Scott Glenn has spent 35-plus years playing the toughest of tough men. Since his breakthrough performance as John Travolta’s rival in “Urban Cowboy,” he’s played astronauts (“The Right Stuff”), cowboys (“Silverado”), vengeful bodyguards (the original “Man on Fire”), submarine commanders (“The Hunt For Red October”) and FBI agents (“The Silence of the Lambs”), among other jobs, always looking lean, weathered, and alert of everything around him.
With rare exceptions – a “Monk” two-parter years ago, a handful of TV movies – he’s played all these roles on the big screen. His career started in television (his first two screen credits were minor guest spots on “The Patty Duke Show”), but unlike many of his contemporaries, Glenn never tried to take a regular TV job as he got older.
Then last year, he agreed – with some reluctance – to play Kevin Garvey Sr., the possibly-crazy, possibly-psychic father of Justin Theroux’s cop hero of HBO’s “The Leftovers,” and enjoyed the experience enough to say yes when the “Daredevil” producers came calling to see if he would be willing to play Matt Murdock’s elderly, blind, extremely badass mentor Stick.
Glenn appeared in only one episode of the Netflix series’ first season, and isn’t allowed to say if he’ll be back for the second. But we talked last week about how “The Leftovers” – he called me from Austin, where that show’s second season is in production – inspired him to play Stick, and how he approached the various physical demands of the role, from doing a fight sequence at an advanced age to playing blind for the first time in his long career.
So you’re going to be in the second season of “The Leftovers”?
Scott Glenn: Yessir, I am.
And how was that experience for you, in the first season?
Scott Glenn: Terrific. When I first got the job, Damon Lindelof had to call me up and convince me to do it. Because my experience prior to this of doing television had always felt a little restrictive. Then I started working on “The Leftovers,” which was a phenomenal experience. And when the “Daredevil” thing happened, it also was. So I thought, “What’s the difference between these shows and what I’ve done before?” And the difference is “unsponsored.” It’s not that you’re necessarily going to use a lot of foul language or heavy duty physicality, but that you can. Just the sense of freedom in the air you breathe is different than working on a show that’s been engineered to take a break every 15 minutes to sell something.
You’ve been doing this a while, and a lot of your contemporaries eventually wound up doing series. Was it something where you were offered series and just resisted?
Scott Glenn: Oh, yeah. It’s never been a media kind of thing. It’s never been television as opposed to film. With some actors, there’s a difference between a low budget film and a big studio film. What draws me into work and hooks me is the character. It’s more a matter of raw appetite than anything. It’s like you walk into a room and smell food cooking, and it either makes you salivate or want to throw up. It’s always basically been the character. The times that people tried to get me, and I’m not saying I would never do sponsored television – I never say not to anything involving work – until now, it just never seemed like it fit in with my crazy adolescent lifestyle. And I say that also being an old man. But nevertheless, my life and working on series just never seemed to be a good fit, until my experience with “The Leftovers” and “Daredevil,” both of which have been two of the best I’ve ever had.
Did you have any familiarity either with the character of Daredevil himself, or with Stick, who’s prominent in the comics but wasn’t in the Ben Affleck movie?
Scott Glenn: Not at all. I knew very little about the universe of Marvel, nothing about Stick. I had not seen the Affleck film. So I really can’t talk about it one way or the other. All I know is that the people that I talk to, it’s amazing how many people loved this world. Friends of mine that I didn’t even know knew everything about it. “Oh, you’re in ‘Daredevil’? He’s blind!” And they would tell me all about the character. Those people seemed to feel that the Affleck film came at the character without enough respect or seriousness. I had to educate myself almost a hundred percent on both Daredevil and specifically Stick.
How did you research it? Did you ask for a pile of comics, or just study the script for that episode?
Scott Glenn: I asked them to give me graphic comics, and they did. I had a ton of them. Marvel are really fantastic people to work with. They are so generous with anything that you need, in terms of props and wardrobe and background and research. It’s not a negative. The only caveat with Marvel that I learned early on is that security and secrecy with them verges on a religion. They’re so great to work with that I really try to respect that. Some people have asked me about the coming season and Stick returning and all of that stuff. That kind of information, I really have to defer to the people at Marvel. Ask them those questions.
You’ve always been a very physical performer. This is a very physical role, both in terms of the things Stick can do and the fact that he’s blind. How did you approach all of that? What sort of training, if any, did you have to go through to do all the things Stick does in that episode?
Scott Glenn: In terms of training, I’ve been fooling around with martial arts since I was a kid. Not on a super high level, but not a super low level either. When I first got to New York, I met with Phil Silvera, who’s the stunt coordinator, and a great martial artist. We fooled around a little bit and did some slow motion sparring. He asked me my background, and I told him Tang Soo Do, tai chi, Wing Chun, Kali, kung fu, Brazilian jujitsu, target focus training, boxing, wrestling, combat pistol shooting. Just in my own life, it’s a hobby or a pasttime. So I had that knowledge. I’m a gym rat, and the life I live in Idaho is very physical. Downhill ski, and hike and climb and motorcycle tour and do track days on motorcycles, and open water spear fishing and free diving. I live, for an old man, a pretty adolescent life. So for me, the real demand for all of that stuff was being blind. I had never played blind before. I had honestly never even thought of it. So that was the crux move, was to figure out how to do that consistently and be able to do that fight scene with Charlie at the end, or all of the stuff, shooting at Black Sky from the roof, training the kid, all of that stuff, how to be so physical. And also, even though Stick doesn’t give away a lot, to be deeply emotional, too, and blind. So that was the toughest thing for me to figure out. But once I did, it was really fun.
So what method did you use to play it?
Scott Glenn: I came up with it on my own, because I talked to a lot of actors who played blind. What most of them said they did was when they were doing scenes with people, they just looked at the mouths of the people they were talking to, and that read as blind. And I thought, “That’s not going to solve being kicked through a door or flipped down a set of stairs, or killing somebody with a wakizashi, or swinging Serrada sticks, which I do at the beginning of the episode.” So what I settled on was an exercise. Standing still, you would call it peripheral feeling, and moving, you would call it peripheral walking. Specifically, here’s the way it works. Where are you right now? Are you sitting at a desk?
Sitting at a desk, yeah.
Scott Glenn: Okay. Wherever your eyes are looking directly at, stop paying attention – and you have to be really relaxed to do it – and start taking in only the information on the bubble of your vision. Off to the side, without moving your head and your eyes, how much information can you take in to the left, to the right, above you and below you. And the more you start to fool around with that, and get up and start walking slowly, moving around, and only taking in that information, the outside bubble of what your eyes can see, you’ll start to read completely blind, but you’ll be able to do things like go up and down stairs, or move out of the way of something falling on you. The trick of it is, if you try to force that information, it’ll start to constrict. What you really need to do is just leave it alone and just allow more and more of that information to come in to the periphery of your vision. What I did with “Daredevil” is I pretty much lived in that bubble for the 12, 14 days that we worked on that episode. Which I’m sure was a major pain in the ass to people like my wife. But that’s what I did. The great thing about that, as an exercise, is the more you do it, the better it’ll make you at walking city streets or playing sports. It’ll make you a safer driver. It’s really a great exercise, anyway.
Daredevil is in a different situation from Stick, given that his powers sort of let him see. But did you talk much with Charlie (Cox) about what his method of playing blind was, and how it differed from yours?
Scott Glenn: We did talk about that a little bit. I don’t want to talk about Charlie’s way of working. That’s privileged information; I’ll let him talk about it. But the interesting thing for me, with Charlie, is he’s such a nice guy and hard worker, it was easy to do it. It’s an odd, almost father-son relationship, but not quite. To have a relationship where Charlie, Daredevil, the line he will not cross under any circumstance is taking human life. He’ll beat the fuck out of people, but he won’t willingly and knowingly end human life. Stick is a blind assassin. All he does is take human life. So to have that as the crux in their relationship is really really interesting. And also to play deep love and yet not show it at all. There’s so much that’s fun to play Stick. One of the things I realized, that I got from the lines Doug Petrie wrote, and maybe they’re from the comics as well, to really truly live in a spartan space of awareness and sensibility in the 21st century is both demanding and a lot of fun.
Were there any points when you were doing this peripheral awareness in any of the fight scenes where you found yourself at risk of injury in a way you wouldn’t have if you had just played it straight?
Scott Glenn: For sure. A lot of it came down to timing. Charlie and I were going at stuff pretty hard. Even with the kid, which was a bit trickier. Because when you’re dealing with a stunt man, I’ve always prided myself in movies to never really hurt anyone. It’s something that I pay a lot of attention to. Having said that, when you’re doing stunts with professional stuntmen, you’re dealing with great athletes who can handle getting punched or getting kicked if your timing screws up at all. With a little kid, you don’t have that option. You can badly hurt somebody. So the trickier stuff was the flashbacks. Fighting with Charlie, at one point, I remember I took Phil Silvera and Charlie and Brad (Turner), the director, aside. We shot that fight scene over two days, almost no dialogue. Going to work in the morning was like going to a martial arts gym. And at one point, about halfway through the second day, I took them aside and said, “Guys, I have to explain something to you: I’m a grandpa, okay?” And they said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, Scott, we love to hear your stories. But first you’ve got to be kicked up that flight of stairs, and Charlie’s going to have to flip you over the shoulder and kick you in the jaw three times. So let’s just do the stunt and then you can tell us whatever you want.” And I just went, “…Okay.” I would go home at night to the hotel and my wife would bathe me, and if I was stupid enough to whine about it, she would say, “Hey, babe, nobody ever pointed a gun at you and told you you had to do this for a living.”
One last question on “Leftovers.” Kevin Sr. is an interesting character, because the nature of the show’s reality means he could be crazy or he could genuinely be having conversations with the beings responsible for the events on the show. Are you playing him as someone who’s crazy, or not?
Scott Glenn: Not at all crazy. Absolutely, not at all crazy. The best way I can answer that is, if you asked Moses, “Are you crazy, or is God really talking to you?” That’s it.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org