The embattled Donald Trump would be well advised to play hooky from his troubles and catch a showing of Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Actor John Glover just might be able to show him a thing or two about getting out of tight corners.
For his role as Daniel Clamp, the self-aggrandizing real estate and TV mogul whose eponymous office building is infested with mischief-making gremlins, Glover has resisted the obvious temptation to play another one of his trademark villains. After stuffing one gremlin to its death in a paper shredder — getting lots of greasy-grimy gremlin guts on his designer suit in the process — Glover’s Clamp brims with manic enthusiasm. (This was the most difficult trick in his role, Glover reports, because he had to serve as puppeteer, manipulating the gremlin while simulating mano-a-monster combat.) Warned that he must abandon his building because gremlins have taken over its television studio, trashed its tourist mall, and wormed their way into its communications system, Clamp is overcome with naively demented excitement. ”At last,” he exults, ”I get to use my secret exit!”
”I guess it could have been played more villainously,” Glover says. ”But have you ever met (Gremlins director) Joe (Dante)? He has a spirit of childlike exuberance, so I just used that, because he infused that spirit throughout the movie. I’ve played villains already. I felt it made it funnier that this man is a big, overgrown child who doesn’t know what to do next.”
In developing the Daniel Clamp role, Dante found that audiences wouldn’t buy Donald Trump as a prince of darkness. ”We did a lot of research on Donald Trump,” Dante says. ”We ran a lot of tapes of his appearances on various talk shows and stuff, and we found that audiences loved him.”
One thing the research did not uncover was the existence of the famous other woman in Trump’s life. Clamp gets his biggest laugh when he is introduced to an employee named Marla, and he gazes at her lustfully. Most viewers assume that the moviemakers were making sport of Trump’s celebrated affair with model Marla Maples. But Glover insists that it was serendipity. ”If you look at the actors’ mouths when they say Marla, it wasn’t looped in there. The sets had been torn down when all that came out. So there’s no chance it could have been changed.” Glover has his own theory about the coincidence: ”(Maybe Trump) read the script and then went after a woman named Marla.”
Besides the research, Dante says it is Glover who deserves the credit for turning this particular Trump card into something more than an evil Joker. ”When we conceived this picture, Clamp pretty much was the bad guy. But when we hired John, he brought such an innocence to the part that we changed our whole concept. So even though it starts out that Glover’s pretty much everybody’s adversary, by the end of the picture you can’t help but like him. That visionary look he gets when he decides to build Clamp Corners!”
John Glover? Innocent? It’s hardly the description that comes to mind. His first substantive screen role was Sammy, the caddish playboy whom Jane Fonda slaps off his feet because of his leering insinuations, in Julia (1977). Raised in Salisbury, Md., the son of a TV salesman, Glover had already served a 10-year apprenticeship in Off-Broadway and regional theater when Fonda’s blow marked him as an up-and-coming actor. He eagerly snapped up the movie parts that subsequently came his way, even though ”they all were sort of smarmy guys,” he says. ”I don’t regret any of the movies. But it seemed to go nowhere.”
Moving to Los Angeles in the mid-’80s, he won an occasional respite from villainy-most notably in the landmark 1985 TV drama An Early Frost, in which he played a valiant AIDS patient. But his good-guy parts were no match for his evil turns. A string of memorable slimeball performances — a pornographer-blackmailer in 52 Pick-Up, a drunken murderer in Masquerade, a slick TV exec in Scrooged — led critic Pauline Kael to crown him ”the supreme rotter of the ’80s.” Though boyish and bemused in person, the 45-year-old actor’s sharply defined features easily allow him to play characters from dissipated WASPs to tight-lipped schemers.
”I’ve turned down the villains who lack dimension, humor, and a point of view,” Glover says. ”So much of what makes a villain good is humor. If the writer understands humor and irony, it’s usually a better part. Audiences enjoy watching a certain amount of glee. Somehow, it provides a sort of release to see a character let out all the stops.”
But now, he maintains, his villainous days are behind him. Since lampooning Trump, he has been playing it more or less heroic. He appeared last month as the crusading scientist in PBS’ broadcast of Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. This month, he pops up as a flimflamming preacher in HBO’s El Diablo, a comic Western. And next year, he’ll be seen as Leonardo da Vinci in TNT’s miniseries A Season of Giants.
Still, when casting agents think of Glover, it’s to play a bounder. ”It’s just frustrating when a script will come and it’s one of those villains that’s a carbon copy of what I’ve already played,” he admits. ”I’m disappointed that there’s not more imagination out there. But as Bette Davis used to say, what you got to say is no. Just say no.” He laughs. ”I guess she said it before Nancy.”