To Smile--and Still Be Glover : Actor’s Villainy in ‘Grass Roots’ Makes Room For Shakespeare


John Glover is a reluctant villain, but he decided he could get some good out of yet another bad-to-the-bone role.

Glover plays an assassin for a white supremacist organization in NBC’s two-part political thriller, “Grass Roots,” which airs Sunday and Monday. The four-hour miniseries also stars Corbin Bernsen and Mel Harris. (A conversation with Mel Harris, Page 7.)

Glover took the loathsome part so that he could afford to go back to the stage for three months as the title character in Shakespeare’s “Richard II.”

The actor has performed in a variety of parts, but his villainous roles stand out--such as the father who burned his son in “David” or the over-the-top drug dealer in the recent NBC miniseries “Drug Wars II.”


“At the time I got the offer, Lee Remick told me not to do it,” he said of the actress who died of cancer last year. “She said I’d played too many villains. She knew this town and how easy it is to get typecast as a villain. I’ve had some well-written roles, but after every good role I get offers of watered-down versions.”

More than a year ago, Glover participated in a workshop on “Richard II” at the Mark Taper Forum of the Los Angeles Music Center.

“When I learned they were putting it into their play schedule I knew I’d need a little subsidy,” he said. “The Forum doesn’t pay much money, and it’s for three months. I hadn’t really done a play in five years.”

“‘Richard II’ is Shakespeare’s play about the king not meant to be king. He was more of a philosopher and a poet. And there lies the tragedy of ‘Richard II.’ It’s a part people have been telling me I should play. One reason I’m excited about it is that playing an assassin is not spiritually fulfilling.”


Glover said he feels lucky that he has been able to do some classic drama and regrets the United States doesn’t have more of a classic theater tradition.

“My challenge is to make it accessible to the audience,” he said. “I remember hearing Rosemary Clooney sing some old standards. For the first time she made me really hear the lyrics. That’s what you have to do--make them hear the language. I did ‘Hamlet’ at the Walnut Theater in Philadelphia, and we had inner-city students in the audience and I think they heard the language.”

“Grass Roots,” based on the novel by Stuart Woods, is a sequel to the 1983 miniseries “Chiefs.” It continues the saga of a Southern family amidst murder, scandal and a tumultuous campaign for the U.S. Senate. Both “Chiefs” and “Grass Roots” were directed by Jerry London.

“I was reluctant when I was first offered the role,” Glover said. “I’d worked with Jerry London when I played Leonardo da Vinci in ‘A Season of Giants.’ On paper the role seemed like that of just another assassin. He was described as a very ugly man.


“But what was interesting was that after the assassination failed and he was recognized, he underwent plastic surgery. His natural appearance had helped make him into an animal. He was a man who was repulsive to women. Suddenly, he’s no longer ugly. That gave me something to play. Not just being an assassin--now he deals with his new appearance.”

Glover was born in Kingston, N.Y., but was raised in Salisbury on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He attended Towson Teachers College in Baltimore and then worked in the theater in New York. He made his film debut in 1978 in “Julia,” as Jane Fonda’s drunken friend.

“People started perking up to me when I did ’52 Pick-Up’ about five years ago,” he said. “Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret were in it, from the book by Elmore Leonard. It was one of the best villainous roles because of the humor Leonard brought to it.

“Anyway, it took a lot of deliberation before I accepted the role. I wrote down all the pros and cons. It meant coming to L.A. for three months. The part as it was first written wasn’t that interesting. I called my Dad because he’s a big mystery fan. He said I had to read the book. I did and saw the potential for the character. Elmore Leonard’s humor is an actor’s dream.”


“Grass Roots” is Glover’s third collaboration with Corbin Bernsen. They appeared in two movies for TNT, “Breaking Point” and “Dead on the Money.”

“Corbin’s actually scripted something he wants to do next summer,” Glover said. “He wants me to play his brother.”

“Grass Roots” airs Monda and Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NBC.