STACK chats with Charlayne Woodard, who reprises her role of mother to Samuel L. Jackson’s enigmatic Elijah Price in Glass – the third film in M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero-thriller trilogy.
If you don’t recognise Charlayne Woodard’s name there’s a very good chance that you would recognise her face… or would you? As Mrs. Price, the mother of Elijah in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable and it’s second sequel Glass, she plays a character who is almost twice her actual age and is, in reality, five years younger than Samuel L. Jackson himself. And having come from a successful theatre background she is a seasoned pro when it comes to being aged upwards and down.
“I do this all the time.” Woodard tells STACK. “The biggest difference between Unbreakable and Glass is that my skin was younger and resistant to the old-lady wrinkle makeup on the first movie,” she reveals with a cheeky amusement. “But now that I’m older there’s much more of it for the makeup artists to work with.”
Affectionately referred to as ‘The East Rail Trilogy’, which was named after the infamous train derailment in Unbreakable, there was a gobsmacking 18-years between that original film and the final instalment, and despite rumours at the time of it being turned into a franchise, it would be 16 years before those suspicions would become a reality.
“It was after Split had been released that I first found out about Glass.” Woodard recalls. “M. Night called me out of the blue and asked if I had seen the film. I said that I hadn’t and he told me to watch it. I did and I was blown away.”
Split (2016) was a devious and unsuspecting film, which upon release marked the return of a master. Previously, following a string of poorly received films, Shyamalan bounced back on to the scene with a self-funded low budget chiller called The Visit (2015), and with the audience back in his favour, he seized the opportunity to expand his subversive superhero film from 2000 into a series.
Split introduced audiences to James McAvoy’s character of Kevin Wendell Crumb, a disturbed young man who suffers dissociative identity disorder and has his split personalities bandied amongst 23 prominent identities. Woodard recalls watching the film, knowing that she was on call for a third instalment.
“It was such an amazing performance and I was really blown away by it. And when it got to that end scene, and there was Bruce Willis, it all fell into place and made sense.”
Working alongside McAvoy on the set of Glass, she reveals, “There was no augmentation or trickery whatsoever. The camera didn’t stop and he switched between all of those characters before your eyes, just as you see it on the screen.”
Having enjoyed an award-winning career on the stage, Woodard is no stranger to alternating style and method in one-take, and it was actually McAvoy’s physicality that blew her away the most. “James switched between those characters so well, but he went to great lengths to build up his body. That was impressive.”
The star of the film is Mr. Glass himself, Samuel L Jackson, and Woodard reflects on his long-serving role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and whether or not it informed Glass’s overriding narrative.
“To be honest I’m not really into superhero movies. They’re not my thing. But Sam did take everyone to see one of the Marvel movies at the time and that was a whole lot of fun.” And while she doesn’t reveal which Marvel movie they saw, she does make a point of noting how much she enjoyed Black Panther.
“Glass is much more of an anti-superhero movie,” she notes. “It’s not like those big blockbuster movies, and it goes a lot deeper. Although having said that, did you see the finale? That’s classic superhero stuff.”
In addition to Jackson and Willis, one of the most unexpected return players was Spencer Trent Clark, who had previously played Willis’s son in Unbreakable. “To have known Spencer as a boy in the first film and then see him again at the very same age M. Night was when he made that movie, was very special and unique,” Woodard recalls.
In what is one of the most talked about aspects of the film, Shyamalan utilises a variety of methods to revisit Unbreakable without ever resorting to recycled scenes.
“You know when Unbreakable came out I was really disappointed because so much of what we shot never ended up in the film,” says Woodard. “The scene where the young Elijah is thrown about in the carnival ride, breaking every bone in his body, is just gut wrenching stuff. I was delighted to see so much old footage restored, and it turns out to have so much more meaning now.”
With Unbreakable being made at the cusp of the superhero revival, the series has endured the DC and Marvel domination without wavering, and with the genre being so ingrained into modern pop culture, it brings together two very impassioned fan-bases; the comic book fans and the Shyamalan junkies. But which of the two has influenced Unbreakable’s trajectory the most over the years?
“I think that the Shyamalan fans follow him no matter what,” says Woodard. “They are fans of his mind and the way he tells stories, more so than the superhero factor. But M. Night isn’t easily influenced. He has a very clear vision with whatever film he is making.”
There is no doubt about that. M. Night Shyamalan is a pop-cultural auteur whose brand is instantly identifiable and has its legions of devoted fans. It’s been a long and winding road and Glass brings his Unbreakable story full circle, with maximum impact. But can he resist the temptation of taking it even further?
“Who knows if there will be any more? Maybe I will get a call from M. Night 18 years from now,” Woodard says with a giggle. “One thing is for sure… that is a call I will always take!”