Whether or not you think actor John Malkovich is creepy (see below), you can't deny the guy's talent - or creative versatility. In between his Hollywood blockbusters (Con Air), solid genre films (In The Line Of Fire, Ripley's Game) and prestige dramas (Dangerous Liaisons), he's taken on off-the-map indie art pics like Color Me Kubrick and this week's definitely-not-a-biopic Klimt, about the Viennese painter. He's worldly, eccentric, plus he's got a Charlie Kaufman film named after him. Who else can say that? Malkovich, in his annoying but dryly funny manner, spoke recently from Montreal, where he's wrapping up the French/Canadian/German co-production Afterwards.
When I told people I was interviewing you, some said you seem creepy onscreen. Are you aware of that?
I've never thought about it. I'd have to know who in particular thought I was creepy before I responded. It could be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
What attracted you to Klimt?
Mostly, I wanted to work again with director Raoul Ruiz. He's extraordinarily cultivated, bright, funny, kind, odd. I like the way he views the world. Also, the period is one I've studied for some time.
What do you like about that period?
It was one of the most interesting and important eras in modern times. In Vienna then, you had Klimt, Schiele, Schoenberg, Freud, Wittgenstein - Wedekind just before. Fascinating period, fascinating people.
Were there lots of discussions on the set or in pre-production about art and politics?
No. I think everyone understood what the script was. Raoul is not someone who's going to do some biopic - it wouldn't interest him, although he'd be infinitely more capable of doing one than most people. His take is always more personal and poetic.
The film's structure is more impressionistic than linear. Was it difficult to know where you were at at any given point in the filming?
With Raoul you always know - at least I do. You just look at the shot and you know what you're supposed to do, or what some of the options are. The shots are very descriptive.
Do you see Klimt's work differently now?
Not really. I always liked him, but I'm more of a Schiele man.
Was it disarming to see Nikolai Kinski as Schiele? He's a dead ringer for the artist.
A little bit. Of course, I was a big fan of his father's [Klaus Kinski] and know his sister [Nastassja Kinski] a little bit. I really liked him. He's lovely and a very good actor, very open to the world.
It seems like he's got some of his father's nervous energy.
Yes. Hopefully not too much of it. Only time will tell.
Do you purposefully mix big studio pictures with smaller ones?
That's just what my life is. I have a catholicity of interests. This year I did the J. M. Coetzee novel adaptation Disgrace, I'm filming this French film (Afterwards) in English, and I'm directing a play in Paris. After that I'll be doing a film with the Coen brothers.
How do you choose what to do?
As an actor you can only choose from that for which you have been chosen. I can't call the Coen brothers or Warner Bros or any other brothers and say, "Hey, you're good kids, I want to do blah blah blah!" I've been lucky and have peers and workmates in god knows how many countries. Something interesting always comes up.
Are you upset that a film like Ripley's Game didn't get a wider release? It wasn't even released theatrically here in Canada.
Bob Shaye at New Line made the decision and called me, and I understood completely. I produce movies, so I understand how decisions are made. They're based on models and projections and numbers. If you're in the industry, it's not as if you can cry and take your ball and go home. It's not your ball.
Additional Interview Audio Clip
On the decision no to use a German accent:
On whether he regrets the remarks he made threatening journalist Robert Fisk (www.rsf.org/print.php3?id_article=2291 ):
KLIMT (Raoul Ruiz) Rating: NN
Director Raoul Ruiz is best known for his Proust adaptation, Time Regained, a voluptuous treatment of Proust's book through echoing flashbacks, brilliantly staged tableaux and elegant tracking shots.
Klimt, about the Austrian symbolist painter, is similarly structured. John Malkovich plays Klimt on his deathbed, recalling recent events in his life. The craft is exquisite, and Malkovich is less arch than he's often been in his Europudding art films.
Not knowing much about Klimt except that he was very fond of the colour gold and that his Portrait Of Adele Bloch-Bauer recently sold for $135 million, I took a friend with an art history degree to the screening, who pronounced it "too arty."
Can't argue there.