Interview: 'Red' Actor John Malkovich
Somehow in 10 years of journalism, I’d always just missed John Malkovich until now. I’d grown up watching In the Line of Fire and Con Air, but since going pro, never got to talk to him about Being John Malkovich, Color Me Kubrick or Burn After Reading. For my first ever interview with the screen legend, I would receive a phone call with that familiar, mellow/menacing cadence on the other line.
In Red, Malkovich joins a team of A-listers in an action comedy. He plays Marvin, a retired CIA agent who’s still paranoid from being force-fed LSD over the years. He lives in a bunker and springs booby traps in the forest when Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker come to visit him.
The phenomenon of John Malkovich is bigger than any single movie or entire filmography though. You say Malkovich and everyone know what you mean. Everyone, maybe, except for Malkovich. He was probably just being coy, or perhaps making me work for it, but that’s exactly what I’d expect from Malkovich anyway.
SJ: Why do you think people love to see you as crazy, eccentric characters?
JM: I don't know. You’d have to ask people.
SJ: Did it begin with In the Line of Fire?
JM: Maybe. Could’ve, yeah.
SJ: It seems to make people happy when you come on screen with wild hair and stubble and costumes.
JM: They like it even more if I have a hatchet in my underwear. I think it’s because if they see me with a hatchet or a gun, they think there’s a pretty good chance I’ll use it. Maybe it’s that, I don't know.
SJ: When you started doing In the Line of Fire and Con Air, was the action genre ever a tough sell for you?
JM: No. I never so much mind about the genre. What I mind is that it’s good and it’s sharp. Or that it’s unique in its genre or it says something and is well executed in its genre. I always like action just as much as the next person.
SJ: Why do you think we’re seeing movies about older characters kicking ass, like The Expendables, Red, Gran Torino? Why is now the time people are embracing this topic?
JM: That’s a very good question. I don't know. To answer that honestly I’d have to have seen them all and I haven’t. I haven’t even seen Red but maybe a lot of the moviegoers now have grandparents that they don’t necessarily want to think of as expendable. Could be something as simple as that or it could be that, I haven’t seen those films, so it could be that they’re good stories well told. It’s funny, I think for movie actors, if it’s a movie actor you like, like say I always loved Clint Eastwood, I don’t like him any less than I did when he was 30 or 40. If it’s an actor you like, you enjoy that familiarity with them and their work and with the characters they’ve played. Of course if it’s an actor you don’t like, it makes you hate them even more but that’s a good question. I’d have to reflect on it. Sorry I don’t have a sound bite answer to it.
SJ: I think you’re one of those actors that people consistently like. Has the persona of John Malkovic taken on a life of its own?
JM: I don't know. I think the world’s changed so much since I started that probably like most people that are known, a certain body of people have a perception of you. In my experience, what I’ve been led to believe about people is rarely what I find about them in my experience. But if you’re someone who has been in the public eye for a certain degree of time or only in the public eye very recently and for a very brief time, perceptions have formed about you immediately. It’s very difficult to change that perception even if you cared to and I don’t care to. But the second you’re out there, there are going to be perceptions about you.
SJ: Does having a movie about Being John Malkovich affect that?
JM: I would imagine but there are people who know you from this film, think you’re that way and people who know you from that film think you’re that way. I’m not really like any of them. But it’s okay because maybe I do the same.
SJ: How was your experience on Transformers 3?
JM: It was great. I loved it. Same producers [as Red]. I got along very well with Michael Bay and enjoyed working with him. Most all of my stuff was with Shia and John Turturro. John I’ve known since the old days of theater and I’ve always found him to be a terrific actor who I’ve worked with once before. Shia is someone I’ve always thought was a really, really fine young actor with a lot of energy and presence. He’s quick and intelligent and very well prepared and very quick to respond to anything.
SJ: Do you have a big part? How long did you work?
JM: Just five days. Five long days. Five or six days. So it’s a part.
SJ: I’ve been on Bay’s sets so I know what you’re talking about, how he packs it all into a day.
JM: Yeah, they were busy days but actually really fun.
SJ: What was your favorit weapon in Red?
JM: It’s called a Swedish K. But those little 9mm machine pistols are not without their particular charm. Swedish K is a very, very elegant sort of response, a kind of perfect form function gun that was made in Sweden which our CIA used a lot in Southeast Asia during the war in Vietnam and Cambodia. They had a nasty habit of turning up in places where we weren’t supposed to be so the Swedish stopped selling them to the American military. Then I think it was Smith and Wesson made a kind of their version of it, but I think no one judged it to be as successful as the real thing.
SJ: Would you be up for more missions with the Red team?
JM: Yeah, sure, I’d be delighted to. It was really, really fun. Assuming we all concurred on a script and all that stuff, and I would imagine most of the people in this would be very game for that because it was great fun to do.