Scott Glenn on “Greenland”, martial arts and genuine motion
Scott Glenn may have entered the “playing grandpa” part of his career, but he could probably kick your ass anyway. At least that’s the keen feeling we got of his property in the foothills of the Idaho Sawtooth Mountains during our conversation with the veteran actor.
“I’ve always been a person who experiences life first through my body and then in my head,” says Glenn as he recounts some of the epic lengths he went to to add authenticity to his acting. The pursuit of these new experiences also continues off-screen, most recently in the study of the Russian martial arts system.
Glenn spoke to Men’s journall about his most recent role in Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland, his legendary career, various training practices and the good life in the Pacific Northwest.
Why did you want to jump on board Greenland?
I really saw the potential of the project after speaking to Ric Waugh and realizing that the section I would be in is the beating heart of the film. The idea of dealing with a natural disaster of this magnitude and what you would do in the circumstances is big. I think what resonates is striving to find everyone who matters to you – making sure they are safe and what is possible when we all work together. We are united under a common threat. I saw that in the script and I saw who my character was too. How should I put it, he has closed the main circle of his life. The love of his life is gone. And for him it makes no difference whether he lives another 50 years or 50 minutes.
How was working with Gerard Butler?
Gerry was great – both he and Morena Baccarin were very generous with our scenes together. I work a certain way and I always have. When a scene starts I have no idea where it will lead. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do or what the audience will see and they allowed me to go with it. Thats all I need.
What made you move to Idaho instead of the usual actors like New York or Los Angeles?
I was drawn here because I think it is the most beautiful country you will ever see. Our home is at around 6,000 feet. When we have snow we have some of the best skiers in the lower 48 states. In summer there is hiking everywhere and roads that God has built for our motorcycles. It’s a great place for me to get neutral again before I go out to do this crazy thing that I decided to make a living. The air is clean and the water is clear. My wife is a potter and a brilliant artist. She has a studio on our land so she can just walk over our property to do her job.
What kind of bikes do you ride now?
The main bike I ride now is a BMW, but I’ve had all kinds of sport bikes, Ducatis, Triumphs. If you can name it, I’ve had it. I’m really looking forward to getting back on a track so I can drive high speeds, take some corners and all the fun things that come with that.
What kind of fitness are you doing these days?
I’ve done one form or another of martial arts since I was a kid, having already done wrestling and boxing. The first martial art I really studied was Tang Soo Do, a Korean style that puts a little more emphasis on strike. But most recently I spent a long weekend with one of the great masters of the Russian system, this guy Vladimir Vasiliev. I learned a lot from that experience and a few new techniques that I played around with. One of the elements I brought into my training is the idea that training has as much to do with your breathing as it is with your physical exertion.
Can you give us an example of what that might look like?
For example, doing push-ups that are fully synchronized with your breathing – inhale while slowly pushing your body up and then coming back down while still inhaling. Before starting your next push-up, start exhaling and repeat this process while exhaling. You can focus more deeply on your breathing and open your senses to places where you may feel tension or tension. Not only that, slow pushups are inherently more difficult. Another great twist on fist push-ups where you slowly open your fingers until they are flat on the floor and your weight is evenly distributed across all of your ankles. I’m still working on it, but it may take you two minutes to do just one push-up. 60 seconds down, then 60 seconds up.
How important is authenticity in trading?
I believe that for every character you play, there are parts of their life outside of the scenes – hobbies, occupations, behaviors – that are inherent in them. Starting with Urban Cowboy, for example, there is a way how bull riders tie the rawhide around their gloves. I wanted to learn how to do it realistically, with my teeth and one hand. I got used to it by doing it a thousand times a day – 150 times before breakfast, after breakfast, and so on. When I did it in a scene, I didn’t have to think about it. I only do it in two scenes, but that natural reflex brought me a new level of authenticity. There were a couple of bull riders who saw the movie and thought they might have found a bull rider to play the role or I was a serious bull rider. There aren’t many compliments that are easier to get.
Do you have any other examples of this on-the-job training?
For The Shipping News, I had director Lasse Hallström gutting a fish for two hours every night in the kitchen of the hotel where we were staying. I was hoping for cod because I knew there was going to be a scene where I’m on my boat gutting a fish and wanted to be able to do it without thinking. I didn’t mean to stare at my hands. I wanted it to look like I’ve done it all my life.
What was your most physical role in a movie?
The character Stick, Matt Murdock’s blind sensei in Daredevil, was one of the most physically intense for me. I’ve spent countless hours with my teacher, Dan Anderson. He has a martial arts studio called Anderson Martial Arts on the corner of Broadway and Canal in New York City. When I wasn’t on the set in Brooklyn to film the show, I played with knives with my sifu (teacher). I probably spent more time with the stunt people on our show than the rest of the cast because we were doing so much action.
I recently had a conversation with a NASA astronaut, Mike Massimino, who says watching The Right Stuff inspired him to go into space. What do you remember when you played Alan Shepard?
“Really?” [Laughs]. That’s great. The hardest part about this movie was that I knew two people would play Alan Shepard, me and the real Alan Shepard. That’s because our director Philip Kaufman would use both footage and our appearances. So there were things that I had to do right. Alan Shepard is right-handed while I am very left-handed. I remember waking up one morning in San Francisco and tying my left hand to my belt loop with thread so that I was forced to use my right hand.
I have to ask about Vertical Limit, which came out 20 years ago in December 2000. Heard this was some crazy shoot shot in those rough places in New Zealand’s Southern Alps and K2.
Vertical Limit was a huge adventure for me. Right from the start, we started rehearsing and training in Queenstown, New Zealand. There were plenty of days when the cast got to familiarize themselves with all of the equipment we would be using. I remember one day they took us to those frozen waterfalls just outside Queenstown and we learned how to get on ice with picks. At this point, I was already quite an addicted climber, but I’d never climbed ice before and just fell in love with him.
What was it about ice climbing that fascinated you?
The thing about climbing is that outside of the physical challenge there is an element where you have to analyze the rock face to find the best route. Your ability to climb depends on the opportunities nature offers you. With ice climbing, you can go pretty much anywhere that there is ice. So instead of taking stock of your options, take stock of yourself. You need to be honest about your abilities, especially when you have someone behind you.
Were you able to climb a lot of ice during this production?
On one of the rehearsal days they tried to get the cast back to the hotel and I just kept going up one of the waterfalls we had climbed and said I couldn’t go back with them. Our ice climbing advisor and guide, Barry Blanchard, who is arguably one of the best out there, just looked at me and said, “You fell in love with this one, didn’t you?” I had. He told me that if there was a scene in the movie where I had to climb ice, he would teach me everything he could. So I started harassing Martin Campbell for including an ice climbing scene in the film. When it finally cracked, Martin and the whole cast turned to me and said, “You’re becoming an unbearable child. If I give you an ice climbing scene, will you shut up and do whatever I tell you? ‘ I said yes. From then on I had my own helicopter every day that I wasn’t working, a large thermos of English breakfast teas, and Barry teaching Blanchard how to ice climb.
How were those ice climbing days with Barry?
We went to this place called the Darwin Ice Bowl which was right on the edge of the Tasman Glacier. There we would climb over those big seracs made of ice. I have no doubt spent more days climbing than in this film. I just loved it. After a great climb, sit in this helicopter while the sun sets over Karakoram Mountain with one of the best rock climbers in the world. It couldn’t be better. These moments are everything.
Greenland is now available upon request
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