Some people can have versatile personalities that drive them to commit unforeseen acts that initially seem perplexing, but make perfect sense when their context is finally revealed. That’s certainly true in writer-director David Grovic’s new crime thriller, ‘The Bag Man,’ which opens on Friday in theaters. Not only do the main characters all have something to hide as they set out on their suspenseful and secretive tasks, but the supporting characters also have secrets to protect that shockingly alter the film’s course of events. The resourceful and ever adaptable actor, Crispin Glover, gave one of the more enthralling supporting performances in the drama, as a motel manager who’s suspicious of his guests, who ultimately reveals to be holding a story-changing secret of his own.
‘The Bag Man’ follows Jack (John Cusack), a tough guy with chronic bad luck but human touches. Jack is hired by legendary crime boss Dragna (Robert De Niro), to complete a simple but unusual task; in exchange for a large sum of money, Jack has to deliver a bag to a remote motel and wait for Dragna to personally meet him and deliver the package.
Over the course of a long and violently eventful night awaiting Dragna’s arrival, Jack crosses paths with Rivka (Rebecca Da Costa), a stunningly beautiful woman whose life becomes physically and emotionally entangled with Jack’s. The two must work together to protect the bag from such diverse threats as undercover FBI agents, the local Sheriff’s department, other gangsters sent by the mob boss and the motel’s manager (Glover). When Dragna finally arrives on the scene, there are sudden and extreme consequences for all.
Glover generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘The Bag Man’ over the phone. Among other things, the actor discussed how he developed a strong relationship with Grovic on the set, as the filmmaker infused the story with strong dialogue, and allowed the actors to film multiple interpretations of their scenes; how the written dialogue initially helped him get into Ned’s mindset, but how his own thought process also allowed him to create the psychological background of the character; and how having previously working with Cusack on the hit 2010 comedy, ‘Hot Tub Time Machine,’ allowed them to form a bond on the set of ‘The Bag Man.’
ShockYa (SY): You play Ned, the manager of a shady, desolate motel on the outskirts of a swamp, in the new crime drama thriller, ‘The Bag Man.’ What was it about the character, and the project overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Crispin Clover (CG): Well, the dialogue was well written, and it was really as simple as that. I liked the dialogue.
SY: How did you become involved in the film? What was the audition process like for the film’s director, David Grovic?
CG: It was offered to me straight out. It was a relatively simple and quick process. When I signed on, Robert De Niro wasn’t involved in it yet.
I think I had a conversation with David-we talked on the telephone. He was interested in expanding the dialogue of the character. He didn’t initiate the screenplay as a writer, but he did later become involved in the writing of it.
I think he then wrote some additional dialogue. I liked how the scenes flowed, and their nature as they were written. I think David also did some additional writings for Robert’s character. David may have added some additional dialogue for my character. But I did like the initial draft that I read.
SY: ‘The Bag Man’ marks David’s feature film writing and directorial debuts. What was the overall process of working with David, as a first-time writer and director?
CG: It was good. One of the things that we did that I liked was that we stuck with the dialogue. But we did a lot of takes for some, but not all, of the scenes. We did multiple interpretations of the ways we could play the scene, which was fun to do. That’s not something that’s always done, so it was enjoyable, and I enjoyed that aspect.
SY: With David being both the writer and director, did he allow you to improvise, or offer suggestions about your character, at all while you were filming?
CG: I didn’t improvise. My sense is that David may have been open to improvisation, but it all depends on the material. I thought this material was well-written, so I didn’t want to improvise. But that didn’t come up in the conversation. If I had wanted to improvise, maybe he would have said, “No, I don’t want that.” But that wasn’t my sense that I got about him.
I have had some experiences with first-time writer-directors who will be the opposite. It’s not about the dialogue; in a certain way, that’s not what’s important to the writer-director. What is important is what’s underneath the dialogue, and the psychology behind it.
I did experience early in my career, in the ’80s, first-time writer-directors who did not understand the element of needing to get away, or play with something that may have been written. You would feel a certain control that’s not conducive to genuine creativity.
A few years ago, I think it was in 2010, I did turn a movie down. It was a first-time writer-director, and I could tell it would be an atmosphere that would be the opposite of creative. It was actually really good money, and I needed and wanted to work, but I couldn’t do it. It was a big part, too, and I would have been first billed in the film. But I don’t have a regret of not doing it. I just knew it was something that wouldn’t have worked. That’s something I’m careful about.
But I wasn’t that concerned with this screenplay, or working with David, because I liked the dialogue, and that he was the force behind it. I talked to him, and I got the sense that it would be easy and fun to work with him, and of course it was.
SY: Speaking of the psychology of the character, did you do any research before you began filming to get into Ned’s mindset?
CG: As I recall, I was in the Czech Republic, and I flew into New Orleans (where the movie was filmed). I think I had one day in New York beforehand.
I make my own films, and own property in the Czech Republic. I oversee the set buildings. I also tour with live shows I perform in in front of films. people can find out where I tour with my shows and films on my website. I’m actually in the midst of a tour right now; I’m doing a sow this weekend at the Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa, and then the following weekend at the La Paloma Theatre near San Diego.
I continue to tour because it’s organic to me; I’m on year nine of touring. I started shooting my third feature film, but it’s not ‘Part III’ of the ‘It’ trilogy.
I flew into the U.S. after I got the role of Ned. I think I was in Czech when the negotiation for the film was done. I don’t recall that it was a long preparation time period-I recall it being, at the most, a month.
I remember I wanted to grow out facial hair, but I only had two weeks to grow it out, and I wanted more time. (laughs) But luckily there was enough time to make it look at least somewhat like I was thinking about. I knew immediately when I read the script what I wanted the character to look like.
The dialogue was strong enough. We could get what we needed to get just from the screenplay as it was written. Then your own thought process automatically kicks into it. After a certain amount of time, as you’re being taught how to act, how to create the psychological background of the character. I totally agree with that, as it’s very important.
After a certain amount of years doing that, those sorts of things can automatically kick in. But sometimes you do have to do extra research to figure things out. But this was well illustrated with its dialogue, and that’s what attracted me to it.
SY: Like you mentioned, besides acting, you’ve also begun writing and directing films. Does writing and directing a movie influence the way you act, and vice versa?
CG: Yes. Of course I started my profession as an an actor, so there’s a primary training that has to do with that. I find that a lot of directorial elements are a very different part of the thought process than acting. Acting can have a strong emotional subconscious element. Directing can have a strong logical and practical element. Of course, psychology comes into that, as well.
There’s also a difference in directing, writing, editing, funding and self-distributing. I do those things with my films. Each one of those areas has a different element for me.
There are directors, like John Ford, for example, who solely directed his films. As far as I know, he wasn’t particularly involved in the editing, but I could be wrong. But then there was someone like Stanley Kubrick, who was heavily involved in every single portion of the filmmaking process. So there are a lot of different ways of directing.
Coming from an acting background, I could see, particularly with editing, how different takes could be helpful to an editor. But there are also arguments that an actor should not be conscious about that external element, and should only be in the psychology of the character. It can be argued both ways.
I find that when I tour with, and continue to make, my films, I’m ever more grateful to be involved in the corporately funded and distributed film industry. This is how I am able to continue to make my films. But you could make an argument that it’s better not to be so grateful, and you should only be strident in your choices as an actor. It might be better to want to please yourself, instead of pleasing others. Ultimately, I’m glad and grateful to be doing both things.
SY: In the movie, Ned mainly interact with John Cusack’s character, Jack. What was your working relationship with John like on the set?
CG: Well, it was the second time I worked with John, and both films were in a relativity short time period. We were in ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ together, which came out in 2010. That film, and ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ came out within 30 days of each other, and they both did well at the box office.
What’s funny about ‘The Bag Man’ and ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ is that even though the tones of the movies and characters are very different, I’m playing a similar relationship with John. In ‘Hot Tub Time Machine,’ I played a bellman, and John played a character checking into the hotel. In this movie, I played an employee of the motel, and John played a guest of the motel. (laughs) It’s a funny coincidence that we have a similar, but also different, relationship in both films.
But he’s a well-trained actor, and has had a strong career. But he’s good to work with, and I was glad to work with him again.
SY: Speaking of acting in ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ how does acting in a bigger budget film like that one, which featured CGI and special effects, compare and contrast to starring in a lower budget, more realistic movie like ‘The Bag Man?’
CG: Well, ‘The Bag Man’ had a pretty good budget on it. But with my films, I finance them myself, so they have a much smaller budget. To be fair, I don’t know what the budget of ‘The Bag Man’ was, but I’d assume it was about a tenth of the size of what ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was. My films would probably be one hundredth, or maybe even less, of the budget of ‘The Bag Man.’
But ultimately, none of that matters. What does matter is if there’s something of genuine interest within the subject matter. There can be technical differentiations, however. ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was shot on green screens, for example. You have to play a lot of things by looking off camera at nothing, essentially.
But you’re taught very early on in acting class something called sense memory, where you’re bringing in other elements of other experiences. You have to get in the thought process of the character, which is an important element of acting. But ultimately, as an actor, it comes down to what the material is, and what your character is involved with, thinking about and needing.
Written by: Karen Benardello