I’m seeing through the gauze of media interpretation, which is fine—that’s normal—but it’s helpful for me to put something out in my own writing that maybe lets things become a little clearer than through the filters of corporate media.
Stacie Passon’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s 1962 mystery novel, is a curiosity—let’s call a spade a spade. But it’s also a bewitching character study and an acting spectacle featuring a stellar ensemble, about two women blamed for all manner of things they aren’t responsible for. It concerns the most resilient of ghosts: the memories and events from our past, which shape and inform who we become and how people perceive us.
The Blackwoods have always lived in their castle. Sisters Merricat (Taissa Farmiga) and Constance (Alexandra Daddario) are secluded in their inherited estate, which towers over a New England town. Long thought to be the ones responsible for poisoning their father, mother, and aunt with arsenic-laced sugar bowls, they are reviled by the neighboring townspeople and have been banished indefinitely. Under their care is Uncle Julian (Crispin Glover), a survivor of the mysterious poisoning, who’s now bound to a wheelchair and chronicling the family tragedy in his memoir to an almost obsessive manner. One day, the sisters’ long-lost cousin Charles (Sebastian Stan) comes knocking unannounced—clearly after the Blackwood family manor and remaining fortune— threatening to upset the balance of this peculiar yet manageable arrangement forever.
It should come as no surprise that Glover, a gifted actor who has made a career out of stealing scenes, slots right into Uncle Julian’s insane ramblings and dissonant mind. The 55-year-old also happens to be the king of his very own castle in real life. The cult thespian purchased and started restoring a 17-bedroom, 20-acre estate in Konárovice, Czech Republic 16 years ago. The Renaissance-Baroque chateau, dubbed Zamek Konarovice, which translates to Konarovice Chateau or Konarovice Castle, is not a vacation home or a real estate investment but a place to build permanent sets for his current and future film productions. We have much to discuss…
We Have Always Lived in the Castle hits select theaters and VOD on May 17th.
First of all, I think you’re a big time winner. You’re a true one-of-a-kind original.
Well, thank you. I appreciate it.
It’s my understanding that We Have Always Lived in the Castle came to you as an offer, and you must’ve received tons of offers throughout your career. Have you found that the roles and film projects you find most interesting have changed and evolved over the years?
Oh, sure. I don’t know about my interests changing so much—perhaps a bit—but the kinds of films definitely have changed in distinct patterns. I started professionally when I was 13, which was in 1977, and at the time, I didn’t even know what would happen exactly. I thought maybe I’d be in a commercial or in a movie on television, and I did do commercials and television in my teenage years. But it wasn’t until I was 18 when child labor laws started working in my favor that I started working quite a bit as an actor. I started to study it professionally when I was age 15. 13 was a bit old for a child actor to start. It was a very good age to start for serious acting as a young actor. When I was 18 in the early 1980s, it was teen hijinks movies that were going on. The first studio film I did was when I was 19 called Teachers, and Back to the Future I did when I was 20. Then things changed again after that because I started being more selective about the kinds of films that I would act in. River’s Edge was the first film I did after Back to the Future had come out. I changed my way of selecting films in the year 2000 because I needed to fund the sequel to my first film that I had made as a director called What Is It? So I needed to fund the sequel called It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine, and the film that funded the production segment of that was with a part I played in Charlie’s Angels. It was after that film came about—the film did well and made a lot of money, which was good for my career—I got Willard. I just recognized that I needed to start acting in films so I can continue funding my own work as a filmmaker, which is really what I’ve continued doing since the year 2000. But an interesting thing sort of happened: it depends on waves and patterns that sometimes it’s the more intriguing kind of material and sometimes it’s less intriguing. I’m very happy with the material for We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I’m also working on American Gods, which is also based on a literary source by Neil Gaiman. I associate them together in a certain way because I was in the middle of the first season of American Gods when we shot We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and Neil Gaiman lists Shirley Jackson as one of the writers that he admires. So I think of them both being literary source materials and excellent books.
I know you ended up reading Shirley Jackson’s source novel in the middle of shooting that film. I believe they introduced a new interpretation for the text into the screenplay and that compelled you to investigate. Did you want to make sure that they were still being faithful?
It’s complicated. It wasn’t quite as simple as that. There was a change of the screenplay after I had initially read it so the director suggested that I look at the source material. I often have in my career when I worked on literary sources, but sometimes I found that I get concerned about the interpretation. So I was hesitant for that reason. But because they had changed certain things of the script from the original draft that I had read, Stacie Passon suggested that I read the novel, which I did do. That did cause discussion, but I’m very pleased with the results of what came out. And yeah, I would say that what I wanted ultimately was, it turns out—even before I read it, I didn’t know this—what’s in the original novel.
Interesting. When did you decide to read the source novel that American Gods is based on?
Same thing. Again, I had now started to become hesitant about reading source material—I didn’t used to—because I feel like I can get overly concerned about the interpretation. I had a similar concern about American Gods. But on American Gods, they had a showrunner change, and the second showrunner suggested that I read it, which I did. I’m glad I did. I knew I was gonna love the novel, and I did love it. People that I trusted told me it was a great piece of work, and it is. I read the material before the start of the second season.
It’s pretty neat that Stacie went onto direct an episode of American Gods. You had also worked with Sebastian Stan prior to We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Do you enjoy repeat collaborations?
Absolutely. Very much. As I’ve worked over the years, basically, I never ever work on a production where I’ve not worked with someone before. [Laughs] It’s a very unusual thing to not know somebody or to not have worked with somebody before in production. And yeah, it’s always very pleasant. I was glad to work with Stacie again and I was glad to work with Sebastian again as well.
You shot this movie in Ireland back in August 2016, is that right?
Yeah, it took awhile! It was just a cost thing. With tax deductions and such, it was less expensive for them to shoot in Ireland as 1962 U.S. than it would’ve been to shoot in the U.S. [Laughs]
It also took a while to come out on the backend. You shot that roughly two years prior to its premiere at the L.A. Film Festival last year. How did the film measure up to what you thought you had made?
I’m very pleased with it. I think Stacie did an excellent job with the direction, and the editing of the material is very well done. I’m very pleased and very happy. It has depth in it—getting depth within a film is difficult! To accomplish any kind of depth is always a good accomplishment.
I thought it was so lovely that you brought your father Bruce to the L.A. Film Festival premiere. It was not only his first time watching it, but yours as well. Do you normally get into lengthy conversations about the craft?
Sometimes. But the thing is, my third film production—the one that I’m currently editing, and have been developing and shooting for many years—is the first time my father and I had actually acted together. My mother died almost three years ago on May 27th. My parents were married for 55 years. So I like to take my father out and make sure that he’s not at home—too much. [Laughs]
When can we see it?
There’s no schedule because I produce my own films, purposely. I changed things on this production from what I initially started with. I started shooting in 2013. I had at least one production segment every year since 2013 until last year. Now I have the footage I know I’m going to use. I have no plans to shoot any more footage with people—maybe some intertitles. But I’m on an edit. I edit it myself. I have a 94-minute edit and I want to get it down below 90 minutes, ideally. But as you get closer, it gets harder to pull things out. So this is what I’m working on right now. I am excited about it.
I do remember you saying in a past interview that it took 9 ½ years from the first day of shooting on What Is It? to the day it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. That tells me things. You’re patient. You’re committed. You have discipline and see things through. Does that take a lot of work on your part or is it somewhat effortless?
No, it does take a lot of work. Since 1996–even though I’d acted in a lot of films and I did take that seriously as well—by far the most time, thought, and effort in my life goes into my filmmaking processes. It’s also strange because I never release the films digitally. People see them in-person when I tour with them, and you can find out where I’m touring on crispinglover.com. Because it’s such a digital world, that’s really how people usually see movies. In a certain way, it limits the visibility of my own filmmaking, and yet on another hand, it keeps it in the realm of what I have intended for the films to be, which are generally cinematic experiences. There are a lot of reasons why I tour, but that’s one of them.
If I can touch on Back to the Future for a moment, I was flabbergasted to find out recently that you actually filmed the original for five weeks with Eric Stoltz in the lead before Michael J. Fox came on. It’s unheard of. You essentially made the same movie twice. What did you make of that experience? If nothing else, it sounds like a fascinating acting exercise.
Yes, it was I think five weeks. Then there was more time than just the five weeks after that. We had gotten close to being done when they replaced the lead actor. I was almost done and just had a little bit more to shoot. I felt happy about it. I felt like the work was good so it’s strange to have to reshoot work that you felt good about. But, of course, you wanna always do a good job so it’s something that you do. It would’ve been a different movie. It would’ve been different.
I suspect that you were always curious, always asking questions, and always opinionated about the work at hand. For instance, you convinced the producers of Charlie’s Angels to cut all of Thin Man’s lines because they were expository—
That makes it sound like I’m almost tyrannical. [Laughs] What happened is, they asked me to come in for the movie to just have a meeting. I was hesitant to come in because the character did have a lot of lines that really were not necessary. So they asked me to come in and said they wanted to hear what my thoughts were. I went in and they asked me what I thought and I said, “Whether I play the character or not, it should be a fighting antagonistic character who didn’t say anything.”
Brilliant feedback it turns out.
McG, the director, who can be very enthusiastic, stood up and said, “That’s fantastic! That’s great! That’s exactly what we’re gonna do. That’s how we’re gonna play it.” Then they showed me footage of the Yuen family, the Chinese choreography team that was going to be doing the wire-work fighting choreography. I had known some of their work. They understand character through movement. I recognized that a silent antagonistic character choreographed by that fighting team could actually be very interesting. Plus, I would be able to fund the second film in the trilogy, the production of It’s Fine! Everything is Fine, which is exactly what happened. And I was very pleased with how that character came out.
Film is an intensely collaborative enterprise. Taking McG as an example in that specific instance you provided, some people are very responsive to feedback. Then there are people who are clearly not. Is it ever difficult to be vocal when you’re an actor and to offer up ideas?
It always depends on just the personalities at hand and how things work. In an ideal situation, it’s just a normal process where there’s back-and-forth. You just talk and discuss. Everybody’s wanting to make the best movie and project possible. It’s a very healthy thing. That’s the norm. That’s what usually happens, which is ideal.
Where are you now with the third chapter in the It trilogy? It’s called It Is Mine?
It is called It Is Mine. That screenplay was written way back in 1996. We started shooting that in ’96 and we’re in the year 2019… [Laughs] How many years ago is that? 23 years? Even this year, just a couple of months ago, I was touring with both What Is It? and It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine, which I love doing. I perform a live show of my books that I dramatically narrate to heavily illustrated projections behind me for an hour. I have two different live shows before those two different films. Then I have a Q&A after the films and a book signing. It’s time-consuming, but I enjoy doing the shows. And the trilogy has a theme. There is a thematic aspect and I’ve been working within that theme for all of these years. Then I’ve been developing this other project—the one with my father—for over ten years at this point and that has a different theme from the trilogy, which is why I needed to step away from that. My plan right now is to make more productions that are not part of the trilogy and then go back to the trilogy at a certain point later on. The way the trilogy is, it’s not mandatory that I look the same as I was in What Is It? and I’m not in the second film It’s Fine! Everything Is Fine. But I would be in It Is Mine. It’s more of a conceptual trilogy than the standard kind of way that they make franchise movies.
I don’t know if you’ll enjoy this parallel. You have a castle of your own, a sprawling chateau in the Czech Republic, which has garnered a lot of attention over the years. What does that property mean to you, beyond a place in which to set your future productions?
I’ve had it now for 16 years, amazingly—that’s how fast time goes—and I did purchase it to do my film productions. My first production there is the one with my father that was shot on sets I built in former horse stables of the chateau. I put a significant amount of time and money into the property and it is a historical monument so there are certain aspects that have to stay true to the historical aesthetics of the building, which I enjoy and like. I put a lot into it. It was always very interesting that, particularly since I had production segments there, it really is very beautiful. I do enjoy being there. I was just there a few days ago. I knew when I purchased the property that I wanted to purchase something where I would be able to build sets and also have a place that I would enjoy. Luckily, I do enjoy the property. I have Czech heritage so there’s interesting aspects with that as well. Although I don’t know any of my relatives, I’m sure I’m related to people there. I know the language a little bit now. I speak it probably like a savant 4 or 5-year-old. [Laughs] The property is really very interesting and it does have a lot of history and it makes you think about a lot of things when you’re there.
It looks beautiful. I’ve seen pictures of it. You always seem so entirely yourself, in your approach and in your perspective. I really do believe in the saying that, in specificity, there is universality. I think that’s at least part of the reason why you’ve become such a cult figure that so many people can relate to and admire. You’ve also had songs named after you. There’s a Norwegian record label named after you. There’s a legacy that’s coming into view without you even actively participating in it. How often do you think about the idea of legacies and what you would like to leave behind?
I think about continually wanting to do good work and what that means culturally. I’m writing a book that I’ve been working on for many years. The main focus is about how propaganda works within the entertainment industry. But it’s more than that. There are other things about what my own work is and reactions to this sort of thing within my work or how I’ve come to that understanding of it. I think when people hear about or are writing about propaganda, they start thinking it’s going to be this horrific thing, but it isn’t that. It is not necessarily a negative thing. That term comes to have something negative about it, but it’s actually part of a function of why Homo sapiens have come to do well. It’s because of a kind of communication that’s mandatory to get information from one generation to the next and how these nuggets of information get passed. Anyhow—the book’s almost 500 pages at this point. [Laughs] I could go on for many hours about it. I feel like it is good at this point to write things out because when I’m talking like we’re talking right now and there’s an agenda, specifically to promote We Have Always Lived in the Castle, it’s never really quite what I’m thinking about that’s going to come forward. So it’s good for me to write something out. I’m seeing through the gauze of media interpretation, which is fine—that’s normal—but it’s helpful for me to put something out in my own writing that maybe lets things become a little clearer than through the filters of corporate media.
Is there anything else that you haven’t tried your hands at that’s yet to come? You’re very fluid in your creativity.
Well, I’ve published five books so far—they’re more art books. These are visual book stories that I made mostly in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. I just published one of them within the last two years called Round My House, although I originally made it in 1985 or ‘86. So it took many years before I published that one, and I have others that I want to publish. But the new book that I’m writing is the first book I’m writing as text. I’m not sure if I’ll end up publishing it on my own [Crispin has his own imprint called Volcanic Eruptions] or if I’ll talk to publishing houses. I haven’t figured out what will be the best route to go forward with it. I gotta finish it. I have a lot of work to do on this still. But both the film that I’m editing and the book are two big projects that I really need to complete soon—sooner than later.