WHEN SCOTT GLENN WAS A KID IN SUBURBAN Pittsburgh, he nearly died of scarlet fever. The 9-year-old was forced to lie quarantined in a darkened room for a year, unable even to read, because the disease made him overly sensitive to light. “You learn to live in your imagination quite a bit,” the actor recalls of his ordeal. “Before, I was a kid who liked flowers and poetry, but afterward I became psychotic about being in shape. I promised myself that I would make my fantasies come true.”
Sinewy and knife-lean at 49, the brown-haired, green-eyed Glenn has kept his childhood promise. He brings a measured intensity to his life and his work. A fanatical skier and novice sky diver, he has acquired a growing reputation for playing committed, physical characters who push the envelope of obsession: among them, astronaut Alan Shepard in The Right Stuff, the steely U.S. submarine commander in The Hunt for Red October and the FBI investigator Jack Crawford in The Silence of the Lambs. “Scott’s an adrenaline junkie,” says longtime actor friend Gary Busey, who worked with Glenn in the 1991 rodeo drama My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys. “He lives on it.”
In his latest role, Glenn battles one inferno after another as obsessed firefighter John Adcox in director Ron Howard’s summer sizzler, Backdraft. After training with the Chicago Fire Department, Glenn got burned working with the film’s spectacular—and potentially dangerous—special effects. “I don’t think anyone has worked as closely to fire as we did,” says the actor, relaxing in the rustic living room of his spacious log-cabin home in Ketchum, Idaho. “I had scars and blisters across the hairline and on my eyelids.” Even better than working with Robert De Niro, Kurt Russell and William Baldwin was having his name run in the credits with the stunt crew. Says Glenn: “That’s really an honor.”
At home, the unpretentious Glenn lives a less perilous existence with his wife, Carol, an artist and potter, and their daughters, Dakota, 20, and Rio, 17 (when they’re not away at college and prep school in the East). In Ketchum, Glenn helps Carol around the studio. The ex—fashion model taught neighbor Demi Moore how to use a potter’s wheel for the famous scene in Ghost. Glenn credits his wife—whom he calls “the sexiest woman I know”—with keeping him down-to-earth and happy. “His business keeps him traveling so much,” adds the Brooklyn-born Carol, “that our relationship is always fresh. We’re not together every minute of our lives.”
Scott has traveled a zigzag path from Pittsburgh to Ketchum. The eldest of three children born to Theodore Glenn, a Snap-on Tools executive, and his wife, Elizabeth, a homemaker (sister Bonnie is a homemaker with six kids; brother Terry is a Merrill Lynch executive), Glenn majored in English at William and Mary, intent on becoming a writer. After graduating, he joined the Marines for the experience and then bounced to newspaper reporting. He finally ended up in New York City to study acting as a way to sharpen his ear for dialogue and discovered that he liked working in front of the camera.
After meeting Carol on a date in 1967, a smitten Glenn pursued her to Paris when she left for the spring fashion shows. They married within a year and moved to California in 1970. But Hollywood didn’t warm up to Glenn as quickly as Carol did. He finally moved the family to Ketchum in 1978, convinced that his stalled career couldn’t do any worse with a change of scene. Since then, he has landed a string of plum roles.
Living with one foot in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and the other on a Hollywood soundstage seems to suit Glenn. “Whenever I’ve tried to take conscious control of my life and career,” he says, “it’s gone straight into the toilet. I think for me the idea is to jump as high in the air as I can and see which way the wind blows me.”
ROBIN MICHELL in Ketchum