Crispin Glover Interview: Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

Crispin Glover is back with another off-kilter character in Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. Starring in the episode « Pickman’s Model, » the actor stars as the titular artist with a dark past whose art contains a terrifying secret within, of which Ben Barnes’ Will Thurber finds himself attracted to.

Helmed by The Vigil’s Keith Thomas, « Pickman’s Model » is one of eight stories collected in Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities alongside fellow H.P. Lovecraft adaptation « Dreams in the Witch House, » and other tales by Henry Kuttner, Emily Carroll, del Toro himself, and more. Blending terrifying visuals with mind-bending storytelling, « Pickman’s Model » proves another worthy adaptation of a Lovecraft story.

In honor of the show’s premiere, Screen Rant spoke exclusively with star Crispin Glover to discuss Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities, his installment « Pickman’s Model, » playing a more ambiguous character than normal, the future of American Gods, and more.

Screen Rant: I’m very excited to talk about “Pickman’s Model” and Cabinet of Curiosities, it’s such a wonderful anthology collection of stories. I know a lot of it is Guillermo del Toro-driven, but it’s also driven by these wonderful directors that he’s gotten. How did it come about for you to be a part of this project?

Crispin Glover: Well, I was just offered it, but I had also had a telephone conversation with Guillermo del Toro many years ago about a project that I would have loved to been in, but there was a scheduling issue. I respect him greatly, and I know both he and Keith had to do with the casting. I respect both of them, and it was just really a great project to be involved in. As soon as I got the offer, it was like, “Absolutely, yes. For sure.”

What was it like getting to the heart of your character for this one? Because we’ve seen you play characters with odder sensibilities, but there’s something that feels very different about this in comparison to the past.

Crispin Glover: Oh, that’s good. I’d like to know. Because unfortunately, there was some kind of miscommunication about how I was to see the film. I was maybe going to see a screening, but it didn’t happen, so I’ve actually not yet seen it. I want to see it, I’ve been told that I will see it soon. But I haven’t seen it, so what was different, I really am curious.

It really felt like there was a sense of ambiguity with your character, more than in the past when you’ve played these sinister type characters. I feel that works very well for Pickman, and his relationship with Ben’s character.

Crispin Glover: That’s great, that’s really great to hear, because I feel like there’s an ambiguity in the original H.P. Lovecraft story. That’s great that that come across, What is it that brings that ambiguity, performance-wise, specifically? I’m curious.

I feel like you never let the audience fully in on what the game is. You never give away whether you’re trying to break down Ben’s walls for malicious purposes, or just to lead him into something new.

Crispin Glover: Right, that’s great, You know, the script was well-written too, and it did have multiple ways that it could have been approached. Sometimes, scripts are very evident in what it was written to be portrayed as. Often when it’s like that, the choice that ends up having to make it, because it becomes so obvious what the page is saying to do, you kind of have to counter it in a way. This script wasn’t like that, though, it did have the ambiguity to it, and I do think that the original story had ambiguity to it. It’s different from the original story in certain ways, but I’m glad to hear that there’s an ambiguity that comes through, because I felt the original story had an ambiguity, which is part of what’s great about the original story. So that’s good, I’m glad to hear that.

It certainly made me want to go back and check out the source material just to compare. Were you a fan of Lovecraft prior to coming on to this special?

Crispin Glover: I was aware of Lovecraft, but I had never read anything of his before I read this, before I read “Pickman’s Model” for this. It was beautifully written, so yeah, this was the first time I read him.

So, it opened the door for you as well.

Crispin Glover: Yeah, I couldn’t really get out of my head, so to speak, even though this would not necessarily be suggested when reading the story. But, this is an older time period, I’m forgetting exactly what year he wrote this, but we’re getting close to 100 years ago. I don’t know the exact date he wrote the story, and of course, the settings of the story are over 100 years ago. So I was aware of something, I noticed a lot of contemporary productions, when they’re portraying an older time period, we speak differently now, we have contemporary dialects.

So I was lucky to be able to work with a very good dialect person that I asked to do a reverse engineering of that regional dialect, that wouldn’t sound like a contemporary dialect. His name’s Erik Singer, spelled with a k, he reverse engineered a dialect, and I worked with him a lot. I don’t know if that came through, but I wanted it to feel as though this was somebody speaking from that time period.

One of my questions was about finding that very Massachusetts-sounding accent.

Crispin Glover: Yeah, and that was, that was designed by Erik Singer, and he’s really good. I really had a good experience working with them.

Another thing I love is the creature design and the paintings themselves. What was your first reaction when you saw Pickman’s art as well as the creature itself?

Crispin Glover: I asked about it, and I looked at, I don’t think I saw all of the paintings that were to be by Pickman. But I think there were at least three different artists that painted the painting, and there was one selection, and I don’t think it’s in the final cut. Because when I did ADR for it, I got to see [some of] the film, this episode. I wanted very much to see if there was some way to go see a screening, but it didn’t happen before, I still want to see it. I’m just kind of waiting for that to happen and come about.

But I don’t think this group of paintings were in it when I saw the ADR the way it was covered. It looked to me like it wasn’t, but it was just some paintings of inmates in an insane asylum, and I thought they were very sensitively portrayed. But I don’t think those are in it. So, I saw the different images, I actually had more questions for Keith, the director, I had a question about — in my experience, if I look at a painting, or a photograph, or any image, a two-dimensional image that could be called disturbing, my reaction would probably be I might find it disturbing on some level, but I would not have much more of a reaction of thinking in my head,” Oh that has a disturbing aspect to it,” either because I think it was a good image or not, whatever.

But I was curious how it would be illustrated, so to speak. The disturbance was not necessarily coming from the image itself, but from something other than that. Because I haven’t seen it yet, I spoke with somebody else earlier, and I asked them about if it came off like that, they said it did, did you find that it seems to be working on multiple levels of what is disturbing, not necessarily the image itself, it’s something else?

I love the dynamic that you and Ben have as his and Pickman’s relationship evolves throughout the episode. What was that like developing that dynamic and rapport with him prior to filming?

Crispin Glover: It was good, because we had a pretty easy communication. It was evident that there were different kinds of choices that could be made, it wasn’t overly apparent as to what it should be. So, we would talk about things here and there, maybe not so much before, but during rehearsal, and as we were shooting, and then, of course, Keith was there as well. Keith had certain specific things that he wanted that sometimes were different, and sometimes very similar, and it works in a very easy and pleasant fashion all the way through. Then there was discussion, and it was calm, and pleasant, and I enjoyed it. Everything about the whole production was very nice to work on.

Well, that’s always good to hear. Before I let you go, I was also a big fan of American Gods, and I know that Neil is trying to get like a film finale made for it. Have you heard anything, or how are you feeling about possibly doing that?

Crispin Glover: I haven’t, I would love to. There were three different seasons of it, each season had a different showrunner, which, of course, that is a bit confusing, because the showrunner, is going to have a very individualized [approach to how] they write, or are in charge of the writing team. So, they’re going to have a very individualized take, and that’s going to affect very greatly what the character is going to be like. I’ve gotten into the kind of rhythm for most of my career working on films, or like this is a single episode for Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

So, I look at the script, I can kind of figure out in advance all things about the character that are going to either give a countering dynamic or a cohesive tone, dynamic with the script that exists. You can kind of juxtapose those things in your head as to what will be helpful for the final outcome, then of course, you discuss things, and things come through, and they’re happy accidents in all the norms of various art forms. But I’ve never worked on a series before, so it was an unusual challenge to have a character that was set up, and then had a different, well, writing thing underneath it. [Chuckles] Which, of course, affects all kinds of things, the cadence, the dialogue, the basic elements of what the characters needed.

It was based on a great book, I love Neil Gaiman’s original book, so it was definitely one of the reasons I wanted to do it was the end, my character has some interesting things happened at the very end, and we never got to that. We had three seasons, the original showrunners, Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, who were great, and I loved their writing, and their ideas and everything. What I was understood, what they said to me, was that it would be three seasons for the whole book, and I was expecting within three years that we would have done this kind of slow motion, interpretation of the book from Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. Then, unfortunately, that didn’t continue. All the writers they brought in were good, I didn’t have an issue with any writers at all, but just by the nature of having different people interpolating the subject matter.

Like I said, it’s a challenge, but I really hope and very much would love to finish it, because the end was a great part for my character, I really want to do it. [Laughs] So I very much hope they do something, and from what I understand, I’m not sure, I haven’t spoken with Neil Gaiman personally about it, but I think he wanted to get another entire season. I think that the financier were offering something less than a season, but that was all that I know about it, I would just like to finish it. For me personally, it wouldn’t matter if it was a whole season or just a final thing to finish the book. But then, of course, it’s Neil Gaiman’s book, so I would want him to be happy. So, I hope it happens, that would be great.

I enjoyed playing the character, and I think the original book and the concepts behind it are really beautiful. I’d love to see the whole thing come through some kind of completion, I would think it would be doable, especially if it was just not a whole season. But that might be a sticking point for some of the people, it might be that some people involved in the production want an entire season and some other people don’t. For me personally, I would just like to see the whole thing come to a conclusion so that it correlates to the book in some manner.

I know there are deviations from the book, but Neil Gaiman was the executive producer, so I’d like to believe that he was fine with that. I don’t know all the details, I wish I did, I don’t have all the information myself. But yeah, I enjoyed being in that show very much, and I would love to see some kind of proper conclusion for it someday. That’d be great, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

About Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities

In CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, acclaimed Academy Award-winning filmmaker and creator, executive producer and co-showrunner Guillermo del Toro has curated a collection of unprecedented and genre-defining stories meant to challenge our traditional notions of horror. From macabre to magical, gothic to grotesque or classically creepy, these eight equally sophisticated and sinister tales (including two original stories by del Toro) are brought to life by a team of writers and directors personally chosen by del Toro.

GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES is created and executive produced by Guillermo del Toro; executive produced by Academy Award winner J. Miles Dale (The Shape of Water; Sex/Life), who also serves as co-showrunner; and executive produced by Gary Ungar. Regina Corrado serves as co-executive producer. Del Toro also serves as host.

Check out our other Cabinet of Curiosities interviews here:

Ana Lily Amirpour Keith Thomas Vincenzo Natali Ben Barnes