Getting 'Accidentally' Cast In War Games Made Michael Madsen Into An Actor

For a Cold War techno-thriller about a teenage hacker named David (Matthew Broderick) who accidentally sets off a nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, "Wargames" manages to not take itself too seriously. The entire plot rests on an unmotivated Seattle wunderkind who uses his home computer to impress a neighborhood girl named Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) by changing both of their high school grades. Unfortunately, it also results in David going a little too far and accidentally accessing North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)'s supercomputer, which misinterprets the break-in as the start of WWIII. 

Amazingly, "Wargames" went on to be a smash hit at the box office that was nominated for three Academy Awards. Broderick would go on to stardom after appearing in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," another film where the young actor tampers with his high school computing system to remove his nine absent marks. Besides Broderick and Sheedy, there is another familiar face you might recognize in the film who found great success later on in his career. Michael Madsen was working as an auto mechanic in Chicago when a chance encounter with filmmaker Martin Brest landed him a small role as a soldier in the hit drama. 

Madsen was just as surprised as anyone at his sudden stroke of luck, telling Screen Rant in 2020, "I didn't know I was going to be an actor. I had no notion of actually being able to do that. I was a blue-collar kid from Chicago." His family certainly didn't have any connections to Hollywood, either. "My father was a firefighter. My mother was a writer. What chance did I have of ever doing something like that?"

How did Michael Madsen wind up in Wargames?

It's always strange to go back and recognize an actor in an old movie after they've gone on to greater notoriety. Spotting Michael Madsen in "Wargames" is so jarring it almost feels like deep fake technology is being used over the face of another actor. Madsen was a long way away from playing Mr. Blonde in Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" when he popped up in the opening scenes as a random soldier in a missile silo. Sharing the story with Screen Rant, Madsen reminisced about landing the role entirely by chance. "I was going to school to be a paramedic and a friend of mine was an actor in my class, and he took me to an audition he was going to. I just went in with him accidentally because we were hanging out."

Madsen had no intention of auditioning, but he must have had a look that the director responded to:

"I didn't even read for the people who were there, but I met Martin Brest, who was there, and he must have been 25 years old, I guess. He asked me if I had any idea of ever being an actor. I thought it was a ridiculous question and I didn't know how to respond, but I got invited to California to play the soldier in that missile silo because of that chance meeting."

Martin Brest is technically uncredited as the director of "Wargames" with John Badham ("Saturday Night Fever") coming in after United Artists fired Brest after reportedly not being happy with the footage he had already shot. Luckily for Madsen, his part ended up in the finished film. The newly minted actor moved to California, got a job pumping gas in Beverly Hills, and the rest is history.