John Malkovich in Estonia: I was raised to be curious about the world

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John Malkovich.
John Malkovich. Source: ERR

This week, legendary actor John Malkovich is in Tallinn, where he will be performing in the play "In the Solitude of Cotton Fields" alongside Lithuanian actor Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė. In an interview with ETV's "Ringvaate," Malkovich said, that though he has traveled all over the world, this is his first time in Estonia and he hopes to get chance to look around Tallinn's Old Town.

Back in 1999, this famous question was asked: 'how does it feel to be John Malkovich?' If I ask you the same question now, 24 years later, what would you say?

I'd say I've had a very lucky, charmed life.

There must have been some hard work and some really tough periods in your life as well.

Yes, but, all in all, I've been incredibly lucky in my life. And sure, I work hard, but so do lots of people. Apart from, as all people experience in life, if they live to be a certain age, you lose many people you love and are close to. But, as Becket said, 'You're on Earth, there's no cure for that.'

Your stage partner here is Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė. It's interesting that you found someone from Lithuania. How did you become friends?

Inge's my oldest, closest colleague. I think we met at the end of 1991. I was doing a play, first in the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago and then in the West End, called "Slip of the Tongue." I was looking to cast four women, who spoke English as a second or third language. I had heard about Inge and she came to audition for the play. She did the play and we've worked together ever since. I think this is maybe our ninth collaboration. We've done films, plays, operas, fashion films and all kinds things for years.

Do you have a thing for accents? In this comedy film 'Johnny English' you have this spectacular French accent. Matt Damon also talks about how in one scene you suddenly spoke with a Russian accent (in 'Rounders' – ed.).

It's something I work quite hard on. I like to listen to accents. It's funny that sometimes it seems to really upset people when people speak with a certain accent. I've done a lot of plays, movies and opera and what have you, where people are speaking English or French with an accent, but I always like it. I think it adds something.

You've mentioned theater, the stage, movies, TV series'. It's quite a big variety of roles. Do you consider yourself as a stage actor first?

I do, yes. Stage actor and director first. I basically started directing at the same time I started acting. At Steppenwolf Theater, where I started professionally, I probably directed more than I acted really.

Was it your first choice right away to be an actor? In Europe at least, it seems like every young guy wants to be either a soccer player or an actor.

No, I wanted to be a baseball player.

You grew up in Illinois and I used to live as a refugee in Tulsa in the early 90s. Nobody (there) knew anything about Estonia except for this funny movie "Encino Man," which apparently had some guy from Estonia in it. So, how much did you know about Estonia while growing up?

Not very much. It's not something you would know much about at all. I've never been to Estonia and I travel pretty relentlessly. I've worked in Lithuania and I worked in Latvia last year with Ingeborga. I'll work there again this year.

You know, America is a big place and I think it's not so unnatural that there isn't a great body of knowledge about the rest of the world generally. But I think that's changed to some extent with the advent of the Internet because it's so much easier to look something up and learn at least a little bit about a place. I've worked all around Estonia but never in Estonia.

So, I hope you get to look around our Old Town and so on.

I hope so. Our director is quite a rehearsal buff, let's see.

I would assume the world is your stage and you can choose any place you want to go with your fame, experience and career and you choose to come to Estonia and Latvia? These are little-known places, so what brings you here?

Why not? I imagine there are rather intelligent audiences here. I don't look at the world that way, I'm more curious than that. I've played in the middle of cornfields in Serbia, in hotel lobbies in Israel.

I was raised to be curious about the world and not to fear it or think of it as something apart from me. I think people are mostly the same everywhere in my experience. So, why not?

Well, we definitely like it that you have come here. Are there any specific roles you would like to play that you haven't had a chance to yet? Have you turned some down?

Yes, I've turned some things down. But, as I always say, when I turn something down and someone else does it, I'm always very happy to see what they do and happy for them if it's successful. Over time, I suppose King Ludwig would have made an interesting film. I always liked the idea of the American entrepreneur and lunatic Howard Hughes.

Any person can be an interesting character if you know enough about them. The most guarded, taciturn, secretive person can be fascinating. A person who is super boring in theory, can be fascinating.

The first film I produced and developed was called "The Accidental Tourist" and this character [in it], from the novel by American writer Anne Tyler.

He wrote travel books. He would say, [things like], "Look at that building cupolas. Oh, Tallinn is so boring because this is my view." Everything bored him, frightened him or maybe made him nervous.

The great American actor William Hurt played him in the movie. To me, he was a fascinating character. All the things he thought were boring, I thought were insane. But, there are all kinds of people in this world thinking all kinds of things, based on their experience and their upbringing and education. Based on their fears and worries, desires and needs. So, any character can be interesting.

Are you afraid that some will stick with you, like Rowan Atkinson with Mr. Bean? You've played bad a lot of bad guys, villains and lunatics.

No, they don't seem to really. I've done all kinds of things, comedies, dramas, very serious things. Very childish things, action movies. I've played the King of France, the King of England. I've played Gustav Klimt, I've played comedians and magicians. I don't much worry about that really.

Which actor would be your favorite to play you in a film about your life?

I like a lot of actors. Hopefully, they'd all be smart enough to turn it down.

This play that you are doing in Tallinn, "In the Solitude of Cotton Fields," can you give us any tips about what to look out for when we come and see it?

I wouldn't give a tip about that, because each person, who is a member of the audience watches what they want, or as Paul Simon said: 'A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.'

Bernard-Marie Koltès is a French writer and musician. This play I think was originally done in the 90s by the great French director Patrice Chereau and wonderful French actor Pascal Greggory. It was essentially, what you would say in very crude English, a kind of gay meat market play.

The full video of John Malkovich's interview with "Ringvaade" can be found (in English) below.

Viewers are warned that the opening montage featuring clips from some of Malkovich's best-known movies contains language that some may find offensive.


John Malkovich will be starring in the play "In the Solitude of Cotton Fields" alongside Lithuanian actor Ingeborga Dapkūnaitė this Friday and Saturday (April 21 and 22) at Tallinn's Alexela Concert Hall. Tickets are available on Piletilevi.

The performances are in English with Estonian captions.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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