You know Michael Madsen as a bad ass. The bad guy with the raspy voice who is ten times cooler than any one person should be. He hacked off a cop’s ear in Reservoir Dogs. He chased after Alec Baldwin in The Getaway. He’s causing trouble in Kill Bill. And ironically, the man himself is a compassionate human with a large number of regrets. Madsen sits down with Chris Neumer and gets into these.
MICHAEL MADSEN: I don’t have a clock in here, so I don’t know what time it is. I just got off the phone.
CHRIS NEUMER: No worries.
MICHAEL MADSEN: All right.
CHRIS NEUMER: I’ve got to tell you, I am so pissed off that you’re out in Malibu. I just got back from there yesterday. I was interviewing Altman at his place up there. And I got back late last night and got the call this morning that I was going to talk to you… and you were in Malibu. I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I couldn’t believe it.
MICHAEL MADSEN: (laughs)
CHRIS NEUMER: After all that travel, here we are doing a phoner.
MICHAEL MADSEN: Yeah, we could have chilled out out there.
CHRIS NEUMER: I figure though that if this is the worst thing that happens to me today, I’m doing all right.
MICHAEL MADSEN: You know, there’s a lot of crap going on in this world.
CHRIS NEUMER: That’s what I’m saying. You’re in Malibu right now?
MICHAEL MADSEN: No, I’m back in Hollywood in my office.
CHRIS NEUMER: And I know you’re originally from Chicago. Where in Chicago?
MICHAEL MADSEN: Well, my father was a fireman and he was at 81st and Ashland, and we kind of moved around all throughout Chicago. After that we lived on Belmont and Clark, near Wrigley Field, then we moved out to the suburbs: Evanston. My dad later was in Blue Island and Evergreen Park.
CHRIS NEUMER: You guys really did jump around a lot.
MICHAEL MADSEN: Yeah, we were all over the place.
CHRIS NEUMER: That must have been hell in high school
MICHAEL MADSEN: (laughs) My high school days were kind of a blur. All I wanted to do was race cars and I fell asleep in Driver’s Ed class. I wasn’t a great student. I played football for a while, that was about it.
CHRIS NEUMER: Which school did you attend most? Which one were you talking about?
MICHAEL MADSEN: Evanston.
CHRIS NEUMER: I went to Oak Park, so I’m interested. If you’d said Fenwick, we’d have to have words. And then you were at Steppenwolf for a while too, weren’t you?
MICHAEL MADSEN: Yeah, I was. I went there for a little while. I took scene study classes there for a little while and did one showcase with an invited audience and did one production of Of Mice and Men with them. Interesting groups of guys, Terry Kinney and Jeff Perry.
CHRIS NEUMER: You got in right when it was getting started.
MICHAEL MADSEN: Yeah, it was definitely in their infancy. A lot of big talent over there. John was, at that time, just stepping out. He was just at the time that I was there; he had one foot out the door. He actually sent me a brochure to study with them in scene study class. In fact, I saved it and I still have it, but it was postmarked on my birthday, which I thought was ironic at the time.
CHRIS NEUMER: How was he aware that you were interested in acting? John Malkovich just didn’t, out of the blue, happen to send you a brochure, did he?
MICHAEL MADSEN: I had gone with a friend of mine to a production of Of Mice and Men that John was doing with Gary Sinise. John was playing Lenny and I had been so impressed by what I saw, being that I had been a somewhat of an insane idea in my mind that I wanted to be an actor, that I had gone back stage to talk to John after the production and I mentioned to him that I had thought about acting and he asked me to write down my address on a piece of paper, which I did, never expecting to hear from him. A couple of weeks later, I got a thing in the mail, so I realized that he was a little bit more than someone who was concerned about themselves. He had taken the time to answer this kid who had wandered back there.
CHRIS NEUMER: And expressed an interest in getting involved.
MICHAEL MADSEN: There’s something there, there really is.
CHRIS NEUMER: It’s always nice when people take more than just the required interest in you, especially to help promote the art.
MICHAEL MADSEN: To this day, I continue to be amazed by people who follow through with what they say they’re going to do.
CHRIS NEUMER: Hey, I was just in LA, I know what you’re saying. I couldn’t even get my waiters to bring me the correct food that I’d ordered. I was amazed trying to do some research on you, how little there is out there on you.
MICHAEL MADSEN: The problem is that most of the things I’ve talked about have been recycled over and over and over and over and over again. Everyone just thinks that I’m a tough guy from Chicago and it’s like “Okay, it’s just so tired already.” It’s just been over talked about, it’s like, Good God, you know? I suppose I haven’t gone into too much depth with anybody about–I think part of the problem is that I never get asked any provocative questions. Not that I want to–it’s not that I want someone to make a biography about me, but I think that it’s kind of hard anyway, but how much does one need to have out there about them anyway?
CHRIS NEUMER: The only interview I found with you–and I’m always skeptical of things like this–was where the guy was saying that you had lost your virginity at the age of 13 to a 28 years old woman.
MICHAEL MADSEN: Yeah, that’s true. I wrote a book of short stories and poems and that short story is in the book about that. With the wayward woman and that’s where it came from.
CHRIS NEUMER: With that one bit of information under my belt, I felt prepared to do the interview. I thought, “Now that I know this, we can talk acting.” Nothing about preparing for a scene or acting–
MICHAEL MADSEN: I was watching TV while I was fucking her, I remember that.
CHRIS NEUMER: That’s going to be a pull quote right there.
MICHAEL MADSEN: Kind of strange.
CHRIS NEUMER: So you were thinking about voice overs then…
MICHAEL MADSEN: (laughs) It was just one of those things that sticks in your mind for some reason. I remember, for no particular reason.
CHRIS NEUMER: One thing, and I assume you’re doing this interview for the Reservoir Dogs DVD–
MICHAEL MADSEN: Yeah, I guess.
CHRIS NEUMER: I had–
MICHAEL MADSEN: It’s the only reason that anyone wants to talk to me recently, so…
CHRIS NEUMER: Yeah, that was my point. The very day that Artisan was pitching me on this interview, I had read a quote of yours in the Sun Times where you were saying that all anyone ever wanted to talk to you about was Reservoir Dogs and the scene where you’re cutting the guys ear off.
MICHAEL MADSEN: You know what? I’ve made a lot of pictures and I’ve done some pretty good pictures and I never considered the scenes in Dogs to be that violent. For some reason, I’m getting ready to make another picture with Tarantino, and so we’re going to be reunited again and we’ll see if lightening strikes twice. I have to believe that an actor is only as good as the filmmaker he’s associated with. Out of the sixty five pictures that I’ve made, I think that there are only five that are any good, you know?
CHRIS NEUMER: With a statement like that you have to elaborate. Which movies?
MICHAEL MADSEN: (laughs) I.. okay… now that I’ve said it, let me think. I liked Donnie Brasco. I think Donnie Brasco’s a good picture, but I don’t think it was released right. I think that they should have handled the release of that a little differently. I liked The Getaway, I think The Getaway is pretty good. It was exciting. I don’t think that it’s comparable to the original by any stretch of the imagination, but I still think it stands on its own.
CHRIS NEUMER: The chase scene in that was pretty good.
MICHAEL MADSEN: I think it was a little bit more exciting than given credit for. I like a picture that I made with Val Kilmer many, many years ago called Kill Me Again. Of course I liked Thelma & Louise, which is one of the few times I’ve played a sympathetic male character.
CHRIS NEUMER: Ironically, that was the film I was introduced to you on. So after that, I couldn’t understand why this good hearted person had turned into this chain-smoking bad guy.
MICHAEL MADSEN: Well, the only other time I was able to do that was in Free Willy, I was the father in Free Willy. And to be honest with you, I’d much rather ride off into the sunset a little more often in acting. If somebody would get me on the screen with some of the actresses who are currently enjoying cinema success, I wish that some of the studios could realize that pairing me up with some of them would work.
CHRIS NEUMER: And that in your bad guy roles you’re just acting.
MICHAEL MADSEN: I’m just, you know, the whole bad guy thing is kind of a been there done that kind of thing and I think I’ve made my mark with that. Not that I don’t want to do it anymore, but I do have to say that it rare that you read anything or get offered anything that is good.
CHRIS NEUMER: That’s something that I’ve heard form a lot of different actors and other film people that I’ve spoken to. There’s almost an ongoing trend now that if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you write it yourself.
MICHAEL MADSEN: Well, I’ve written a screenplay about Pretty Boy Floyd, the bank robber during the thirties, and I’ve been trying to get it done for the last four years. Of course, you know, it’s virtually impossible because no one wants to make a bio pic, as they refer to it, and there seems to be kind of a reluctance of anyone to take it on because they don’t understand the popularity or what would be the popularity of that character, but I think that they’re missing the boat. Charlie Floyd was not only romantic, he was a folk hero. I think it’s just going to be a matter of, I need to have a few pictures come out and be successful and then it’ll be a lot easier to make Charlie Floyd.
CHRIS NEUMER: Success always begets success. Hopefully Kill Bill will–
MICHAEL MADSEN: And then of course everyone wants to take credit for it. No one will ever remember that you couldn’t get them to answer the phone when your pictures were tanking.
CHRIS NEUMER: I feel you there. It seems interesting that the ear scene is the most talked of in your career and–
MICHAEL MADSEN: Kind of ironic, isn’t it? If a family is walking down the street and the kids recognize me from Free Willy, the parents don’t want the kids to go near me because they know me from reservoir dogs. (laughs) There’s kind of a dichotomy.
CHRIS NEUMER: It’s a great image: two kids trying to run over to you and their parents yanking them back.
MICHAEL MADSEN: It’s Mr. Blonde! Get away from him! Listen, you know, Reservoir Dogs is a classic film. It’s Tarantino at his best and in his beginning and I think it stands on its own. I think it gets better with time and I think it gained a lot of steam over the years. Every time I see it, I see things that I hadn’t seen the last time I watched it.
CHRIS NEUMER: That’s the mark of a good film.
MICHAEL MADSEN: Yes it is. I’m anxious to get back to work with Quentin again.
CHRIS NEUMER: I think everybody in America feels the same way, or at least seeing what the work results in. I had wanted to ask you what other scenes in your body of sixty five works, what other scenes have stood out in your mind?
MICHAEL MADSEN: A lot of thins I’ve done have been cut out of pictures I’ve done for various reasons, for time or for intimidation or for story or plot, upstaging or for whatever you may want to imagine–
CHRIS NEUMER: By upstage, you mean you were just too good for the scene?
MICHAEL MADSEN: Sometimes there are scenes that are done that become a little bit more focused than the filmmaker or film produced would have liked to have for a supporting actor or supporting character. So they are decided to be not in the picture. It’s a storyline kind of thing, I suppose it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
CHRIS NEUMER: That’s why I was asking you. In this case, you’re the beholder.
MICHAEL MADSEN: Right. I think some of the other films I mentioned, the other ones I think are good, have scenes that are to me, just as interesting as Mr. Blonde, but you know, it’s–I’ve still got a few left in me, I suppose. Maybe I have yet to do something that is as memorable.
CHRIS NEUMER: It’s always interesting to talk to–I was speaking to the actor Michael Gross a while back, he played the dad on Family Ties, and he was complaining about how everyone sees him as the dad on Family Ties, and I pose the same type of question to you. Everyone sees you as Mr. Blonde, and I can see how playing Mr. Blonde might be an anchor around your neck, but on the other hand do you look at it as a blessing that opened up a lot of other doors for you?
MICHAEL MADSEN: I think any actor who has any role that they are remembered for is a positive thing. It’s obviously not something to be angry about. I’ve been able to play many other parts, like I said, if you’ve done one picture in your whole career that you’re remembered for, I think you’re blessed.
CHRIS NEUMER: And you’ve got at least three of those.
MICHAEL MADSEN: I hope so.
CHRIS NEUMER: I was just thinking of the five you had mentioned.
MICHAEL MADSEN: In my own egotistical fanaticism, I suppose I believe that the five I mentioned are good, but everyone has their own opinion.
CHRIS NEUMER: You’ve been quite prolific of late. I haven’t been able to keep up with all the titles that you’ve been credited with working on. IMDB has you credited with 26 films since 2000.
MICHAEL MADSEN: A lot of the ones on the Internet are pictures that never got made. A lot of the other ones are pictures that I’m in for about five minutes. And pictures that I was taken advantage of by independent filmmakers who use my name to promote their garbage. And by guys who I worked two days for and went straight to video and people who I tried to do favors for and get their movies made and I ended up getting listed as being in the movie when in fact it’s just a walk on or walk through. A lot of those are kind of evasive in their reality of how much I was involved.
CHRIS NEUMER: How do you work with that now?
MICHAEL MADSEN: The way I work with that now is I don’t do it anymore. I don’t get involved with those kinds of things anymore. I’m trying to be careful with the projects I get involved with.
CHRIS NEUMER: going deeper, what kinds of projects are you now trying to get involved with?
MICHAEL MADSEN: I’m doing a western right now. I’m shooting a great big French
Western right now called Blueberry that is being shot in Mexico and Paris and Spain. I’m halfway though that right now and when I’m finished with that I’m going to do Tarantino’s picture. I did the Bond thing and I got a big comedy that I did for David Zucker called The Guest that should be coming out pretty soon. Those are the things…
CHRIS NEUMER: And those don’t seem to be small indie films where you can get taken advantage of.
MICHAEL MADSEN: No, no. those are full on.
CHRIS NEUMER: So Michael Madsen’s name and face will definitely be getting some air time soon.
MICHAEL MADSEN: (laughs)
CHRIS NEUMER: I remember reading that you had gotten involved with Wyatt Earp because you’d never done a western before–
MICHAEL MADSEN: The thing with Wyatt Earp was, I think every guy in that picture did it because they wanted to walk down the streets of the OK Corral. That’s part of history. That’s a historical event that actually happened. I remember standing on top of the street with Dennis Quaid on the morning that we started to shoot this sequence and he said, “Let’s face it, what we’re about to do is the reason that we’re all here.” And he was right and we all knew he was. It was kind of ironic, if any of us had known how far it was down to the OK Corral, then we would have taken the horses.
CHRIS NEUMER: It was that far?
MICHAEL MADSEN: I might have even grabbed a cab. Having seen the movie, it was a long boring exercise in nothingness, so… But I still have to say that doing something that was historically accurate and had to do with history was very appealing to me.
CHRIS NEUMER: It just seems interesting that you pick the genre you’re getting into and not the part, because you were originally supposed to play the Dennis Quaid, right?
MICHAEL MADSEN: When I met Larry [Kasdan], I wanted to play Doc Holliday, that’s true. I went to him–I was shooting The Getaway and had come back to Los Angeles for a few days, I was halfway through The Getaway–I heard someone was making a western, I’ve played a lot of gangsters and bad guys and I wanted to do a western and I wanted to be in Wyatt Earp, but I wanted to play Doc Holliday, having watched Kirk Douglas play Doc Holliday in Gun fight at the OK Corral. Which is one of the male performances of that genre that was ever put on film. I don’t think anyone is ever going to repeat that. Dennis didn’t even come close. Not that there’s anyone else, not even Victor Mature. Nobody’s ever done that and nobody ever will, but I wanted to take my shot at it. So when I saw Larry, I told him that I wanted to play Doc Holliday. For whatever reason, I ended up as Virgil, which was fine. I went to where he was buried, I did the best I could with the part, but it was what it was at the end of the day. These things are out of your control.