Scott Glenn Breaks Down Kevin Senior’s Epic Episode

The actor behind Kevin Garvey, Sr. discusses his big episode, and making the most of a digeridoo, dancing, and filming Down Under. 

HBO: “Crazy Whitefella Thinking” is an amazing episode for your character. What was your first impression when you read the script? 

Scott Glenn: I thought [series co-creator] Damon Lindelof had given me one of the greatest gifts of my life. The part is so unpredictable—it would jump from raw emotion to laugh-out-loud funny. It remains one of the best acting experiences I’ve ever had.

HBO: How did you prepare for the episode?

Scott Glenn: Before I got the script, I asked Damon for something to work with. Damon said, "Read Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines; do as much research as you can on 'clever men,' 'clever women' and the indigenous people of Australia; get a didgeridoo and learn to play it." I live in Idaho, and within a few minutes I can get out into some of the biggest [land] preserves in the lower 48 states. I did a lot of hiking, and paid attention to where I was, the sounds of the birds, and the feeling of the land. 

I got the script around three weeks before we went to Australia. I learned the whole thing like a play including the scene with David [Gulpilil, who plays Christopher Sunday], which Damon said is probably the longest monologue he’s ever written. Luckily, at the same time I was reading this book by Karen Pryor called Don’t Shoot the Dog! about operant conditioning. She advocates using positive reinforcement not only to train animals, but to train your partner—or yourself. When I got the script, I took Pryor’s suggestion on how to memorize long pieces of dialogue: Start at the end and memorize to the beginning—that way, you’ll be entering more and more familiar territory as you move towards the end. She was right. 

HBO: What was it like filming in the Australian outback?

Scott Glenn: There was no acclimatization to being on the other side of the international date line. Within a few days of arriving in Melbourne, we were on a plane to Broken Hill, which is a different time zone. That afternoon, I was singing, dancing, and playing didgeridoos with the indigenous people, and being part of the oldest, continuous culture on the earth. These people have been out there for 150,000 years. It’s almost impossible to wrap your mind around something like that. The next day, we were shooting.

HBO: What can you tell us about the scene where Kevin, Sr. performs the indigenous dance?

Scott Glenn: Everyone who went to set, including the crew, had to go through a cleansing ceremony with chanting and smoke. I learned the dance from the indigenous people. Before filming, one of the older guys I had become friends with said, “Leave yourself alone. You’ve watched us, but let it move you. If you feel like becoming an animal, become an animal. If you want to become your totem, become your totem.” 

I had learned enough of the language phonetically to know what I wanted to sing. I had on the headphones, and turned it up so loud that I couldn’t hear myself—I wanted it to be raw. Then I started with my clap stick finding the rhythm. I left myself alone. When I finished the dance for the first time, one of the elders came over, kissed me on the cheek and said, “Well done, brother.” It made me feel so good. 

Also [director] Mimi [Leder] helped me a lot.

HBO: What was her advice?

Scott Glenn: She said, “It’s really cold out there and you’re going to essentially be naked. I can’t tell you how to do this, but is there anything I can do to help you?”  I said, “Yeah a bottle of Don Julio 1942.” I said it jokingly, but when I got to my dressing room that night, guess what was sitting on my table, staring me in the face? 

HBO: Does Kevin Sr. feel any guilt over Sunday’s death?

Scott Glenn: I don’t know if guilt is the right word; I think pain is a better word. Pain that it feels unavoidable. 

HBO: You have a cameo in Season 2, Episode 8 “International Assassin.” Did you know at the time what part you would play in the larger story?

Scott Glenn: No. Later, I thought back on my first conversation with Damon before I went to New York for the first season. I asked him to tell me about Kevin, Sr. He said there are three types of prophets: "false prophets, crazy prophets, and real prophets; you’re a real prophet." He said, “If there is one you want to think about, think about Moses. I think your character is going to go on some type of walkabout.” 

He said that three years ago before I went to New York for Episode 1. You realize that in Damon’s twisted mind he knew what he was doing and where it was going all along. 

HBO: Can you give us a clue about what the rest of the series holds for Kevin Sr.?

Scott Glenn: Life ain’t going to get easier. 

More from “Crazy Whitefella Thinking”

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