samedi 19 mai 2012
Danny Glover: the good cop 2/2
He found fame as a policeman in the Lethal Weapon films, but it's his political activism that really drives him. He talks about his beloved Haiti, Obama's disappointing presidency and his friendship with Mel Gibson
What about Aristide's alleged human rights abuses and corruption? "He's a human being – none of us is perfect. But whatever he has done, he has never done with the intention of harming his people. He built more schools than at any time since the revolution; he improved healthcare. Each time he's come back, he's put his life in danger. He could have stayed in exile."
But, to the disappointment of many – including Barack Obama – Aristide didn't. Last year, Glover flew with Aristide from South African exile to Port-au-Prince. "It's shameful the South Africans may have worked with US and France to stop him returning," says Glover. When they arrived at Port-au-Prince, Glover was in Aristide's car as they drove from the airport. "That car could only move as fast as people around allowed it. That was one of the most moving things in my life. That's one story I'm going to tell my grandson."
Does his country's stance on Haiti outrage him? "A great deal of US policy is centred around exclusion and destabilisation. You take the largest party out of the process [Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas] – what kind of an election is that? We have a very interesting dilemma in Haiti at the moment. The current president Martelly was the choice of the state department and France and Canada, but if you'd had a free election, he would never have been elected."
How does he feel now about the US's first black president whose 2008 candidacy he endorsed? Glover laughs. "I'm not into personality worship. It's essential that you clearly denounce those things you disagree with. Everything he has done in terms of war, I'm opposed to. How much of that is him following the line and how much his own thought processes, we don't know. The bottom line is I think he's a good man."
Glover recalls that in 2002 or 2003, as a member of the board of the Algebra Project, a US scheme to improve maths skills among disasdvantaged children, he took part in a discussion on the future of education in Chicago. "A young state senator walked in and got involved in the discussion. I have to believe he'd come there because of a sincere desire to learn more and do something about that. He hasn't delivered. We're still waiting."
Glover and I are sharing a sofa in an upstairs room. Below there's a conference going on called Invest in Caring Not Capitalism: The Wages for Housework Campaign 40 Years On. It's been organised by a group called Global Women's Strike, one of whose leading members is Selma James, women's rights campaigner and CLR James's widow, who is promoting her new book Sex, Race and Class – the Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952-2011.
Glover, despite his gender, feels at home. "Like Selma was saying, I'm into building caring as opposed to capitalism." The world knows Glover as Detective Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon film franchise, as the brutish husband Albert Johnson in The Color Purple, as maverick alien-battling narcotics cop Michael Harrigan in Predator 2, as the laughably impotent US president in the eco-disaster movie 2012 and as Nelson Mandela in the TV movie. He's just about to start work on Stephen Frears' HBO film about Muhammad Ali's refusal to fight in Vietnam in which he will play Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American US supreme court judge.
But it also knows him as an actor who has said "hey" to radical political intervention activism more times than Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Mark Ruffalo and Sean Penn combined. He's regularly on picket lines, campaigning for prisoners, speaking against US militarism and giving talks at Occupy protests. In 2004, he was arrested outside the Sudanese embassy in Washington during a protest about Darfur. In 2010, he called on all actors at the 2010 Academy awards to boycott Hugo Boss in support of a pay dispute. He's been an ambassador for Unicef, fought against apartheid through a campaign group called the TransAfrica Forum and sits on the boards of several groups, including The Black Aids Institute and the Jazz Foundation of America.
At 65, he could readily spend weekends dozing poolside in California rather than busting his hump at a fundraiser in this rain-soaked dime of a country. Where did that enduring political commitment come from? Glover locates it in January 1959 when he witnessed how his parents, Carrie and James, both postal workers, celebrated the Cuban revolution with their union. "I was a 12-year-old kid watching these workers celebrate. I never forgot that. I was around that union a lot and surreptitiously, vicariously listened to what they talked about, how they would strategise about an action. All that was part of my acculturation as a child."
A few years later, Glover disappointed his parents. "About 1964 I supported the Nation of Islam because of Malcolm, you know? My mother was a Christian and said the Nation of Islam are nothing but a bunch of hoodlums. She was a mother looking out for her child. Plus, she was trying to grapple with the generational dynamics of what was happening. Her maturation was grounded in the civil rights movement."
But how did this rad activist become a movie star and befriend one of Hollywood's most disreputable conservatives, Mel Gibson? "I never thought I was going to be a Hollywood star." During his 20s and early 30s he worked in community development projects in San Francisco. Stage acting was a sideline. Then he discovered Athol Fugard, the South African writer best known for Brecht-inflected anti-apartheid plays. "Once I started doing Fugard, I became more entrenched in my political work. I could see how you could use your work as an actor as a platform. He became my writer."
In 1982, he was seen, aged 36, in an off-Broadway production of Fugard's Master Harold … and the Boys by Robert Benton. The film director cast Glover in his 1984 Depression-era picture Places in the Heart as a black hobo turned farmhand opposite Sally Field, who won an Oscar for her performance as a Texan widow struggling to run the family farm. His movie career then took off. The following year he starred opposite Whoopi Goldberg in Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple, as Celie's abusive husband.
It is his performances opposite Gibson as an LAPD cop in four Lethal Weapon movies, though, that made Glover most famous. What's his take on the charges of homophobia, antisemitism, domestic violence and racism against his former co-star? "Mel's my friend. I can't pass judgment on a man's life. I know my working relationship with him was wonderful – absolutely unequivocally.
"We don't agree on everything. My take on women's rights may be different from his. I know Mel is a wonderful human being, a wonderful father. When I've asked him to do things on a couple of occasions, he's done them for me. When I asked him to help raise money for the UN's development programme, he came through."
Glover yawns. "Are we good?" he asks, ever avuncular. "Because I think I'm done." He needs a nap before he makes his fundraising speech for Haiti in the evening.
Downstairs, the afternoon's panel discussion about the struggles against poverty, ecological devastation, military occupation, war, asylum and immigration is in full flow. Glover won't be part of it, even though his radical credentials are unimpeachable. A few minutes later, I return to find all 6ft 4in of him curled up on that sofa asleep. It would have been a shame to wake him.