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Watchdog of
The Keep:
Acclaimed
Actor

Scott Glenn
Becomes
a Hero of
Horror




From Fangoria #31 (December 1983), pp. 23-26:

Watchdog of The Keep: Acclaimed Actor Scott Glenn becomes a Hero of Horror in the Upcoming World War II chiller.

Article by David Everitt

The devout following inspired by star directors like George Romero and makeup masters like Rob Bottin tends to overshadow the contributions of actors to the success of current horror pictures. This oversight is understandable in many cases since, so often, the characters in recent fright films are barely characters at all, often little more than interchangeable potential victims. Welcome exceptions to this rule have been Michael Moriarty in Q and Tony Perkins in Psycho II. This December, in Michael Mann's The Keep, Scott Glenn may very well join these memorable ranks.

Glenn, who attracted widespread attention as the show-stealing ex-con villain in Urban Cowboy, is an actor of great dedication who has always been willing to go to great lengths to ensure a thorough characterization, whether it be intensive research and analysis of his part, or riding and angry bull in Urban Cowboy or swallowing live eels in The Challenge. He now focuses his concentration and talents on the intriguing role of The Keep's mysterious, uncanny hero who is destined to confront evil in its purest form.

The intensity that Glenn applies to his acting chores seems to be an outgrowth of an adventurous, romantic attitude toward life that he first harbored as a kid and that does not stand for halfway measures. "My thrust in life," says Glenn, "up until becoming an actor was to be a soldier or fortune and a poet. I had a real Byronesque outlook," he adds with a wry laugh. "My heroes were Lord Byron and the French poet Francois Villon. When I was a kid I was always interested in collecting adventures. I didn't want my life to be an imaginary experience like Walter Mitty's, I wanted to have some real stuff in there."

Glenn's first professional adventure was a hitch as an Airborne Infantry Souct and paratrooper in the Marines during the mid 60's. He then pursued his writing interests in the hardboiled world of police reporting. This journalistic stint for a Wisconsin daily did not last long, only about six months. "I quit the job at the newspaper," Glenn explains, "because I'd find that I would be, say, talking to a woman 15 minutes after her husband had died in a traffic accident and, rather than empathizing with this sort of person, I found myself becoming more and more cold-blooded, just thinking what's a snappy opening, how much filler do I need, what's a good closing, am I <24> going to get a byline, how many columns is this going to fill - I felt it was killing my sensitivity."

Glenn's next stop was the much more freely emotional world of New York theatre. At the time he had no idea that acting would be his ultimate calling. "It wasn't as if a light went on in my head," he says, "it was just another thing to do while I was collecting experiences that I would eventually write about. I was just going to go to New York and live in Greenwich Village and have a romantic taste of life and go on and do something else. What happened when 1 got to New York was that I ran into a group of people who, luckily, showed me what acting really was and all of a sudden the thing that I'd begun with a dilettante attitude turned into my whole life, turned into the only thing that made my life make sense to me."

While in New York, Glenn acted in Off Broadway, the Edge of Night soap opera and quite a bit of street theatre. One of the stage productions he did was a collection of one-act plays entitled Collision Course that played a part in his transition into the movie industry. The director of the play, Edward Parone, later moved out to Los Angeles and came to know the then-neophyte director James Bridges who was casting for a picture called The Baby Maker. Parone suggested Glenn for one of the lead roles, and, upon meeting Glenn, Bridges agreed that he was right for the part. The Baby Maker may not have made anyone's reputation, but it spawned a close friendship between Glenn and Bridges that would figure importantly when Bridges assembled his cast for Urban Cowboy 10 years later.

At the time, though, the professional benefits of this friendship were not too apparent. According to Glenn, "There was an American Film Institute feature that was never released, there was a 20th Century-Fox feature that was never released, a Roger Corman biker film called Angels as Hard as They Come, and television, I think two Ironsides, a Barretta episode, and so on. And a lot of it was just no work at all."

He eventually landed what seemed at first to be a significant part in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now as a man named Colby who went up the river ahead of Martin Sheen and ended up as Colonel Kurtz's (Brando's) aide. Although a lot of Colby footage was shot, little appeared in the final cut of the film. Says Glenn, "I think there is one closeup when the guys in the boat stop at Kurtz's compound and they come walking in from the shore. Marty Sheen comes up and I'm standing there and he says, "Colby," and I sort of grunt. That's about it." In lieu of screen time, Glenn had the opportunity for some real-life adventure when he rescued three children from drowning in a 155-mile-an-hour typhoon.

Back in L.A., Glenn's career was still failing to take off, and, even worse, he had stopped believing in his work. One night when he was watching himself in a television series, Glenn says, "I realized that the acting I was doing was inferior to what I'd done years ago in New York. Somehow the dream I originally had had eroded." Rather than put up with the direction his life had taken, he decided to take his family away from the West Coast and made the radical move to a home in Idaho. "Somehow," he says, "I knew that acting, if you really love acting and you're not horribly concerned with where you do it and how much money you make, you can do it al I over the country. My wife is a ceramic artist and a painter and Idaho proved to be a very good place for her to work. And the kids I iked it here a lot, so my feeling was that I would get a job in town; hopefully, if I could get to be good enough, as a hunting and climbing guide, or as a bartender, or anything, and then there would be Shakespeare-in-the-Park in Boise in the summer. When I came up here, it wasn't as if I was consciously saying, 'Screw my career, it's all done.' But I definitely was walking away from the way I understood it in LA."

Ironically, and quite unexpectedly, soon after moving away from it all, Glenn's career finally began to shift into gear. Three months after relocating in Idaho, he got a call from a B producer-friend of his offering him a small part in the Western Cattle Annie and Little Britches. On his way back from this film's Mexican location, he stopped off to visit his friend James Bridges who now asked if Glenn would like to play a part in a movie called Urban Cowboy. "I didn't even know what the part was," Glenn recalls. "I just knew that Jim was my friend and he knew me very well; I <25> figured it would be right, whatever it was." The faith Glenn placed in Bridges' judgment has certainly been justified. Glenn's performance in Urban Cowboy as that film's reptilian heavy may be the most vivid portrayal of Western-style villainy since the appearance of Jack Palance as the deathly hired killer in Shane. Following the release of Urban Cowboy, Glenn finally became an actor in demand.

The spectacular results Glenn achieved in Urban Cowboy sprang from conscientious and whole-hearted preparation that is characteristic of Glenn's work. "When I drove down to Houston to shoot the picture," he says, "I stopped off at Huntsville Prison and spent a few days there in my sleeping bag, staying over in the prison and also talking to ex-prisoners. Then, when I got to Houston, I made some phone calls to people I knew down in South Texas from othertimes who knew about this kind of life. I got down to Houston five weeks early, so I was able to spend my time with boys who made their living less than legally and also with some rodeo cowboys that I had been introduced to by the stunt coordinator, a guy named Chris Howe."

To prepare himself for his scenes on the mechanical bull, Glenn worked with Howe on mechanical-bull-riding for three or four hours a day. Howe, an ex bull rider himself, also taught Glenn some of the fine points of rodeo work. Glenn says, "He taught me things like how a bull rider puts the glove on, how they take a leather cord and wrap it around by holding it in their teeth. I would practice that by doing it a thousand times every night before I went to bed. All the physical mannerisms I got down by sheer repetition, by doing it so much before the film that I didn't even have to think about it once the film started shooting."

In addition to research and physical training, Glenn's approach also includes much inner preparation. "I went into myself," he explains in speaking about how he attained his character's consummate ruthlessness, "and tried to figure out metaphors for this guy. One of them was that he should be like a snake in the zoo. People come into the snakehouse and their flesh crawls and they say, 'Ooo, I hate it here,' but something keeps them in there, watching the python slither around in its cage - it's a sensual fascination with something that's scary and evil but I ithe and graceful at the same time."

Glenn's commitment to this all-important part also included getting on a rodeo bull while it was inside the let-out gate, a stunt that resulted in the actor getting thrown and sustaining some minor injuries. A similar devotion to his craft can be found in all of Glenn's roles. In the martial arts picture The Challenge, in what must rank as one of the scariest dinner scenes of all time, he was even willing to go along with the old samurai dining tradition of swallowing live eels. I couldn't help but ask if there was ever any option of faking this scene in someway. "I never gave myself one," he replies. "It wasn't as if I started desperately groping around for some way of faking it. I just figured I'd do it. People have been doing it for thousands of years. It may look disgusting but it's not like drinking ethyl alcohol or something like that."

In the current Warner Bros, release The Right Stuff Glenn's thorough method of acting was applied to the role of the flamboyant astronaut Alan Shepard. He schooled himself in some of the fundamentals of space flight, researched the physical effect of such things as sudden deceleration in space, spoke extensively with men who had gone into outer space, and spent several hours a day studying films and videotapes of Shepard in order to be able to reproduce the astronaut's mannerisms, posture and movement so that his scenes would match the actual news footage <26> that director Philip Kaufman planned on using in the picture. He says that this part was about 70% research and 30% invention. "In a way," he adds, "it was really refreshing to do The Keep after this picture because The Keep for me was just the opposite; it was probably 98% invention."

As was the case with Urban Cowboy, Glenn took the role of Glaeken in The Keep because of his faith in the movie's director. Before making The Keep, director Michael Mann had one theatrical film to his credit, the critically acclaimed Thief, as well as a well-received TV movie entitled Jericho Mile; he also happened to be a good friend of Glenn's. On Mann's recommendation, Glenn took the part in The Keep, and then once he became involved in the project he found that his part presented a fascinating challenge.

Based on F. Paul Wilson's novel, The Keep concerns a detachment of German soldiers ordered to occupy an isolated, ancient stronghold in the mountains of World War II Rumania. The soldiers are killed one by one by some mysterious force and an SS squad is soon summoned to The Keep to "deal with" the unseen resistance fighters who are believed to be the cause of the deaths. Hitler's elite henchmen are dismayed to find that they are not pitted against ordinary partisans; in fact, they are confronted by something that is not ordinary at all. Since they are in the land of the legendary Dracula, rumors of a vampire start to circulate amongst the German troops, but their enemy is actually something that would make the deadliest vampire seem like an amateur. Arriving on the scene is an odd-looking stranger, a man named Glaeken. He is the only man who can vanquish the evil that resides in The Keep.

"What Michael told me about Glaeken that was fascinating to me was that I was going to play a guy who had been on earth for over a thousand years," says Glenn. "He was a semi-human who had been a voyeur of human existence for all that time because he is a sort of cosmic watchdog, put on earth to guard against the time the Devil appears. In talking to Michael about it, I realized that I was going to play a guy whose point of view, number one, was as a voyeur, a person who was dying to participate in anything, which is an interesting kind of tension to have in a character, and, number two, the perspective this character would have, rather than that of one life, would be a cyclical perspective."

Since Glaeken is a supernatural character, Glenn obviously could not follow his usual research procedure of studying people who had similar experiences. "From scene to scene," Glenn says, "the way this guy reacted to I ife had to be invented. In terms of voice, Michael wanted Glaeken to talk in a way that was not naturalistic but, nevertheless, wouldn't be indecipherable or nonhuman. He wanted the lines to come out of a consciousness that was considering them from an experience of 2000 years. Well, how do you do that technically? It's great to sit around and talk about that, but what does that mean to an audience sitting in a theater when they see this dude with violet eyes and strange clothes. How do you go about it? Well, Michael asked me if I had ever heard Laurie Anderson, and I said, 'Yeah, I've heard a couple of her records.' He said, 'What about her performance pieces? Listen to them, there's something about Laurie Anderson's voice that makes you feel that this woman is talking from a very deep historical perspective, talking from a past that belies the fact that the voice is also that of a young woman.' It was the pauses she took in mid sentence, the cadences. To begin with, I just bald-facedly copied her pattern in rehearsals. Then, with Michael's help, I began to find my own cadence; there were pauses that I would take in the middle of sentences that would become a predictable rhythm for the character but totally unlike the way that anyone talks in real life, and yet you could believe that it was coming spontaneously out of his personality.

"I also had to wear contact lenses that cut down on my peripheral vision. At first they freaked me out, and then I figured, 'Well, I'll use that and I'll never turn loose my other senses and I'll let them always be talking to me th roughout the film.' So, in any scene I'm in, more so than in any other part I've done, I'm constantly listening for any sound that I can hear, whether it is the wind or the hum of a generator or anything else, so that you get a sense of a character who is highly charged. "The other factor involved in not having peripheral vision was that I had to look squarely at whoever I was talking to. I turned that into a character mannerism of this guy who, because of his perspective on life, never engaged in small talk, never bothered using curse words or expletives; not because he's nice or straight-laced, but because what does 'damn' or 'hell' or any of those words mean to someone who's been around for 2000 years? He has gone beyond that. He just talks about the way things are and the way things are going to be."

For the part of Glaeken, Glenn had to wear prosthetic makeup appliances (for reasons that would best be withheld until the film is released), and, as has become customary for the actor, Glenn was put to some physical tests in the course of realizing his role. In one scene he had to fall backwards off a small cliff and drop onto a set-up of air-bags, and in another sequence he had to climb up the sides of a quarry at a location in North Wales. He also had to perform a tricky action scene at the top of a high wall and was suspended by wires for some flying sequences. "Michael was incredibly cautious about me and my health," Glenn points out. "He would ask me whether I could do some stunt; very often he would suggest, 'Look, we can do this a lot of different ways, Scott.' And I would get him to explain that shot to me and it would always come down to my saying, 'Michael, what would look best for you of all possible ways?' He would tell me and usually, because of the way he wanted to shoot it, the scene would involve coming in tight on me. I would then assure him that I could do the scene."

Glenn is willing to take chances when he acts, but the chances he takes are well considered and, ultimately, just another illustration of the sense of professionalism that pervades all other areas of his work: "I'm more than happy to have stuntmen do stuff for me - they're athletes and they're much better at it. But sometimes there's something intrinsic in the impact of the film that a closeup or medium shot of the actor is going to achieve that a long shot of a stuntman's back is not going to deliver. If I've got the time to prepare and work it out - I'll give it a shot." This dedication enables Glenn to project himself completely into a wide variety of characters, from the snake-like heavy of Urban Cowboy, to the vulnerable hero of The Challenge, to, in future months, the Tennessee farmer (opposite Mel Gibson) in The River. This December he will be found in the dark world of The Keep, where unspeakable evil is pitted against a bizarre, charismatic hero, a world that Fangorians will want to investigate.


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Created at thekeep.0catch.com on 3/29/13.
Copyright Steven Feldman, 2013. Last updated 3/29/13.