In a Q&A “interview” with himself, Atlanta creator and star Donald Glover spoke about his frustrations with comparisons between his show and fellow FX series Dave, creative differences with Phoebe Waller-Bridge on a Mr. and Mrs. Smith reboot, and whether he regrets his largely critically panned album Camp.
Glover, who admitted he doesn’t “love” interviews at the start of the article, asked himself questions and gave himself answers for Interview magazine, offering rare insight into his worldview and creative process.
"I think part of it is that the questions are usually the same. This way I can get questions I usually don’t get asked," the 34-year-old multi-hyphenate said. "I don’t think it’s more contrived than any other interview."
Among the topics he dug into are his widely misconstrued comments about “canceling,” how he feels about Dave Chappelle and Joe Rogan, and his likening of Atlanta to The Sopranos. Glover also addressed accusations that he’s become “pretentious” following the success of his show, now airing its third season.
Check out our biggest takeaways from the truly one-on-one conversation below.
Speaking on who he models his career after, Glover offered up an interesting response.
“Willy Wonka. That’s the world I like. You have a factory, you make something, put it out, and then close shop to the public for a while.”
It’s easy to see how this comes across in his output, as he often disappears from the public eye until releasing multiple projects close together. He hasn’t appeared in a movie since his voice work in 2019’s The Lion King, but two seasons of Atlanta and the first season of Mr. and Mrs. Smith are arriving this year.
In 2018, Glover was among a list of potential stars for the Wonka prequel movie. Other actors included Ryan Gosling and Ezra Miller, but ultimately the role went to Timothée Chalamet.
Weighing whether he’s worried about getting “canceled,” Glover acknowledged that people can have their careers ruined in moments. He did not, however, express much in the way of anxiety at the thought of facing such a “cancellation” online.
“A lot of people out here are celebrities. So their value is in people liking them. I believe my value is in my vision. So I have to make something good enough and just be human. You can get torn apart for anything, true or not,” he said. As for “cancel culture,” he simply said, “Yuck. Can we not? I just … Ew.”
The actor/writer/musician/director/producer appeared to address his 2021 comments about “boring” TV and film, when he said “people are afraid of getting canceled.” Some misconstrued his remarks as about “cancel culture,” rather than a TV show facing the threat of cancellation.
“That wasn’t about cancel culture,” he said. Just prior, he revealed he’s been “rapping a lot” and making new music. He said he’s got a few features on the way, and instead of revealing who they’re with, he teased that one guest verse he recently recorded probably won’t come out. “I did one that I don’t think is gonna come out. I think the artist, or the artist’s management, thinks the verse is too controversial.”
In 2018, psychologist and community activist Dr. Umar Johnson suggested that Glover’s Childish Gambino video for “This Is America” had “powerful metaphors” which he contradicted by having children with a woman who isn’t Black. “He has a right to discuss the Black experience but wanting to have that experience with a white woman clearly says he doesn’t value it enough,” said Johnson.
In his new response, Glover said, “I think he has some interesting ideas, but I disagree with him on that one.” He suggested it’s “interesting to separate marriage as a political act,” which led him to add, “But then where does it end? How would I know if something’s for me if it’s all a political act?”
From there, Donald reflected on accusations he’s faced in the past about his relationship with Black women. “I feel like your relationship to them has played a big part in your narrative,” was one question he posted for himself. “I feel like you’re using Black women to question my Blackness,” he retorted. He said that ultimately he dislikes talking about race for “more than five minutes unless it’s with other Black people and/or we’re laughing.”
Asked if he thinks “‘Black’ has lost its value,” he said, “I definitely think it’s diluted in the marketplace. Because everyone can do it and it doesn’t have to be authentic. It happens every 10 to 15 years. I think we’re at the tail end of it now, though. ... I think just focus on your perspective, not your 'Blackness.'"
He said he doesn’t want his kids to focus on their racial identity too much “in some ways,” but also doesn’t want “them to be the light-skin kid saying, ‘I don’t see color.’”
Touching on Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s exit from his Mr. and Mrs. Smith series for Amazon, he went with, “Classic creative differences.” When the news was revealed in August 2021, the Hollywood Reporter called it an “amicable split.”
And are the Solo: A Star Wars Story co-stars still friends? “What does it mean to be a friend? I still like her. I assume she still likes me.” Maya Erskine, best known for PEN15, is now playing Mrs. Smith across Glover, and he said he’s almost done writing the full season.
Ruminating on the current state of affairs on the internet, which has only gotten noisier and more annoying in recent years, Glover asked himself to share thoughts on Joe Rogan, Dave Chappelle, China, and ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery).
“Jesus. Choose one,” he said. “I’ll answer them all: You are who you are.”
After dodging his own query, he circled back to the topic when talking about how criticism is handled on the internet. “A lot of people believe both of them [Rogan and Chappelle] are doing what they do in good faith. It’s not cynical. It’s not CNN or Fox,” he said of the comics, who have both had their share of controversies. “It doesn’t feel to most people like they’re trying to sell something. People are looking for other people to interact with in good faith. Because a lot of this rage is artificial. People have emotional diabetes and don’t even know it.”
Earlier this month, Glover shared a tweet in which he told critics to address him directly. “Be brave wicha blue check,” he wrote. In Interview he directly hit on how he feels about criticism, and specifically how he remembers he wasn’t always met with praise prior to Atlanta and “Awaken, My Love!”
“I liked it more when Camp just came out and it felt like everyone hated me. Because there’d be some actual good insight and it was easier to see who was dealing with their own identity problems, who really hated me, and who just didn’t like me because I didn’t dislike myself,” he said. “You can’t believe the good or bad stuff now because it’s all just the economy around you. There’s money and clout in loving and hating you. You have to sift through and try and see if someone is debating in good faith.”
He admitted criticism is a “big engine” in his career, which echoes recent comments he made about creating the “Redbone”-featuring “Awaken” out of pettiness. Camp was critically panned in a way few of his other projects have been, infamously getting a 1.6 out of 10 from Pitchfork—but he doesn’t regret the record at all.
“I like parts of that album and I learned so much. Mostly that concept doesn’t outshine content,” he said. “I don’t think I was clear on that album, and the songs weren’t catchy enough for me. Made it feel like novelty. Because I wouldn’t bop any of the songs in the car now. Maybe a couple of the hooks. But it allowed me to make Because the Internet, which I think has proven itself to be a classic.”
He went on to compare BTI to Radiohead’s landmark OK Computer, pointing out (correctly) that it’s “extremely influential” but, hopefully incorrectly, “no one’s gonna give me that until I’m dead.”
Last year, Glover shared a pair of tweets in which he suggested he wasn’t feeling how people have compared Lil Dicky’s Dave to Atlanta, and now he’s clarified he likes the series but not the discourse.
“I like that show. But it does bother me when Atlanta’s compared to it,” he said. “You have to think of it like food. … Although I do feel like the flavor is artificial in some sense. The organic show should be about a white rapper who’s more successful than his Black peers from the jump. Because he’s more accessible. But what he actually wants is to be part of the culture, but his success keeps him from that and a lot of his Black peers and friends resent him for it but also feel like they have to fuck with him because it’s good for them. That’s the internal struggle I see."
He suggested that’s what his take on Dave really is. “It’s sadder,” he added, before making it clear that he thinks Dave should very much be its own show. “It should be what it is. Like, people think I’m pretentious. I can be a snob. But I think in entertainment or art it’s important to know the difference between things. Like, Anthony Bourdain wasn’t pretentious, but he definitely knew the difference between a dry aged wagyu and a smash burger. ... They're just different experiences. And I wouldn't want to have either every day. But I would never confuse the two. I expect the same of my audience."
Donald doesn’t think this is too much to ask of his audience, either, and said it’s important to highlight the differences in art and media. "You’re not helping them if they think they’ve made a ‘sophisticated’ beef patty and it’s really a homemade tuna sandwich. Again, both can be good," he said. Glover went on to compare Dave to “a good burger you should eat fast because the ingredients are fresh,” but one from a guy “who didn’t study at a culinary school, but paid close attention to other burger spots and has the plug on good ingredients.”
As for what food he thinks Atlanta is, he emphasized it’s gourmet stuff. "Atlanta is osso buco served with risotto, prepared by a chef who studied in New York City, spent five years on the road, worked at a Michelin star spot for three years, and used the money to buy a small farm."
After likening Atlanta and Dave to foods, he took a moment to make a comparison for Euphoria.
“A really good butterflied chicken in the restaurant attached to an old hotel having a resurgence,” Glover said of the Zendaya-starring show. “It tastes really good and you feel guilty eating it because it’s got foie gras. But after going there for six months, you realize you always leave a little hungry.”
Asked if he enjoys the show, he added, “I do, for what it is.” Then he evoked Suge Knight’s infamous quote from 1995 Source Awards: “I do think it’s time for Zendaya to choose up and leave [Euphoria creator Sam Levinson] to come to Death Row.”
When he pressed himself for his biggest fear, Glover said, “Losing my mother.”
The famously private creative said her death isn’t what terrifies him, but rather how strongly he loves her. “I’m just in love with her right now,” he said. “It brings me a lot of joy to give her joy. Our relationship now is something I’ve never known. I get to be the caretaker. She’s teaching me how to be old. I think I’m seeing her as a woman and not my mom for the first time."
Back in 2020, long before Season 3 of Atlanta started airing, Glover teased that the next two seasons might be the team’s best work yet. "Atlanta s3+s4 are going to be some of the best television ever made," he tweeted. "Sopranos only ones who can touch us." He’s not been shy about comparing the show to some of the greats in the past, saying he wanted it to be “Twin Peaks with rappers” back in 2016.
He remains confident that Atlanta Seasons 3 and 4 are among the greatest TV ever created.
“One hundred percent,” he said about whether he stands by his flex. “Season three is really good, but season four is even better. Me and Hiro talk about it a lot. I’m not saying this to be pompous. I’m saying that because we deserve it."
Glover stressed that “the people” need to be aware of just how good Atlanta is. “This is high-end shit,” he said. “Even if you don’t like it, you can’t say it’s not high quality. The quality is undeniable."
Enjoy Donald Glover’s complete conversation with Donald Glover at Interview, and check out more of photographer Tyler Mitchell’s shots for the magazine piece below: