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Scott Glenn

Small towns, big cities, silver screens


Scott Glenn finds himself in Twin Falls these days, playing Sheriff Ed Halfner in a film called Buhl, Idaho. It's written and directed by Jaffe Zinn, a Buhl native now based in New York, and it's produced by Boisean Heather Rae who received an last year Oscar nomination for Frozen River. Glenn also has deep Idaho connections, having resided in Ketchum for the last 31 years. But his resume includes such huge Hollywood productions as Apocalypse Now, The Bourne Ultimatum and Hunt for Red October as well as a number of indie projects and stage work, both in New York and Seattle. BW spoke with Glenn recently about what makes a small town interesting, life in Idaho and playing a lawman.

Being an Idaho guy, did that influence your decision to be a part of Buhl, Idaho?

What always makes my mind up to get involved in something is the script, invariably, and the part, but once I read it and I really liked it a lot. Yeah, I have to admit, the idea of number one, working here and being able to drive an hour and a half to Twin and stay in Twin and work 16 miles down the road was a turn-on ... I've always said that if I could be part of or help Idaho filmmakers or filming in Idaho, I'd do it. I don't mean to say that doing this in any way is generous of me, because it's a great part and I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't feel that way. The fact that it was shooting here made it nicer.

Are you going to be able to go back home to Ketchum right now, or do you have something else coming right up?

I'm either blessedly or stupidly doing three movies at the same time. I started a film [Sucker Punch!] in Canada, in Vancouver—big huge giant budget thing at the end of August that a friend of mine's directing. When I first got the script for this I had to turn it down because it was going to start shooting in September, then they changed the dates and I had a month and a half off, so I kept this. Then Disney wanted me to do a film [Secretariat] that started shooting before this and would finish right after. I went from Vancouver to Lexington back to Vancouver, to Buhl, Idaho and now I'm going to fly to Lafayette, La., to finish that film and then come back here for maybe a few days then go back up to Vancouver, be there 'til Christmas and then go back to Vancouver and finish that film.

Busy guy, sheesh.

Yeah, at one point I was bitching to my wife about why with my big mouth I'm doing three films at the same time. She said, "Listen, baby. Having too much work is what I call a high-class problem." In today's economy, you start complaining when you don't have enough, or any, work. When you've got enough to do, be grateful.

And all three films are different enough from each other that there's no danger that they're going to bleed into each other. It just means that I've got to get on a plane and travel more than I'd like to.

How did you get involved with this project? I know that you know Heather. Did she send you the script or did you talk to Zinn?

She sent me the script. I read it and told her I really liked it, what's the deal? She said, "We're starting shooting September," so I said "Sorry, I can't do it because the thing I'm doing in Vancouver is written and directed by a friend of mine and he had told me four months before that they'd written this part for me and I said fine," so I told Heather I'd be working in September. Then I was up there shooting that movie, it's called Sucker Punch! and I got a call from my manager who told me Heather had sent Buhl, Idaho back with an offer because she'd heard I had some time off. So I asked my friend, "Cool with you if I do another film?" and he says, "Sure, as long as nobody touches your hair." At that point, Heather had also sent me four of Jaffe's student films, so I could get an idea of what his vision was and the way he did it. And so I watched them and I like them. Mainly, I concentrated on the last one because you always want to know what's the very last thing people did. I like it a lot, and I said yes, without meeting him. Before we started shooting I got together with him and really liked him. Understood that this is his first feature, [but] he's got a real specific vision, really knows what he wants. He's not intimidated by anything and has a real quirky sense of humor. It felt good, so here I am.

You've worked with some of the bigger directors. Ron Howard, both Coppolas [Sophia and Francis Ford], Oliver Stone. How was working with someone who is creating their first feature film?

The experience was great. He's no different from a lot of the veteran filmmakers that I've worked with. He has a real specific vision of what he wants, he really understands timing. He wrote it, which is great. The first day he came up to me and said, "Look, Scott. None of these lines are set in granite. Anytime you feel like it, make it your own. You've lived here 31 years, you probably know more sheriffs than I do." It's kind of like a perfect situation. More with writer/directors than with people who are directing someone else's script. They built the car, and you get to jump in and race it, but if it breaks, they can fix it. The only times that I'm aware that I'm working with somebody who really hasn't done this a lot has nothing to do with his ability, the way he's doing it, but just with his amazement that his scenes are working so well, because he's never really had professional actors. He's surprised because he's never had a chance to do what he does with people who make their living at this.

Can you talk to me a little about your character? You've played tons of authority figures over the years, but also you've served in the Marines, you've been a forest ranger. What's different about Sheriff Halfner?

It's cool that he's a sheriff because, with his job, at the end of the day underneath everything else he's as serious as a heart attack. What's great about this character and I think every character in the film, is you get to see the quirky side of this guy. In many ways, it's very comedic, but not pie in your face, burlesque kind of comedy. The character could be a welder or a farmer or an investment banker. It almost wouldn't matter. As an actor, I get to dip into what people's lives really are about when they wake up in the morning. We go through most of our lives with our own personal needs and desires. I have to take my computer in to get fixed, or I really want that girl who works in the store next to mine to smile at me, because I think she's hot. My character, when he wakes up in the morning going to work as a sheriff, he knows that he has to get a bale of alfalfa for his horse and donkey sometime during the course of the day. The guy is like an addictive hunter, too, so you get to see the stuff that motors almost all of us and controls most of our days, until something big comes along. It could be something really good, but more often than not, it's not something good. When those things happen, all the sudden all that other stuff that was so important becomes so unimportant. I've never run into a film that really told that much of a universal story before, and my character gets to have a funny degree of reality that actors don't get to do much.

I've only looked at a small portion of the script, but he seems like an opportunist. At a traffic stop he sees a pheasant and it's in season, so he goes for it.

That's right. Sheriffs in Idaho have a lot of punch, you know. Ask any city police chief where he sits in the pecking order in relation to the sheriff, and sooner or later you'll find out the sheriff is his boss. That's the way it works. I told the kid playing my deputy that it might seem like a lot of my behavior is outrageous to you, but I get to do it. I can do pretty much whatever I feel like doing.

This is related to that idea of small-town America. You've lived in Ketchum, you grew up in a small district in Pennsylvania. What draws you to smaller projects and smaller towns?

I think that kind of setting kind of isolates human behavior. As an artist that's what always draws me to that. Even in this film, the biggest star is the countryside of southern Idaho because when you see these things happen, it's so isolated physically, like at a traffic stop you're out in an open field that's only broken by the Snake River Canyon in the distance. Number one, it lets you focus intensely on what's going on between the people because there's no distractions. It also sets you in a frame that's older than the human race. You get that when you're in rural America and small towns. That's the artist part of me, the Scott part of me that says people are nicer when they're not all jammed in together. I've lived in big, big cities. I love Manhattan, when everybody's jammed up on top of you. For a while. Then at a certain point I say, "Get me the hell out of here." I need the Sawtooth Mountains. I need the Bighorn Crags. I need to not see a human being for a couple of weeks.

You mentioned earlier that you try support the Idaho film industry. Do you have any thoughts on that, on the film incentive bill, small projects in general?

I'm not sure what the deal is. At one point, a friend of mine wanted to go to the Legislature. Sometimes it's hard to explain to publications that giving film companies breaks on taxes and rebates is ultimately really good for the state and the community. But it is. Just ask the people in Louisiana or North Carolina about that. Film companies wind up bringing in so much more money, even a small film. We're all eating all of our meals in Twin Falls, we're renting our cars here, we're using the gas stations. The bigger the film, the more money gets pumped into the community and gets spread around. It winds up always being a moneymaking proposition for the state. It's kind of hard to explain that to people. It's such a mystery what we do that they [never] just stop to think about the practicals of all these people coming and living here. What are they going to do? They're going to spend their money and give jobs to locals. It's a win-win proposition, but the leap of faith that politicians have to take is that it's going to work. Idaho is a perfect place, the country is so varied. Taking a ride down to Boise from where I live, it's like you're in different universes. And it's all beautiful, there are a million different stories that could be shot here. But at the end of the day the real reason that production companies decide to go one place rather than another is money, and if they get a break like they do in Louisiana, that's where they're headed.

Well, it seems to me that obviously on the Legislature side, the bill seems like a good idea for economic stimulus, but on the artist side, for the actors, directors and producers, having that film bill would promote these smaller independent projects like Buhl, Idaho and be able to create something more satisfying. There would be more opportunity for those films to be made.

Your mouth to God's ears. I hope that's true. That's the idea. But that only works if the movies you make are good. You make an indie film that goes in the toilet and you wind up walking down to Blockbuster and discovering it in the back hopper is not the same thing as going to Sundance and winning a bunch of awards. Or forget about the awards, just having a lot of people look at the film and buy into it and love it. Like anything else, it's how good you do it.