By John Liberty
KALAMAZOO, MI — Michael Madsen, one of the most recognizable tough guys in independent film, will visit Kalamazoo for a pair of days to have a theater named in his honor as part of the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Kalamazoo’s grand opening.
Madsen will participate in screenings of two of his films — “Reservoir Dogs” and “Thelma and Louise” — as well as answer questions, sign autographs and pose for photographs on Nov. 19-20. The Alamo, Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse will open its 16th location on Nov. 18 at 180 Portage St.
Prior to his arrival in Kalamazoo, the 56-year-old Chicago native answered several questions during a phone interview last week.
Madsen’s acting career started in 1982 with “Against All Hope.” Two years later, he played Bump Bailey in “The Natural.” In 1992, Madsen hooked up with Quentin Tarantino in his directorial debut, “Reservoir Dogs,” which proved to be one of the most popular films of the decade.
Madsen played Vic Vega, aka Mr. Blonde, in the crime drama. He stylishly executed one of the bloodiest torture scenes in film, including removing his victim’s ear with a straight razor, all to the music of Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You.”
Madsen has said the scene was difficult to play. He also shared he didn’t really care for Mr. Blonde.
“What I really wanted to do anyway was play Mr. Pink. Steve (Buscemi) had a lot more dialogue and a lot more scenes with Harvey (Keitel). It’s hard now to picture anyone else but Buscemi doing it because he’s the one that did it. In the beginning before that happened, I kind of liked the fact he had more to say. I didn’t want to play Mr. Blonde. There was a lot of it that was difficult for me,” he said.
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Did you keep the ear?
“Quentin has that. I’ve seen it. … He also has the razor, but I have the clothes. I have the wardrobe,” he said.
With blood stains or without?
“With and without,” he said.
While generations may know him as Mr. Blonde, or for roles in “Species,” “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” “Kill Bill Vol. 2” and “Donnie Brasco,” a new generation was introduced to Madsen as the controlling, prone-to-violence father in Justin Bieber’s 2012 music video “As Long As You Love Me.” Bieber is a rebellious teen who wants to date Madsen’s character’s daughter. In the video, Madsen says no and threatens to make him pay if he keeps seeing her.
Michael Madsen in France
Michael Madsen in France in 2012.
“I’m the last person in the world that I ever thought anyone would call about a Justin Bieber video. In fact when I first heard about it, I said, ‘No.’ I wasn’t interested. When they called back a second time I couldn’t understand why. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I imagined jumping on a trampoline with a lollipop with Justin Bieber. I said, ‘My god, these guys must have me confused with someone else.’ Apparently the kid himself really wanted me, so I asked to see what it was. They sent me a storyboard. I realized it kind of like a little movie,” he said.
Biebs is too caught up in his emotions to listen to fatherly advice, so Madsen pummels the pop star. The video has been viewed almost 167 million times.
“I kinda figured if I did it, there would be a lot of people who loved me for it and a lot of people who hated me. I figured I’d split the board,” Madsen said. “I had a good shoot. He was a nice kid. He was respectful.”
Before the video was released, Madsen had to quell Internet rumors saying he beat up Bieber. His sister in Wisconsin even called to question why he’d attack the young singer. Madsen said she was concerned it would destroy his career. He convinced her it was just a music video.
Although he was in “Free Willy” and “Free Willy 2,” his other work, including voice over work for a series of video games, has convinced people he’s a bad guy in real life.
“I’ve played a lot of nefarious people and people absolutely, positively do confuse you with the roles you play. People tend to think are that guy or you are that way. I guess I have to blame it on good acting,” he said.
Part of it comes down to his look as well. He’s known for his steely glare, which he said is “often imitated but never duplicated.” He also boasts several tattoos.
“I regret them all. It’s something you do when you’re younger. It’s something that seems like a cool idea and you get involved in the whole ritual of the thing. It’s interesting, it’s fun, it’s educational. But later on down the line, it’s like how in the hell do I get these f—— things off my body. I’m surprised in 2014, you would think there would be some advancement in the technology of removing tattoos. I don’t suppose I’d take them all off, but there are definitely some of them I’m tired of looking at,” he said.
As for his long acting career, Madsen said he regrets how the late 1990s sitcom, “Vengeance Unlimited,” ended. It ran for just one year before ABC killed it.
“I for one would like nothing better than to bring it back. I don’t even understand why it’s not on television in re-runs or why it’s not offered as a box set on DVD. It was a good show with a lot of good people. It was a great idea. I think ABC really dumped it. They really lost the plot and it was sad because I don’t think they realized the following it actually had. I don’t look that different and in fact I’m smarter than I was in those days. If they want to bring it up again, I’d walk through the door without a question. I’d love to bring that show back,” he said.
He also talked about his relationship with Tarantino. Madsen said he’s often asked why he isn’t in every Tarantino picture, including 2012’s “Django Unchained.”
“I’d like to be, trust me, but it usually doesn’t work out that way. I think there’s a great desire for me and him to be together. I think there’s a huge, huge following of people who would love to see me and him do something and perhaps have me carry the picture,” Madsen said.