A force of different personalities
Thirty years ago, Scott Glenn was ready to leave Hollywood forever.
“I hadn’t had a job in two years,” he says. “I thought I was never going to have a career in front of the cameras.”
So after spending a blissful summer in Ketchum, Idaho, with his artist wife, Carol, and their two young daughters, Dakota and Rio, the family decided to pull up roots in Los Angeles and move to the picturesque northwestern town.
“My plan was to get a job as a bartender and apprentice myself out as a cross-country ski guide for hunting and fishing and do Shakespeare in the park in Boise during the summer until the kids were older,” Glenn says. “Then we would go back to New York.”
Turns out, leaving Tinseltown was the smartest career move the veteran character actor could have made. “Within a few months, I started working” in film, he says. “We raised both our daughters there, and I got so addicted to living up there and that life. . . . It was meant to be.”
Over the last three decades, the 67-year-old Glenn has built up a resume most performers would envy. The memorable gallery of eclectic characters he has created includes the tequila-loving rodeo performer Wes in 1980’s “Urban Cowboy,” stalwart astronaut Alan Shepard in 1983’s “The Right Stuff,” Cmdr. Bart Mancuso in 1990’s “The Hunt for Red October” and FBI agent Jack Crawford in 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs.”
And it’s a big fall for Glenn. He plays a grieving widower in “Nights in Rodanthe,” which opened Friday, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Oliver Stone’s “W.,” opening Oct. 17.
The former Marine often plays pit bulls on screen, but in real life he’s more of a sweet labradoodle. On a recent afternoon, he was nursing a pressed coffee in the lounge at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey.
Glenn’s still long and lean, with a chiseled face and close-cropped gray hair, ruggedly sexy in an old-time macho Ernest Hemingway way.
For “Rodanthe” director George C. Wolfe, Glenn’s rough-hewn look was perfect for the role. “His face is incredible,” Wolfe says. “His voice is rich and very deep. He’s a commanding actor. He has a deeply emotional reservoir, and you believe and trust him. That is everything you needed for this character.”
“Nights in Rodanthe,” based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, reunites Richard Gere and Diane Lane (“The Cotton Club,” “Unfaithful”). They play troubled people who find love at an inn one weekend in a seaside village in North Carolina.
Glenn plays Robert Torrelson, a plain-speaking fisherman whose wife recently died on the operating table of Gere’s Dr. Paul Flanner. Torrelson sends Flanner a letter requesting he come to Rodanthe to talk about his wife’s death.
Though Glenn has only two scenes, his powerfully quiet performance makes a large contribution to the film. “His work is exquisitely beautiful, very simple and powerful,” says Wolfe.
Before production began, Glenn listened to tapes of fishermen from that area because their accents are an amalgam of Southern and British.
“They wanted to hook me up with a dialogue coach,” he says. “I’m not terrific with dialogue coaches. It’s better for me to be there and listen. I said, ‘Fly me over there and give me a room and let me meet these people.’ I went and spent time and hung out with fishermen. I spent three or four days with a specific guy who was a fisherman. When I was with him we were picking up crab pots.”
Glenn worked with the costume designer to select the right clothes for Torrelson.
“The clothes just needed to be old and beat up,” Glenn says. “But yet this is a guy who when he went to see people would try to make himself look as absolutely presentable as possible. All he wanted to do was let the last person in the world who had seen his wife know she was not just a number but a living, precious human being.”
It was quite a different challenge to find his inner Rumsfeld for “W.,” a feature film about the life and presidency of George W. Bush.
Of course, having his hair dyed black and age makeup lines applied to his face certainly helped. But it wasn’t enough for the actor.
“I met a lot of people who knew Donald Rumsfeld,” he says. “I said to them, ‘Tell me everything about him you like. Tell me all the good stuff.’ If I try to play someone I totally dislike or totally disagree with, my performance would wind up either as a comment or a judgment or a cartoon.”
After researching the man, Glenn grew to like the outspoken, take-no-prisoners Rumsfeld. “He was a tough, stand-up person. I talked to people who lived around him in New Mexico. They said he’s the kind of guy who, if he was driving on the road, and you had a flat tire, he would pull over and change it. On 9/11 . . . Donald Rumsfeld was running out of the Pentagon, helping to carry wounded. He was a high school and college wrestling champion, and so was I. He walked it the way he talked it. He brought the Pentagon into the 21st century with zero bedside manners.”
Stone singled out Glenn for the role because he needed an actor with an unwavering presence. “Don Rumsfeld is a strong man, a stubborn man,” Stone says. “Scott has the same kind of -- what can I call it? -- flinty authenticity of the Midwest that Don Rumsfeld carries. I love his performance. It is idiosyncratic. It’s Scott at his best.”
A wry smile jets across Glenn’s face when asked about working with the demanding, often contentious Stone. “Oliver is a strong cup of coffee,” Glenn says. “I found him fun to work with. He’s demanding and a triple-A personality, but he drives himself harder than he drives anyone else. I called him ‘Sir’ a lot.”