What would happen if ”Back to the Future”’s long-suffering geek George McFly had an army of rats to fight his battles for him? ”Willard” answers that question — well, sort of. As the sad sack title character, Crispin Glover (”River’s Edge”) discovers that the critters in his basement will do anything he asks, including take down any jerk he chooses. EW.com talked to Glover, 38, about remaking a cult classic, his favorite rat, and why it’s okay if you call him weird.
In ”Willard,” most of your costars are rats, literally. How do they compare to real actors?
The thing that’s beneficial about rats or any animal is that they’re not aware they’re being filmed, so they’re 100 percent in the situation. I had a lot of lachrymal work in the movie, and the rats had to be very well trained to do specific actions in those scenes. And they’d do them correctly every time. I’m thankful, because it would have been difficult to get into these deep emotional states and then have to break because the rat did the wrong thing.
How faithful is this ”Willard” to the 1971 film?
In the original, Willard is killed at the end. And, originally, I was killed at the end of this film too. We reshot the ending in January. You hear about studio intervention and making changes that aren’t helpful, but I really thought it was a good idea. I know there was a good quality to that ending in the original film, but in our film it felt abrupt. With the new ending, I’m getting the sense that people are able to walk away and have different interpretations, which, to me, is a sign of something that’s worthwhile.
Plus it opens the door to a sequel, right?
Contractually, I have no obligation to do one, but I would like to, actually. I’d want to make sure the idea and the script was good, but I’m confident [writer-director] Glen Morgan would come up with something good.
How many of your furry costars were actual rats and how many were computer generated?
I really had a lot of contact with the actual rats. There’s not so much animatronic stuff in this film. It was in the wider shots that I’d have real rats around me that were then enhanced by computer graphics.
Did you have a favorite rat?
There were two that play the main character I deal with, Socrates. There was one in particular named Bashful, and I did like Bashful. I don’t have any difficulty with rats. I know they can be terrible pests and you do have to get rid of them in that situation, but a well-trained, clean rat is a very nice animal.
In 1987 you published a book called ”Rat Catching.” Do we detect a theme here?
I used to take old books from the 1800s and rework them, turning them into different books than they originally were. So one of the bindings I found was ”Rat Catching.” But the actual story I wrote deals with many things other than rat catching. And the two other books I wrote, ”What It Is and How It Is Done” and ”Oak Mot,” don’t have anything to do with rats.
With his Alfalfa haircut and skinny ties, Willard has a pretty unique look. Was that your doing?
Because he has a more innocent quality at the beginning and a more nefarious quality at the end, I thought it would be good to start out with a greyish suit, then midway it turns into a charcoal suit, and finally it’s black. But always with the black tie.
Did you make any other suggestions?
I generally avoid rewriting, but I did ask Glen to make one change. There was cursing in the role, and I’m not against cursing, but there was an innocence to Willard, a kind of lost-in-time element, so I thought it was best to take those things out.
You’ll play the Thin Man again in ”Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.” Are you ever going to speak?
No. When they first asked me to come in for the role, I didn’t want to, because the dialogue for the character struck me as being a lot of exposition and I didn’t like it. But they said they really wanted to hear my ideas, so I thought it would be better if I was just a fighting antagonist to these women and didn’t say anything. And McG, who’s a very enthusiastic fellow, said, ”Yes, that’s exactly what we want to do.”
Last year EW named you its ”It Creep.” How do you feel about being labeled as a weirdo?
When that’s used as a dismissal, I think it’s unfortunate because something I’ve always strove toward is thoughtfulness, to have various viewpoints about something. So the words ”weird” or ”eccentric,” I don’t mind them so much. But ”psychotic,” ”nuts,” ”crazy”…that’s not so interesting to me. Still, I understand it. I’m genuinely interested in countercultural art and film, and that can have a threatening element to it.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been making a trilogy of films, producing and directing, and that’s a very expensive thing to do. So I need to be working, because the only way to do these kinds of counterculture films is to finance them on my own. ”What Is It?” has a cast mostly made up of people with Down’s syndrome, but it’s really about a young man whose principal interests are salt, snails, a pipe, and how to get home. The next film, ”EVERYTHING IS FINE!,” which I made using my money from ”Charlie’s Angels,” was written by a man who has cerebral palsy. They’re both so, so close to being done. But because I’ve been so busy, I can’t even predict when they’ll be completed. It’s frustrating, but I’ve found that working in order to finance my films is actually invigorating, so I can’t be too upset about it.