and say, ‘This, or that, is wrong.’ You know? So that she’ll want to have something other than a Porsche and money.”
The point he said he wants to get across is that it is the responsibility of art--"all the arts, not just film"--to change people’s perceptions, not merely reinforce them.
“The choice,” he said, “is whether we exercise that ability.”