Nothing childish about Donald Glover
LOS ANGELES—Donald Glover is on fire. As Childish Gambino, he scored his first No. 1 with “This Is America.” The music video for that song, while sparking debates and is disturbing to some people, is hailed as one of the best music videos so far in 2018.
And people are loving him as Lando Calrissian, who was originally played by Billy Dee Williams in the earlier “Star Wars” films, in “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” In fact, Donald will star in a Lando Calrissian/“Star Wars” spinoff movie. And his Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning comedy series “Atlanta’s” Season Two managed to be as riveting as Season One.
At 34, Donald is a renaissance man of sorts of the 21st century. He’s all of the following, and good at each: actor, comedian, writer, director, producer, singer, composer, rapper and DJ.
He has two young sons with his partner, Michelle.
Excerpts from the interview:
What does your music video for “This Is America” mean to you? I am sorry, I can’t divulge what it means to me. Not that it would ruin it. But anybody who makes anything wants it to be a global thing and I do think this is the first time you can actually make something from the ground up. All these countries are going through the exact same thing at the exact same time.
This is the first time you can make a statement and say, this is America and everybody says, yeah, you are talking about us too, that all happens to us, which is important. So I can’t really explain the video or the song, but I love hearing what other people have to say because that is what it is.
How important was “Star Wars” to you when you were growing up? It was pretty important. My father imprinted it on me. I knew the stories probably better than the Bible (laughs). Early on, my dad gave me a Lando toy. I had a Darth Vader toy. I bit the lightsaber toy off and tried to give it to Lando. It’s a classic story, so it helped a lot with the way I learn stories and what was important. It was pretty pivotal.
When you landed the role, did you call your father right away? I immediately called my dad. Even though I wasn’t allowed to tell anybody. They were like, “Do not tell anybody. It’s top secret.” I was like, “Absolutely.” It was like a dream. It feels very full circle to see my son play “Star Wars” toys with me (laughs).
What other perks came with landing the role of Lando? They sent me a Millennium Falcon and my own Lando action figure, which I gave to my son. That was great. As he gets older, I will introduce the bigger ones, but right now, he has the plush one and the big head one. And there’s an overcoat that I wear in the film, like a big fur coat and they had extra material. So they made a pillow out of it and gave it to me. So now it’s in my house. It’s really nice.
Lando is more on the light side. Do you identify with that? I definitely consider myself sort of a charmer. Lando understands that everybody likes to be wanted. That is a natural part of it. Han is like a cowboy, who will come in and be like, this is my way or the highway kind of brash, which is cool and sexy in one way. But Lando is like, you can get a lot more flies with honey. You can get more done with people just wanting to do it and I think he’s a lot more political.
That’s true. It was cool to play a character who was considered smooth and sexy. Unless I write a character like that for myself (laughs), I never get to do that—play a character where that is all you are supposed to be.
Since Season One of “Atlanta” was so successful, how did you approach Season Two? With Season Two, you want to make sure to avoid that sophomoric slump. You try to show people that it wasn’t a mistake. I am so happy that people have been like, oh, this is the best show on television. But with the second season, it’s been hard because people expect more. It’s easy to come out of the gate when people don’t know what to expect.
And the second season was darker, but it was also important to us to show that we could do that. The third season will be our pop season. I feel like that is where you go at that point. You do something new, you grow, then you show everybody how big you can be, what is the biggest and most accessible version of that. That is what Season Three would be.
Are you by nature reserved? No, I have learned that it’s a survival tactic (laughs). You don’t want to be the guy that goes, “Ahhh!” and then people are like, “I hate that guy.” I have just learned to be gracious. None of this had to happen—me winning things and making a hit song.
So, it humbles me to remember that this is all a dream, essentially, and I am fortunate enough to believe in the dream and share it with people. As much as it happened, it also couldn’t have happened, so it really humbles me.
You were raised by your parents as a Jehovah’s Witness. Are you still one? You can probably look at my work and tell that I am not (laughs). My mother will tell you that I am not. But they are and they’re very respectful and loving of my work. They understand that is just something inside of me that I need to explore, which I appreciate of them as parents.
It was in their nature to teach me early on—you don’t deserve anything (laughs), you don’t deserve any of this. We are all just born, and you are in the world. Some people have good parents and some people don’t. It’s not anyone’s fault and we’re all kind of children out here, so you don’t really deserve anything.
Maybe that has to do with being black in America too, like I feel like I don’t deserve. Not that anybody is going to give anything to you. I was taught that humble nature through experience.
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