When audiences first meet John Malkovich’s irascible French Canadian horse trainer Lucien Laurin in Secretariat, he’s failing miserably at golf and spitting French put-downs. It’s the latest in a line of delightfully aggressive turns from the veteran Malkovich, who also hits theatres this month with Red. Metro sat down with Malkovich at the Santa Anita racetrack to discuss choosing roles, directing theatre versus directing movies and how to look like a bad golfer on screen.
How is your actual golf game?
I never really played golf. My best friend growing up was always playing golf. I went out, I think, maybe once or twice and smacked it around a little bit. I never tried, you know?
So you didn’t have to try too hard to play poorly?
Actually, (Secretariat’s director) Randall (Wallace) kept saying the shots looked too good, so I fixed him up with some bad shots. I did one shot that was fantastic. I put out five balls on the tee and was able to hit one, which ricocheted and did another ricochet and hit the cameraman. Spectacular shot. I was like, “Take that!”
You’ve got an eclectic mix of roles this year, with Secretariat, Jonah Hex and Red. How much do you plan ahead what types of roles you’ll take on?
Honestly, I don’t over-worry the notion of roles. I try to worry about can this film be good? Jonah Hex could have been good. It didn’t turn out to be at all, but it wasn’t gone into with any sort of cynicism. I’ve done films where the role is fantastic, like Color Me Kubrick, but if the film is not a really good film, it doesn’t matter. You may as well have not done it.
Do you have any more directing projects in mind?
The next thing I direct will be a new translation and adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons, of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, in Paris. I still direct a lot for the stage. I love directing movies, but I don’t want to goof around eight years to get it made, you know? If I want to do a play, I just do it, and it’s done. It’s a waste of time to spend years trying to get something on that should be perfectly simple to get on. But that’s movies, and I get all that aggro as a producer. You get your kicking producing. I don’t need it directing also. If something comes along and I feel like it, great.
How long did it take to get your directorial debut, The Dancer Upstairs, made?
Eight years. Eight years of nonsense. I like the film very much, but even if it would’ve come out really badly, it’s $4 million. It’s not $500 million. And it’s going to make more than $4 million, and it will be around. If it took eight years to make a horse race, they wouldn’t be much fun to do. I’d never say I love directing plays more than I like directing movies. But it’s everything before the movie actually happens and then often afterward that you just think, “Oh, come on. I’m not 5 years old. I don’t have time for this.”
Josh Brolin does a fantastic impression of you.
Yeah, they say it’s very good.
Have you heard it?
Not really. He kind of did a little for me. But I just saw him two nights ago and hopefully — I don’t know if we’re going to have dinner this week while I’m here, but maybe when I come back. I’m very, very fond of Josh. But yeah, I hear that he does a very good impression. I’ve heard a few, but I haven’t heard Josh’s.