Here’s something not nice, not fine, not classy about Danny Glover: He’s got awful feet. Most of the toenails have recently been removed to battle a skeevy fungus, and there are calluses and bunions and details that you don’t want to hear about, and it’s amazing that the man can even walk, let alone run around waving a gun shouting, ”Riggs! Riggs!” and chasing after his attractively unhinged Lethal Weapon partner of five years, Mel Gibson.
And here’s this nice, fine, classy actor, this handsome, 44-year-old man who is known for overcoming dyslexia and working hard and speaking to high school kids about taking responsibility for their lives, here’s this rich star sitting with his feet in a plastic tub of hot water and Epsom salts on the opening day of Lethal Weapon 3, which never claimed to be nice, fine, or classy and has received a couple of less than fine reviews, but thanks to Glover and Gibson nonetheless racked up a spectacular box office take — $33 million in its first three days. Not bad for a guy with no toenails.
Glover is sitting in a mobile trailer on a junked-up street in New York’s East Village. He’s working on The Saint of Fort Washington, an admirable low-budget project directed by Tim Hunter (River’s Edge), in which he and Matt Dillon play homeless men. And Lethal 3 is not on his mind.
”Oh, it opens today, right!” is how he notes the significance of this date as he cups his hands to lap water over his insteps. (He chooses to ignore the obvious: that Lethal Weapon 2 grossed almost $150 million, and No. 3 shows every sign of beating that.) But Glover is aware of what this blockbuster can bring, and what this long-running salt-and-pepper partnership with Gibson has gained him.
”Yeah, I know what it means if it’s a big hit,” Glover says, nodding. ”It means I can do another film like (The Saint of Fort Washington). And come November or December when this film is released, if these guys aren’t pushing it the way I think they should, I can pitch a bitch.”
Not that Glover is a pitch-a-bitch kind of guy. In fact, he’s not a guy with any label, which sometimes confounds people looking to put one of Hollywood’s most bankable black actors in some kind of category. And yet, category-free, he has charted a distinguished and productive career. After a brief time spent in public service (he worked in San Francisco’s model cities program in the early ’70s), during which he took acting classes as a hobby, he drew high critical praise for his stage work on Broadway in 1982 in Athol Fugard’s Master Harold and the Boys. That role — an easygoing South African waiter — led director Robert Benton to cast him as the brave, loyal Moze in Places in the Heart, which led to the part of a bad cop in Peter Weir’s Witness. Which led Lawrence Kasdan to set him as a peace-loving frontiersman in Silverado, which led to The Color Purple and a dossier of other interesting work — including the first two Lethal movies, in 1987 and ’89, up through last winter’s prescient Grand Canyon and this minute’s raucous Lethal. (Glover on one big breakthrough in Lethal 3: ”I got to kiss my wife! This gorgeous woman (Darlene Love) here I’ve had for five years, and I’ve never kissed her on film! Jesus Christ!” Director Richard Donner on Glover: ”One of the classic reactors. You cut to Danny any time and his reactions are brilliant.”)
As Roger Murtaugh, the stable family man in the Lethal series, he has won an NAACP Image Award; as Mister in The Color Purple, he took some heat from the black community for playing a wife beater. Both roles, he has patiently explained, fit the story. (”I could have been a positive role in a f—ed up story,” he says.) He has made big money and a seamless transition from his activist days with the Black Students Union at San Francisco State University to his current life in a San Francisco mansion with his wife, Asake, who runs an art gallery, and their 16-year-old daughter, Mandisa.
”I have a great legacy, a background,” he says. ”I have deep roots, not only to my family but to a community that I’ve lived in for almost 35 years.”
The son of postal workers and the oldest of five children, Glover grew up in San Francisco and reached his teens in time to experience the psychedelic ’60s in the capital of Peace and Love. He even lived on a commune for a while. Glover gets philosophical about those days: ”I came through an explosion… something about the music, the people. I really believed in living in the commune! I wasn’t someone who spent most of his time trying to decipher Ibsen or whoever, but who spent his time in a very small world that was part of a larger world.”
He likes this talk. In fact, he sounds a lot like Simon, the eloquent, philosophical tow-truck driver he played in Grand Canyon. ”Let’s say that Simon had reached some kind of peaceful place in his existence,” says Glover, who slipped into the moral center of Kasdan’s contemporary morality play as if the role was spun for him, as, in fact, it was.
”Danny has an enormous heart and soul,” says Kasdan, who coauthored the screenplay with his wife, Meg. ”He’s very generous with the world, and we wrote a character who was full of compassion.”