Overheard at a recent matinee of "Love! Valour! Compassion!" at New York's Walter Kerr Theatre: "Wait until you see John Glover. You will see a performance this afternoon that's sure to win the Tony. . . . Glover gives a performance in this that will make you believe in the theater again."
When these remarks are quoted to the Maryland-bred actor the next morning, he gives a little laugh and says, "I hope he's right."
If Glover sounds less than certain of his chances of winning, it may be because modesty is part of his personality, according to C. Richard Gillespie, his former professor at Towson State University. In 1966, Glover became the first student to graduate from Towson with a theater major. "There's no conceit in him whatsoever. He's very shy," Gillespie says.
At age 50, tall, handsome, self-effacing Glover has a slew of movie, television and stage credits, as well as a Drama Desk Award and five Emmy nominations. But this is his first Tony nomination, and it's for a tour-de-force performance.
"It's one of the best roles I've ever had," Glover says. "It's an actor's dream, this role. I'm very lucky."
To be specific, the role is two roles. Terrence McNally's play is about eight gay men who spend three holiday weekends at a house in upstate New York. Glover plays two of the men -- a pair of British twins.
John Jeckyll is a mean-spirited musical theater composer and pianist, universally disliked by the other house guests. His kind, sweet brother, James, works in the costume department of the Royal National Theatre and is dying of AIDS. "James the Fair and John the Foul," is the way one character describes them. In one remarkably subtle scene near the end of the play, Glover actually portrays both brothers at once.
As dissimilar as the twins are, Glover insists, "They're both me. I use, in creating the characters, parts of me. The insecure, frightened part of me becomes John Jeckyll, and then the part of me that loves people and wants to be with them and have fun with people becomes James."
Although evil John Jeckyll may seem a long way from the gracious actor whom professor Gillespie calls "genuine," "nice" and "unaffected," Glover has portrayed so many villains in his career he once kidded that he was a member of "Villains Anonymous." TV and movie audiences have seen him as the sleazy blackmailer in the 1986 film version of Elmore Leonard's novel "52 Pick-Up"; as the father who set his son on fire in the 1988 TV movie "David"; and as an assassin for a white supremacist group in the 1992 NBC miniseries "Grass Roots."
His mother, Cade Glover -- who still lives in Salisbury, where the actor grew up -- says when she watches him in these bad-guy roles, "Sometimes you want to take him and shake him."
But his ability to portray villains, combined with his mild temperament, may explain why playwright McNally wrote the dual roles of John and James Jeckyll specifically for Glover. The only other time Glover has had a role created just for him was when he played Cousin Mike from Baltimore in the sitcom "The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd."
Glover perfected Cousin Mike's Bawlamer accent during his years at what was then called Towson State Teachers College. He had entered college intending to become an English teacher, but he admits, "I was terrified of the prospect of having to stand in front of a class and impart knowledge."
Changing his major to theater might not seem a logical choice for someone afraid of addressing a class, but his mother wasn't entirely surprised. "When he was just a little tyke, as I called him, he was interested in acting, I could tell," she says. "I bought him a lot of puppets, and then he had a little lighted stage, and he gave little puppet shows."
During Glover's college years, his parents' encouragement took the form of helping him get an apprenticeship at the Barter
Theatre in Abingdon, Va., 50 miles from his mother's hometown. His father, Jack, a retired wholesale appliance salesman, says: "We thought he was down there as an apprentice, and we were paying his way. Then friends of my wife would say, 'Well, John had a part in this play down there.' So we thought we'd better run down and visit the family and see what he was doing, and he did pretty well."
Immediately after graduation, his father continues, his son boarded a bus for New York to launch his career. And though that career has been a full one, Glover has never forgotten the lessons he learned at Towson State. Three years ago, he established a scholarship there in his name. A year later, he returned for a week to teach a class in auditioning. He acknowledges that, as he once feared, he was terrified of teaching. "But once I got started," he says, "I had a great time, and I think they did, too."
Gillespie agrees: "What he did with those kids was extraordinary. Everyone blossomed under it." The professor says he was especially pleased to hear his former student reaffirming the philosophy he learned in college.
"[Towson] put me on a road that was about the process of acting and having a life in the theater, as opposed to trying to reach some kind of fame or wealth," Glover explains. "Acting is the important thing. . . . I get off on acting. That's when I'm happiest."