Q&A: Actor Danny Glover on Africa Activism

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Tom Foreman: You're not just talking about Africa though. One of your great concerns is about troubled communities in the U.S. and you see this as a jumping off point for dealing with all those things.

Danny Glover: Well, I think so. I mean, when you see people disempowered or marginalized they're not only in Africa. They're here as well.

Tom Foreman: You did not set out to be an actor.

Danny Glover: No. I did not.

Tom Foreman: So how did it happen?

Danny Glover: Acting was way of me politicizing at one point in time what I felt was happening; what I felt was going on in the world.

Tom Foreman: You started appearing in activist plays?

Danny Glover: I started appearing in plays that had a message and that was part of the black arts movement. When I first stepped on the stage when I was twenty years old, some thirty-five years ago, part of the black arts movement was to do relevant plays that would empower and give voice to the needs of my community. And that's how art was used. So art was a vehicle for liberation, art was a vehicle for change.

Tom Foreman: So you were a social services guy working part time as an actor?

Danny Glover: When I came back to acting after spending three years working for the city and county of San Francisco, I began to look at it as a way of creating some recreational activity for myself. Something to do after work. And the more and more I became engaged in it, the more and more I became immersed in the art of acting the more and more I began to see that there was some kind of message that went beyond the propaganda of the propaganda plays that I did. And then I discovered Athol Fugard, the great South African playwright, in 1975 and that took me on another trajectory. I believe if I had not discovered Fugard, his words, his language, his use of relationships, his poetry; I don't think that I would have been an actor.

Tom Foreman: Still, how did it happen that you went from being this part-time social services worker, part-time actor to suddenly resonating with a vast audience?

Danny Glover: Well, it's timing.

Tom Foreman: It's more than that. There were many people trying at the same time and they did not have that success.

Danny Glover: You as an artist don't want to know what "that" is. All you're trying to do is find some truth for yourself. And that's all you're trying to do is take that moment, and move to the next moment in the play. That's what you're trying to do. You're not putting together the pieces of what you're doing, because if you do it becomes self-conscious.

Tom Foreman: So when the moment came that suddenly you were a superstar…

Danny Glover: (laughing) I never said that…

Tom Foreman: At that moment did you say "I have a new opportunity with my fame and my influence to forward these very things (for Africa) I've worked on all my life?"

Danny Glover: No. It was just a continuum. I mean, I was doing plays in 1977, 1978 at small theaters and raising money for the African Liberation Support Committee. We would have a performance and ask people to bring in medical supplies or bring in clothes that we would send to Zambia, which would go to people engaged in liberation struggles.

Tom Foreman: How much does that guide your choice of roles? You do Lethal Weapon. That's just popular theater.

Danny Glover: There is social value in everything you do. What you created in Lethal Weapon was the possibility of a different relationship between one man who was black, one man who was white, and a family. So there are always ties. I never talk about a role. I talk about a story. What are the values that are inherent in the story?

Tom Foreman: Would there be roles out there that you would not take? That your conscience would tell you, you shouldn't do?

Danny Glover: Well, I don't know what that is. I'd have to see what that role was in the context of a story.

Tom Foreman: It's a complex choice to make.

Danny Glover: It is complex. But the fact is we begin with investigating the human dynamic and understanding it.

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