A Conversation with Michael Madsen AKA Mr. Blonde [Interview]

I’ve interviewed quite a few people for Geekadelphia over the years. But once in a while I get to spend some time with folks I personally consider legends.

Michael Madsen is one of those individuals.

I still remember watching Reservoir Dogs on VHS when it first came out and it changed my life because it was like nothing I had ever seen. That was my introduction to Michael Madsen, who has had a career some actors really only dream of starring in such films at Species, Reservoir Dogs, Donnie Brasco, Kill Bill 1+2, Hell Ride, and Free Willy.

I got to chat with him in anticipation for two films he recently completed Loosies and Infected. It was great chatting with Michael, he was extremely humble, down to earth and shared some great stories that I hope you will enjoy.

So since most of my readers probably know you as Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs, what first interested you in the role? It was a first film by a first time director.

Well I had worked on Thelma and Louise, but the scenes with Harvey (Keitel) and I got cut out of the movie for plot reasons, for time and just for the fact that it didn’t fit into the story. Him and I worked really well together and when I got the script for Reservoir Dogs they told me Harvey was signed on the play Mr. White.

I really wanted to work with him again and that was one of the main reasons I took it. I thought the script of Dogs was one of the best things I had ever read and I had only done about two movies about that time. My agent at the time told me not to do the movie, but I am such good friends with Harvey (he is godfather to my son Max) I had to do it.

I was the last person cast in the film, because I couldn’t make up my mind whether I wanted to do it or not. Then finally Quentin called me up and asked “are you going to do this or not?” I finally said yes and I was the last one to check in.

So then you went on to play Budd, who is in my opinion the moral conscience of Kill Bill. What was it like playing two pivotal roles in technically 3 Quentin Tarantino films?

Well the only reason Budd seems like the moral conscience of Kill Bill is Quentin made me take off that cowboy hat. He didn’t realize it at the time, but making me do that gave me a lot of dignity.

Quentin really didn’t want me to wear that hat.

Before we started shooting I had been in Mexico making a western and I had bought that white Stetson. I had been wearing it to the rehearsals and the read-thrus and Quentin came up to me and said “you’re not going to wear that hat in the movie are you?” I said yeah, I would really like to wear it and we had kind of an argument about it.

I won the argument and wore the hat in the movie, but what he did to be clever was he wrote a scene where I had to take the hat off. That wasn’t in the original screenplay, because Budd didn’t even have a hat.

I think its so humbling when I take it off, and he became the moral conscious of the film. But then you find out he lied about the sword and it was still in the golf bag. I also was the only guy Uma (Thurman) was unsuccessful in killing.

What most folks might not know is you’re quite the Renaissance man, being also an accomplished poet and photographer. How do you find time to do all of this and act?

When you’re making a movie you have a lot of down time sitting in a trailer or sitting on the side of a hill somewhere. I am not really a reader; I don’t have a lot of patience to read books so I started writing. I just finished a new book called Expecting Rain; it just went to the publisher and should be out by September I think.

What are some of your artistic influences? I know for poetry you often cite Jack Kerouac.

I wish that I could play Kerouac, and I wonder why no one has ever approached me to play him. I don’t think there is a living actor beside myself that could play Kerouac and it would be a fascinating part to play.

I think his writing was way ahead of its time.

Clint Eastwood is also a huge influence, Ernest Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln, Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum.

You have two films coming out Loosies, which is about a pickpocket and Infected, which is a film in the zombie genre. How do you pick your projects?

Sometimes what it is, is you’re trying to help out a young independent filmmaker that could only get his film made if he attaches someone like myself to get the financing. Reservoir Dogs if I had not done that, it was a low budget movie that everyone got scale and it was a first time director that nobody had ever heard of.

If I had never made that picture, it would have been a big time mistake. So when you meet somebody who is a first time director or some young kid with a script you don’t know if its going to be great. There is no guarantee whether it will be or it wont be.

But if you know your participation is going to give them the opportunity to make it, then you give them a shot sometime they work out good and sometimes they don’t.(laughs) It does you no good to be good in a bad movie and bad in a good movie.

I try to pick things that are introduced to me in a way that sounds interesting.

So what about Loosies interested you?

Loosies I picked because I got to play a cop and because I wanted to work with Peter Facinelli. He wrote the part for me and personally asked me to do it. When I met him, he was such a nice kid and Michael Corrente directed it. So you have Michael directing it and Peter in the lead and I am playing a New York copy with my good friend Billy Forsythe whom I’ve known for 15 years.

It was just a really good screenplay, we shot it in Rhode Island and it’s the same company that went and made Infected, which I am in with Christy Romano and its directed by Glenn Ciano. It was Glenn’s first film and I got William Forsythe in there because I had worked with him on Loosies.

Did you enjoy playing a cop? I mean you are usually the bad guy.

People tend to remember me more when I am playing villainous characters and that’s fine, I would rather have something than nothing. If I had my choice I would love to cross over, I think I am a leading man in a bad guy’s body.

The cop in Loosies is a good guy and the guy in Infected is a good guy. They are both heroic good guys.

For those that might not know, what’s Infected about?

Infected is about a family that goes on a trip into the woods and everybody gets some rare Lyme Disease which turns everyone into cannibals. I am like the only one that doesn’t get it.

I like the horror genre and I had never done one before and I wore the white Stetson from Kill Bill. It was kind of an homage to Quentin wearing that hat.

So, both of those films are still in the process of getting distribution and all that.

Speaking of genres what are some of your favorite?

Well I love film noir, which they don’t really make that anymore. I think I would have made a great Batman. I don’t know if you could ever convince a studio to do that. I always thought I would make a great Batman.

There isn’t a single film I have seen Nic Cage do that I couldn’t have done.

So what’s next for you?

Yesterday, I had a great talk with a director her name is Heather Ferreira and she is going to direct a picture in New York City that it looks like I am going to do, she use to work with Quentin.

Looks like we might get Michael Chapman who use to be Martin Scorsese’s DP and we are going to shoot that at the end of May.

Then I am going to Austin to do a panel for Sin City 2. It looks like I will be doing the sequel to Sin City and I will be doing some appearances in Texas to promote it. The film is green-lit but since Robert is busy shooting Machete 2, we won’t be starting on it right away.

You are the first person I have mentioned that to.

And finally since I am a Philly blogger I have to ask any fond memories of our city you would like to share?

I shot a picture in Philadelphia; it was a Fright Night film festival short. I ran right up the steps and saw the Rocky statue. I was only there for a couple of days, but I had a good time doing this thing with Vinny Jones.