Malkovich Takes on CGI Epic
by Paul Fischer
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Producer, director and actor John Malkovich may play a supporting role in the very high-tech Beowulf, but this acclaimed actor is always searching for a variety of challenges, as he explained to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Paul Fischer: Now when you decide to take on something like a Beowulf, what is your thought process about whether or not to do it? Is it partly because it’s also a quick thing? Not too much preparation involved? All o that kind of stuff, does that fall into it?
John Malkovich: Not so much. I mean, it doesn’t have to be a quick thing, although I’ve done many quick things. But you know, it depends. When my kids were really small, a big consideration was did they go with me and did I have to be away for months at a time? Now they’re older, and it’s kind of less of a consideration. With this, I liked the script, I liked the idea of this process and of finding out about it. I had heard very good things about working with Robert Zemeckis and liked his work and everything, so that was a big thing, and the cast also, it was such a good cast. You don’t often get that.
PF: What surprised you the most about the process?
JM: How easy it was. How fast it was. I mean, I may be wrong, but I think that by ten in the morning of the first day, I think we were well into the third day’s work. So it goes very quickly.
PF: As a producer, you would also consider trying to utilize this process for other things?
JM: Absolutely. No one would give us $200 million to do it, but once, you know, like most new technologies, the price I imagine will come down incrementally, in the same way that computers do or portable phones do. But I wouldn’t hesitate. I mean, it’s quite interesting.
PF: Is it easy for you to create a character within this technology as against creating a character that requires a mix of preplanning and rehearsals?
JM: Yeah, but see you don’t really get to do that in the movies. You rarely have rehearsal and you certainly don’t have it for weeks, for the most part. So, the only film I think I’ve rehearsed in years, which was not very much, was Disgrace, and I think we had about a week or so, something, and I don’t think it was particularly helpful.
PF: What drives you to work as hard as you do? What, with ten films you’ve done in the last two years or whatever it is? Are you driven by the desire to continue to act in case it stops?
JM: No, well, Clint Eastwood’s film will be eleven days, the Coen Brothers was about five weeks. The play I directed was six weeks, but my family was there almost the whole time. And everybody, I just had a job. The film I did before that, Afterwards, was probably 20 days. And Disgrace was quite long, it was three and a half months or so, all told. So in the end, what does that add up to? Sort of four months of work, five months of work.
PF: it seems you’re working a lot. What are your criteria for choosing something, and has that criteria changed?
JM: I think the criteria is constantly in flux. I’ve done films because I’m curious about a director, I’ve done films because I love a director. I’ve done films because I love a script, I’ve done films because I make a living as a professional actor. I’ve done films because even though the script may not have wholly been there, I liked a director’s take on it, or trusted them enough to want to take that journey even though say the script is, would not be something I would do, or write, or care to recount.
PF: Are you as passionate about acting as you were when you started?
JM: I don’t know, because I don’t know how passionate I ever was. Meaning it was something I did that I liked doing, and it’s remained that. But it’s not as if I ever spent a lot of time sitting around and thinking about acting. I just did it. And, you know, sometimes it’s fantastically immersive, and sometimes less so, but that doesn’t really depend on anything, that’s kind of the luck of the draw. And you may do a film that interests you fantastically as an actor, or as a character, but maybe it’s less interesting as a film. Meaning a kind of a character in search of a film. And I’ve done that also.
PF: Let me ask you about the Coen Brothers movie, which is a return to their comedic sensibilities. We don’t see you doing as much comedy as one would like. Did you have fun on the Coen Brothers movie?
JM: Oh, great fun. I loved it.
PF: How funny is that film going to be, do you think?
JM: Oh, I have no idea. I find the script very amusing, sort of pitifully amusing and kind of pathetically amusing.
PF: You play a pathetic character?
JM: Pitiful and pathetic.
PF: What about the Clint Eastwood film?
JM: I play a pastor whose function in the story is to help Angelina Jolie’s character find her disappeared son.
PF: What are the advantages of being directed by somebody like Eastwood, who is an actor and understands the process?
JM: Well, I’ve only worked a couple of days on it so far. We have some big days coming up, but I think the primary advantage of that is they perhaps know not just what results they want, but there’s a certain process, for lack of a better word, that is sometimes required to get those results. I wouldn’t say that it’s only directors who’ve acted who know this, either—but often they have a knowledge of what it’s like to try and get where you’re going.
PF: Will you direct again?
JM: I would like to, but I’m not dying to. Meaning, I’m offered things with some degree of regularity and I look at them, and I’m looking at something again now, so it’s possible.
PF: What’s next for you as actor and producer?
JM: Well, producing, we have a film coming out called Juno and I’m also producing ongoing a play in Paris which I directed, and that’s going on and that could or could not have a Spanish production. And maybe even an English production, a producer I know there has expressed some interest in doing it there, in English obviously. I don’t know, we have some screenplays to work on, and etc., etc. We’ll see, with the strike, if that’s going to be possible or not possible.
PF: And as an actor?
JM: Nothing booked. There’s a good chance if a friend of mine who wants to produce Tommy Lee Jones’s adaptation of Blood Meridian, which I will do as an actor. And I have a commitment, at least on my side, to do a little Italian film, called The Holy Beast, but I don’t know if they’ll get together the money. You never know in this business.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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