Interview: John Malkovich

Beowulf

Last week we got the chance to sit down and talk with Beowulf star John Malkovich. You can read the round table interview below.

Question: Is that one of your own outfits that you’re wearing today? You’ve got a clothing line don’t you?
John Malkovich: I did.  I don’t anymore.

Q: I could never find it.
John Malkovich: You and everyone else. 

Q: This was kind of amazing because we do recognize you in this movie even under the wig and the whatever.  What did you see about this character?  Is he the villain of the piece outside of the monster?

John Malkovich: No, I don’t think so.  He’s just the sort of council to King Hrothgar and he tries to do his job I think.  I think they all have-they’re all fairly flawed people in this and as far as the look goes they showed me sort of what it was going to be before and everything and that seemed good but I haven’t seen it yet.  I’ll see it Monday.

Q: So you don’t know how much of a Richard the III look he’s got?

John Malkovich: Mm-mm. 

Q: The other thing I thought was when he has this like bit when he’s yelling at Beowulf when he shows up and gives him that big kind of speech, I thought of Bette Davis.  I mean you were just sitting there ripping…

John Malkovich: That’s lovely.

Q: …ripping him to pieces.
Q: Wait a minute.  I’m not agreeing with that one.

John Malkovich: No, no no.

Q: I thought if I closed my eyes here it would be like I’d would be hearing one of Bette Davis’s tirades. 
John Malkovich: Yeah, we may have to remake one of those films with myself as Bette.  Nobody would be as delighted as I am.

Q: So I mean, we saw in that first battle he goes into the water to hide from Grendel and yet he’s speaking to Beowulf.  Where was that all coming from do you think?

As if Beowulf is the coward?
John Malkovich: Well, probably that’s what I would assume.  There’s probably been a number of studies on that that’s generally probably what bullies do when confronted I imagine.

Q: John, did you read this story again to refresh your memory?

John Malkovich: I didn’t.  I had read it in high school.  I mean we studied it for weeks, but normally I find it depends on what your sort of job definition is. Normally I don’t’ find it terrifically helpful because unless the script is merely a kind of blueprint for something, I don’t find it very helpful because then you have 20 people coming saying why isn’t this in here and I had a long scene where I take a bath etc.  I wouldn’t want that if I were directing.  I mean, those decisions have already been made for you for the most part.  Obviously it depends because if there’s room for play then I’d have a different response but if there isn’t that much room for play and if the script is a more or less recognized entity then I wouldn’t really see the point.

Q: What do you think of all the role women, originally of course in the story doesn’t have any women around Beowulf and I mean, of course, the role that Angelina plays it almost doesn’t exist. We were discussing this with several members of the press which is like they put women either the whore or the very gentle one who at the end is mourning her husband next to the mistress.  And you know, they keep on doing those stereotypes and I just wanted your opinion about that.

John Malkovich: I’m not sure I would say that mourning the husband next to the mistress yet is a stereotype, certainly not in the Anglo-Saxon world.  I don’t think we’ve quite achieved that state of grace, but well, there’s a great history in literature of the woman being the kind of siren call and that’s ancient.  I don’t think it’s particularly at all a new invention.  I mean, hence words like muse or siren which is all pretty much they’re all assumed to be female as is a mother or wife.  I think they made a very good script out of it which I can’t imagine is terrifically easy having been involved with some degree of literary adaptations myself.  It’s never as easy as you think it’s going to be when you buy the option it seems.
Q: You said you didn’t see him necessarily as the villain, that they’re all kind of flawed creatures here.  Do you feel though in your career lately people have been sort of typecasting you as being the bad guy?

John Malkovich: Only the media, meaning this year… I play a pastor in Clint Eastwood’s new film with Angelina. We work Monday and Tuesday again. 
Q: Oh, okay The Changeling?
John Malkovich: Mm-mm.  I did a film with the Coen brothers where I just played a guy who drinks too much but isn’t particularly evil.
Q: Which one is that?
John Malkovich: It’s Burn After Reading.

Q: The one with George Clooney-it’s a comedy?

John Malkovich: I directed a play in Paris.  I don’t think that was very evil.  I did a film where I played someone, a doctor, who tries to warn people about their impending death.  I played a professor and before I played Klimpt and a guy who went around imitating Stanley Kubrick, but the media says what the media wants to say.  It’s utterly impossible to respond really.

Q: Well, that was good.
John Malkovich: Yeah, but it wouldn’t matter anyway meaning people-you can’t forget that you’re hired-you don’t choose what you do you choose from amongst the things that you’ve been chosen for, so I would say more I think perhaps it’s more of a question better directed to the audience or to filmmakers rather than me.

Q: Selective memory by the media.  We’re basically lazy. 

John Malkovich: Well, everybody’s lazy. I mean, me too, but it’s worse to be lazy and erroneous. I do tons of things.  If I write and direct 3 fashion films then am I a fashionisto?  I guess, I don’t know.  It’s hard to say. 
Q: What are you filming right now?
John Malkovich: It’s called the Changeling.

Q: Oh the Changeling.  And you’re doing something with Tom Hanks?

John Malkovich: I did last year. Last summer.  It’s not out yet called the Great Buck Howard.

Q: What do you play in that?
John Malkovich: A mentalist who is rather unsuccessful.

Q: A failed mentalist?
John Malkovich: Yes. They love him and where did they love him? In Akron, I think.
Q: Did you have any doubts about being…could you talk about being cast in this role and whether you had any doubts at first?

John Malkovich: No I didn’t really have any doubts. An old friend of mine had worked with Robert Zemeckis before and spoke very highly of him and I got the script, like the script.  I was working in Chicago doing a play and also a movie about 2-1/2 years ago in the spring.  I read it and Robert also sent I think to everyone else also-a disc that they had made about the process from Polar Express and everything about what it would really entail and it looked very interesting to me.  I liked the script very much and the cast having always liked Anthony Hopkins and I’d worked with Ray before who I’m very fond of and I’ve always liked watching Robin and Christopher and Angelina Jolie, Brendan Gleeson all very good people.

Q: Had you seen Polar Express?
John Malkovich: Yes.

Q: Regarding your character which I mean, personally I don’t see him as a villain at all, as a very skeptical person,  I’m like that who doesn’t believe everything what is said.  Are you personally like that?  Skeptical at the beginning and then just trying to protect yourself or somebody that you care for and then make some mistakes if you have to?
John Malkovich: I’m not a very skeptical person.

Q: How can we believe that though?
John Malkovich: I don’t know.  You can’t.  I take people as I find them and I don’t…if I have a profound reason to mistrust someone then I’d either not have a lot to do with them in the future or I decide that I enjoy that quality about them and in this business I have come across 2 or 3 people that one might be well advised to be skeptical of, but in fact there are a couple of say producers like that who will remain nameless, but who I personally really like and always go back and work with and it doesn’t bother me a bit.

Q: But let’s say your character for instance he sees this guy that is being glorified and he decides I’m not going to follow this just because I’m told to glorify this guy because this guy is going to save us.  But he decides to question that.

John Malkovich: Yes and that’s also part of his job and in fact his questions about the myth of Beowulf are in fact quite accurate and well founded so I think it’s also to do with the tribe meaning this tribe of which Hrothgar is king were quite a rough and tumble tribe themselves then this kind of young turk comes in talking about all he can do and they’re, I think, very skeptical and that’s skepticism is most sort of brought to bear in that character.  I mean it’s also part of the dramatic structure but it’s also his position to be skeptical.
Q: Everyone’s praising the CGI and the way you’re all working now, but there must be some drawbacks?  Are they not?  I mean is it just an ideal way to do it?
John Malkovich: I would say the drawbacks-Robert is much more well placed to respond to that question than I am. 
Q: As an actor?

John Malkovich: As an actor there are no drawbacks.

Q: Really?

John Malkovich: It’s incredibly expensive and it takes a massive amount of time in post production, which I would think must be so detail heavy and so wearing that it must be really difficult to maintain.  As far as the process goes for instance we are-our company produced a little film a few years ago called Ghost World so in other words we took Dan Clouse’s adult comic, adapted it to a screenplay, then got real actors to do it and tried to give it a kind of gloss of an adult comic.  If you could do that film for $6.3 million in this process you would just film the book. There wouldn’t be 2 or 3 years of– actually 6 of screenplay writing and etc, etc.  You could still get real actors to do it because for instance in this-I haven’t seen it yet-but it was explained to me and perhaps I’m wrong that Anthony Hopkins character Hrothgar, he looks like Anthony but he’s very, very heavy.  Very, very big.  You know 600 pounds is a lot of pasta by any standards.  Why wouldn’t you want to do that and for us really we came and put our dots on and worked all day.  We had a ½ hour lunch; we worked the rest of the day.  If I’m not mistaken by the first morning by 10:00 we were into the 3rd days shooting.  That’s how fast it went and a lot of the people, everyone was well prepared.

Q: So it’s ideal then?
John Malkovich: For me it was.  I rarely have a terrible time doing movies.  I rarely have a bad time doing movies.  Normally I have a very good time, but the process can be maddeningly slow and often times you’re quite removed from it.  The work you do or need to do might be quite removed from the work that’s going on. Let’s put it that way.  And in this it isn’t because they do all their work really– of course there’s an enormous amount of pre-production planning but during the actual registering of it, it’s just the actors.
Q: How would you dive into the water when you were doing this on a stage without anything where there’s no water there?

John Malkovich: I think I dived onto some pads if I remember just like a regular stunt into a pit or something like that off the table or something.  It’s really like rehearsing a play. I mean, you rehearse a play.  You don’t…

Q: You’re in a spare room and there’s no audience there?

John Malkovich: Yeah and there are no lights and no…

Q: You have no sense of worry that this isn’t good or not good because we’re just doing it and the director will tell us?

John Malkovich: Yeah, you just do it and they say actually you’re right it is no good because blah, blah, blah.  Oh, okay, thank you.  But for the actors I couldn’t see a drawback in it.  For the process I would just compare it to is impossible, I have no idea, because I’m sure I don’t have $200 million and God knows what they’ll spend on marketing and etc, etc. and P&A and whatnot.  Although I’ll take it if someone wants to give it to me.  Either this will be a process where these things used to be like this and they had tapes and they went around and they were incredibly expensive and you couldn’t…or  satellite phones you carried on your shoulder and you tried to call your family from Vladavalstock or somewhere and it cost $185 and now everybody has 3.
Q: They’re this big.
John Malkovich: Yeah, and I don’t mean everybody but so the point is the price of the technology might go down drastically and if it does I think it could be a really invigorating or re-invigorating process.  If the price doesn’t go down, it’ll stay as risky as movies always are, you know?
Q: Is this your first time with Clint since In The Line of Fire?

John Malkovich: Yeah.

Q: What was that 20 years ago?
John Malkovich: 15, yeah. 

Q: Was it any different this time?
John Malkovich: It was good.

Q: Does he still shoot the rehearsal?
John Malkovich: Yeah, he doesn’t waste tons of time.

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