Donald Glover on Not Repeating Himself, and How ‘Atlanta’ Viewers Will Help Shape Season 2

'People don’t know what they want until you give it to them'

Headshot of Jason Lynch

As the cover subject for Adweek's Young Influentials issue this week, Donald Glover talked about his hit new FX comedy Atlanta, which he created and stars in. But Glover had far more to say about the process and Atlanta's future (FX has already picked it up for Season 2). Here are some of the best moments from the interview that didn't make it into the story:

He's looking for Google-size ideas

Glover doesn't set out to make entertainment that he's certain people will want to watch. "To be honest, people don't know what they want until you give it to them," he said. "People didn't know that Google was going to be Google until Google was there and they're like, 'Oh yeah, that's something I always wanted.' I prefer to try and make that. I'm not going to give people what I know they like."

That rules out anything along the lines of NBC's Community, in which Glover broke out as Troy. When his sketch comedy group, Derrick Comedy, had a viral hit in 2006 with their sketch Bro Rape, "I remember all the comments were like, 'Make Bro Rape 2!' We all used to look at each other, like, 'Why would we ever do that?' It undermines the point of the sketch, and it undermines the audience.

"A lot of the internet is just asking you to put them on this slow methadone drip of your work. They want you to just keep giving them the same thing over and over again. And I get it—I understand there's definitely money in it, but as an artist, I don't believe in that."

If people want more Community, Glover said, "they can always go back and buy those DVDs and feel that way."

Making Atlanta more like real life

Glover admitted in the Young Influentials profile that he "Trojan-horsed" his pitch for Atlanta, which is much more than just the story of two cousins trying to make it in the Atlanta rap scene.

"We have the answers to everything—the answers are on all phone all the time—so the things that are interesting to us are really the things that feel different from everything," he said. "Giving Atlanta a dreamy aspect is really just us playing with the fact that if you're living your life honestly, sometimes you don't have the answer. If you want the answer, yeah, you can look it up on your phone. But that's not real life. So we just wanted to make it feel more like real life."

Reluctant director

Many actors say that what they really want to do is direct. Not Glover, though he did make his directorial debut on Atlanta with two episodes this season, including Tuesday night's. "I never really wanted to direct," he said. "It was something that I felt was better left to someone else. I felt more comfortable in things or writing them or giving critiques on them. Directing was really scary the first couple of days."

Especially when he wrapped early.

"The first two days I directed, we ended early, and I was like, 'Something must be wrong. I ended early. I must be forgetting something!'" said Glover, who leaned on the people around him, including director of photography Christian Sprenger. "He's a phenomenal [director of photography]. And I feel like if you're a director and you trust your DP, then you're always going to get good stuff."

Still, Glover was worried about the first episode, which focused on Van, his character's roommate, sometime girlfriend and mother of his child, played by Zazie Beetz. "I was really trying to get a black woman's perspective in Atlanta a little bit—and not being a black woman, that's going to be kind of hard," he said, laughing. "So I relied on her and Christian, whose eye is very good for expressions. I feel like once you do that, and you have trust in your like actors and people around you, it's really not that hard. You just need to have a vision."

Thoughts on Season 2

FX has already picked up Atlanta for a second season, and while some creators have multiyear plans for their shows carved in stone, Glover, who has always been more concerned with perfecting Atlanta's tone than its story, is going to wait and see how Season 1 is received before making any big decisions about Season 2.

"I don't want to sit there and be like, 'Oh, I don't care what the audience thinks.' It does matter to me. I just want them to think, to be honest. I want them to think about it," he said. "I think Season 2 will be affected by how people take in the food we're giving them, essentially. I don't know what that means, but I want to see how it all fits with them. Because I think that's part of our making art is that we're in this together. It's a dance, really."

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.
Publish date: October 5, 2016 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT