At just 31 years old, Donald Glover has the kind of resume that could give you a complex. Before graduating from NYU, Glover was hired to write for 30 Rock, where he won three WGA awards. He went on to star in 89 episodes of Community, one of the cleverest, off-beat comedies of the last decade as the beloved character Troy Barnes. To date he has created five rap albums and two mixtapes as Childish Gambino, the most recent of which, Because the Internet, earned him two Grammy nominations. This year he’ll create his own comedy series for FX, Atlanta, and will star in three films, the first of which is The Lazarus Effect, in theaters February 27th.
In The Lazarus Effect, Glover plays a scientist working with a team of researchers to extend life in dying patients. When one of the team members dies horrifically in the lab, the rest of the group does the unthinkable and brings her back to life, but as in all Frankenstein-inspired stories, the act of playing god bears punishing consequences. Directed by David Gelb (Jiro Dreams of Sushi), the film also stars Olivia Wilde, Mark Duplass, Evan Peters, and Sarah Bolger.
At a recent press day I sat down with Glover for an exclusive interview. What attracted him to the film, his respect for the Blumhouse model, working with Ridley Scott on The Martian, Magic Mike XXL, if we’ll ever see him on Community again, and more.
The Lazarus Effect feels like an unusual entry in your catalog.
DONALD GLOVER: [Laughs] Yeah.
What was it about this project that you wanted to be a part of?
GLOVER: There’s a lot of things, I guess. I think the Blumhouse model is brilliant. I really think he’s really cool, I feel like he’s the first producer – just creative guy – who’s like, “You know what? It needs to go back to what I like and what we like, making it specific and putting a lot of work behind it, and the payoff will be great.” Which is how I want to make everything. I feel like that’s a very creative way to do it. The cast is…awesome. [Laughs] Everybody – Oliva Wilde, Mark Duplass, and Evan, Sarah . I really liked everybody. I like scary movies, but I also like scary movies where the heart of it is in science, like Alien. I was a big fan of Olivia. It was just nice to work with her and see how she does stuff.
She’s great in this.
GLOVER: She was good. Man, in between everything she talks so much about being an actor, because just every moment that she had free – every moment I had free I was writing, but every moment she had free she was just working on the character. She’s always constantly trying to make things realer, which I really took away from her. She’s amazing.
How much of a challenge is that for you to be sort of a polymath where you’re firing off on so many projects in so many different directions?
GLOVER: I’m getting better at it. I think earlier it was a little hard just because I don’t think people understood what I was. That’s what I think it really is. I think when you make a lane it’s hard, because you’re trying to look at blueprints and you’re like, “Those don’t work.” But this is a different thing. Now I kind of understand myself a lot more.
I’m also a huge fan of what Blumhouse does, but one of the side effects of the way they work is that the shoots can be quick and intense. What was the shooting experience like for you guys?
GLOVER: It was pretty quick. We came back and had reshoots for a couple things, but again, I like that. I think it’s a different time. I’m super there are some actors who would come to that and say, “I’m used to the way they did things in the ’70s” with long shoots, like we’d take a day on this and we have all this time. But I’m like, let’s do it. Mark too. Mark is such a hands on, do it yourself dude, which I just love. Making a film that way didn’t feel weird.
Yeah, you guys had a cast full of creators, certainly you and Mark, but Olivia’s also a producer too, what was the dynamic like on set? Was there a lot of collaboration or did you stick pretty closely to the word of the script?
GLOVER: Evan and I would improv every once and a while, and throw in jokes, but I’m always just trying to look at what’s just going to make everyone better. Coming from improv, it’s always a question of hat’s going to make a scene work as opposed to trying to focus on just one specific things. What’s going to make it better? It’s always very collaborative. I think everything I do now is super collaborative. It’s kind of silly to sit there and think the idea that I had is definitely the best. Nah, it’s always – and hearing wrong ideas always helps too, hearing bad ideas – I don’t get when people are like, “all he has are bad ideas”. You just don’t use them. Don’t fault them. That’s not what I’m going for.
You mentioned Alien, and you just got to work with Ridley Scott on a Sci-fi movie, The Martian, which is so cool.
GLOVER: [Breaks into a big grin] Yeah. It’s crazy, right?
What was that experience like?
GLOVER: Excellent! [Laughs] I had a good time. I had a really good time. I mean, that cast was really brilliant. Working with Chiwetel [Ejiofor] and Kristen Wiig – I was like, “This is crazy.” I knew Kristen already, but seeing her work – that also, was a learning experience. Ridley – it was dope. Also, again, very different directing style. We didn’t do it a bunch of times, so it felt like a play. We had long monologues, with a long-ass NASA – talking about shit and having to look it up. He’s like, “Okay, we’re going to do it. That was pretty good, so we might do it one more time.” You’re like, “Was it good?” I hadn’t done that in a long time, so it really did give me the buzz to be like, “Oh man, this is really fun.” You live in it. We were shooting in Hungary. So you’re in Hungary, you go out at night, you work in your room. It felt like some real artist shit. It was good.
Who do you play in that movie?
GLOVER: I play – [laughs] I was going to say Niko, but that’s in Lazarus Effect. I play a scientist who is just a weirdo kind of scientist – I’m trying to remember his name. I play this NASA scientist weirdo reclusive guy who kind of figures something out and brings it to Chiwetel’s character. Is that too much to tell? I hope that’s not bad.
I really don’t think you just gave anything away. You basically just said you play a scientist who’s name you can’t remember that does a thing.
GLOVER: [Laughs] He does a thing, does that give away too much?
[Laughs] I think you’re probably alright. You also just got to do Magic Mike XXL, and I unabashedly love the first movie.
GLOVER: I was just talking to someone about this! People always feel like they have to be like, “You know what I liked? That movie that was…directed by Steven Soderbergh, had Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum in it.” Yeah, it’s a good movie. It’s dark and it’s shot great, there’s cool shit in it. This movie’s dope. Yeah, it was weird because when it first came along I wasn’t hesitant I was just kind of like – seeing the movie and now seeing the second one, this is just good work.
So you’ve seen it already?
GLOVER: I’ve seen a lot of it. They edit it every night. Every night he edits it with people.
GLOVER: Yeah. I was there for a lot, especially in Savannah, and man, I just like being around. Really on the days off, I would try to come to set too. It was very collaborative. Greg is really good with making you feel like a part of it. He knows exactly how to make the scene work.
Are you playing one of the stripper crew dudes?
GLOVER: I definitely…I definitely show myself a little bit. It’s a funny thing. I just never really – that energy is, I don’t know, getting into it is cool, to just dive into something like that. I’ve never been in that world. It’s very few people who have ever been a convention center filled with 900 women screaming. That’s a feeling that I feel like very few people know. It was crazy. I met so many people. There was a girl there, I was having a scene with her, just talking, and everybody was just so interesting, but supportive. It’s hard to be that supportive when you’re in that room for that long, screaming.
Keeping the energy up.
GLOVER: Yeah, keeping the energy up, and they did it.
So I just have to ask selfishly, as a big fan of the show, is there a chance that we’re ever going to see you back on Community?
GLOVER: [Laughs] Everything’s possible. I would never be like, “Nah, I’m not doing it”. Everything’s possible. I love it over there. I just always want to make sure it’s good for the – you never want to do something just to make people feel good. You always want to make sure it works. I want my kids one day, I don’t want them to be like, “That episode was whack.” And I’m like, “But people really wanted it.” [Laughs] You know? No one cares. I always want the art to stand, because in the end that’s all that’s left.