Being John Malkovich, we learn, is a haunting experience

19-01-2011 4-25-44 PM

It was as if the messiah was finally playing the first date of his return season. Sydney Town Hall was gorging itself with apparently hardcore Malkovich disciples. I’d no idea there were so many of ‘em.

After a stuffup with tickets as monumental as the building itself, we finally made our way to plush seats, where we awaited this thespian god. In a crumpled white shirt, jeans and Converse low-cuts, he cut anything but a dashing figure. Just as we would have it. For Mr Malkovich, aside from flashes of humour, is a serious minded young man, now inhabiting a rather older body. In fact, his face looked as crumpled as his shirt. He looks, if anything, older than his 57 years. Which, again, is just as it should be, for an actor’s actor. We’d have him wear the collective experiences of characters he’s played,as if he’d had the experiences himself.

That sounds cynical, but it’s not. Malkovich is, unquestionably, an actor’s actor, one of the founders of what is arguably America’s most luminous theatre company: Steppenwolf, in Chicago.

Jim Sharman is a world-class, renowned director of opera, film and theatre. At 21, he directed a controversial Don Giovanni, for Opera Australia, crowning a run of groundbreaking experimental productions for ye Old Tote. But you, and the rest of the world, probably know him best for Rocky Horror. Jim is not an interviewer. But he was last night. Or became one, during the course of the evening, which ran a little over an hour or so, but which seemed relatively intensive, yet relaxed.

Both men seemed nervous to begin with, and there was plenty of mumbling and stumbling. There was a long-winded, if not very illuminating discussion of seduction. If we were expecting seduction 101, from an acknowledged master, we didn’t get it; rather, a series of rather cryptic allusions to its nature.

There is much discussion at his family’s expense: he paints them as crazy and violent, but there seems to be an underlying affection there too. He confesses extremism in his own personality: when much younger he slimmed his heavy frame down to an athletic one by eating a large bowl of jello each and every day for an extended period. Mmm. The Malkovich jello diet. Could it be any worse than Atkins?

He was born and raised (in America, after all, you’re raised, or raised up, or used to be) in smalltown Illinois, making his way gradually to Chicago, via St. Louis. It was there he escaped his kooky Croatian relos, discovered and immersed himself in theatre, a vocation he’s never left and for which he’s always hungered. He even says he works “quite a bit harder now” than when he was 22. It was around that age that, alongside Joan Allen, Gary Sinise and Glenne Headly, he became a charter member of Steppenwolf, which took him to New York just a few years later, to star in Sam Shepard’s True West, which the Sydney Theatre Company recently staged with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the chair and Wayne Blair on the stage. From there, he went from strength to strength, as actor and director. And Obie to Obie, among other gongs.

Beyond that, it would be too laborious to chart his highly distinguished career, which has so many highlights on stage and film. But of course it was Dangerous Liaisons that transformed him into a star, even if he’s remained among the most reluctant of celebrities. “I wasn’t a subject that ever interested me,” he claimed, seeming utterly sincere.

Even in declaring repeated caveats that he’d no intention of denigrating the “artistry” that can and does inform cinema, he seemed to have a greater reverence for the stage, insisting that while it’s well and good, one doesn’t necessarily have to be an actor, let alone a great one, to succeed on film, or be loved by the camera. A man who could count the likes of Bertolucci among his friends and who has carved out as successful a career in that medium as treading the boards, was remarkably scathing, if very articulate and quotable on the subject.

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Categories: Sydney, Sydney Festival

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4 Responses

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  1. I wish the real John Malkovitch had remained offstage in the past when it came to airing his political views which are pretty abhorrent.

    by darkhall67 on Jan 19, 2011 at 5:40 pm

  2. ...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by and Melanie, AllHallowsEve. AllHallowsEve said: Being John Malkovich, we learn, is a haunting experience [...

    by Tweets that mention Being John Malkovich, we learn, is a haunting experience – Curtain Call — on Jan 19, 2011 at 8:42 pm

  3. We went to see him in Giacomo Variations last night at the Opera House. After paying $125 a seat plus $35 for parking, not forgetting the least memorable Chandon NV for another $20 the pair, we abandoned our $300 investment at interval and didn’t return.

    I’m not a huge fan of operetta or whatever the format of Giacomo Variations actually is (they called it a “staged performance”), but I was hoping for a lot more from John Malkovich. I rate the production / direction as poor. His part we weak, his performance tepid and the overall subject matter and production was really pathetic.

    And I have to say that this is not the first time I have been suckered by a big name in the Sydney festival. When Cate Blanchett starred in War of the Roses, she set the low bar. Incredibly minimalist set, lacklustre cast, forgettable sets, truly unispired direction. It seemed that the organisers had fubbed it by spending all their dough on one big name – neglecting all the other things that make a memorable performance.

    That just about sums it up for me with John Malkovitch as well.

    One chap actually booed after about ten minutes and saved the OH staff from ejecting him – being the first to walk out unaided. Unlike the ABC luminaries sitting in front of us who dozed quietly in the first half.

    by Mike Jones on Jan 21, 2011 at 12:07 pm

  4. not aware of the political outlooks, darkhall. (maybe my ignorance is blissful and I should keep it that way.) jonesy, at one with your disappointment: you can have the best tuna, perfectly plump grains of rice, fresh wasabi and superior soy and still make a hash of sushi, eh? ok, so the analogy’s clumsy, but this cut-and-pasted not quite an opera, not quite a concert, not quite a play didn’t quite cut the mustard, despite the best-quality ingredients. see my forthcoming review.

    by Lloyd Bradford Syke on Jan 23, 2011 at 6:06 pm

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