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Donald Glover on ‘Solo’ Director Drama and What It’s Like to Play an Icon

Donald Glover is ubiquitous lately. In the weeks leading up to the release of “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” which finds the 34-year-old multi-hyphenate slipping into the cape as a young Lando Calrissian, he hosted an episode of “Saturday Night Live,” dropped a provocative single and music video (“This Is America”) and wrapped up the second season of his award-winning FX series “Atlanta.”

It’s all of a piece with an artist who is most at ease with a full schedule. “I think the best part about doing a lot of things is you’re never desperate,” he says. “It’s never like, ‘Oh, I really wanted that.’”

That disposition would come in handy on “Solo,” which weathered the unusual circumstance of switching directors midstream, as Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were removed from the production four months in and replaced by veteran Ron Howard. Glover sat down with Variety to discuss the troubled shoot, taking on the role of a beloved icon and what “Star Wars” means in the spectrum of his recent creative output.

You’re really tapping into a pulse lately with “Atlanta” and “This Is America.” Where does something like “Star Wars” fit into that for you? What does it mean to black culture?
I feel like I’m not qualified to answer that. Black culture — there are different thoughts on everything. It’s not a monolith. There’s always a discussion. Culture is a discussion that we’re having with ourselves. All these things are discussions. What I like about this “Star Wars” specifically is it is real on some level. I love that there are rich people and poor people [in this movie]. That’s so pivotal. It’s so important for children to make the connection that, yeah, in order for them to have that, that has to exist. There’s the high and the low, and there are things at play to keep it that way. It’s so great to me that Han comes into this naive. He didn’t always shoot first. I love that, and I think it makes a lot of sense with the stuff I’m making right now. You want to tell that story and make sure it’s reactive with what’s happening.

Have you talked to Billy Dee Williams since he saw the movie?
Yeah, he texted me.

What did he think?
He said, “Good job.” I was really surprised. I didn’t ask for it. If he hated it, I’d just rather not know.

He didn’t have much advice for you at the beginning, right? Just “Be Lando.”
Just be charming. Which was perfect. It really made it super simplified. With playing a character that’s already established, there’s a fear of overthinking and comparing yourself. To be able to just go, “Be charming,” it’s really helpful, actually.

The voice must have been fun.
Oh yeah. Just doing it at home was awesome. You can get anything done with a Lando voice.

Was the transition to a different director difficult for you?
It was unexpected but not difficult. We got three great directors for the price of one, and I got to see the difference. I’ve never been in a movie this big. I’ve gotten to work with big directors, you know, Ridley Scott. But getting to see how it’s done from two different styles was super unique. On the same movie? Never happens. So I just soaked that up. I was just like, “I know this is not ideal, but now there’s a control in this experiment. This probably won’t ever happen to you again, so pay attention.” It was weirdly beneficial — not to belittle the seriousness of the situation. I think there was honestly a miscommunication in the artistic vision.

What was morale like in that moment?
Everybody was just kind of shocked. I was not expecting that call at all. I was at home; I got the call and it was like, “We’re going to take a small hiatus.” And I was just shocked. You just want to know what’s going to happen, because it’s such a big ship and everything is new to you.

Donald Glover Lando Calrissian Star Wars Ron Howard
CREDIT: John Wilson /Lucasfilm Ltd.

Were you or the rest of the cast aware of any tensions?
I really wasn’t aware. I felt like the youngest child in a divorce. Maybe something would poke out that there was a disagreement, but I had never been on a movie this big, so I was like, “Yeah, maybe people disagree when there’s millions of dollars at stake. Who knew?”

Speaking of “Atlanta,” are Earn and Paper Boi “Star Wars” fans?
Absolutely. I really feel like they would be. I don’t know for sure, but it feels like they would be.

Maybe you can work something in there for Season 3.
[Laughs] We’ll see. It’s kind of unsaid, probably. I mean I’m sure they’re big “Star Wars” fans. That’s the thing. It’s a movie that just speaks to all that stuff, so they’re probably there.

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