Q&A With Michael Madsen

What methodically qualifies one as a good actor? Michael Madsen has been very vocal about his acting abilities on several occasions, “I’m not really that good of an actor.” The man does not give himself enough credit and he may not be as comfortable as other actors in the industry but he isn’t lacking talent by any means. In my opinion, he’s a gifted entertainer. It’s tough to keep your eyes off of him, no matter what else is transpiring on screen because of his physical presence. Bringing the script to life and making the dialogue colorable is not a piece of cake. You have to play the character so convincingly, the audience forgets you’re an actor and centers solely on the character. Worried that he would always be stereotyped and play the bad guy because it was the only character he was being offered, he has turned down a few roles in hopes of being the good guy every now and then. Known for Thelma and Louise, Reservoir Dogs, Free Willy, The Getaway, Species, Donnie Brasco, Die Another Day, Kill Bill, Sin City, Scary Movie 4, Vice, and he isn’t anywhere near finished with acting! I am excited to see what the future has reserved for Michael Madsen. I have always been attracted to him and thought there was something very sinister about him but after hearing what he’s all about, he’s not sinister at all. He is a compassionate family man that only wants to provide. He has five boys that he put in a certain lifestyle so he has to keep working. When it comes to choosing a new gig, it unfortunately comes down to whether it’s going to make money or not so he can keep his children in that lifestyle. He spends a lot of time raising money to help charities for the less fortunate. He was even presented an award for his work with the Shriners Hospital for Children.

Quite the poet, he completed a book titled “The Complete Poetic Works of Michael Madsen, Vol 1: 1995-2005,” that features all of his writings on match books and napkins while traveling around the world on various film sets. This book was an international success. Friend and fellow actor Dennis Hopper had some choice words for his poetry, “I like him better than Kerouac: raunchier, more poignant, he’s got street language, images I can relate to, blows my mind with his drifts of gut-wrenching riffs; this actor is a poet and he is cool, of course, he is Michael Madsen.” His latest book, American Badass, was released on September 25, 2009 and it’s dedicated to the late David Carradine, who was Bill in Kill Bill. He is also into photography. Several limited edition prints sit on the walls of celebrity galleries in Hawaii, one being dedicated to Chris Penn.

Actress Virginia Madsen is Michael’s sister. Most horror fans remember her for Candyman. I remember her in the 80s comedy-drama, Modern Girls. Michael claims that she was the actor in the family. She was taking acting classes, into theater, and had Marilyn Monroe posters on her wall. Their mother had a drama scholarship. Talent seems to run in their family.

Of all the celebrities I have met at conventions and screenings, Michael Madsen has to be one of my favorites. I believe he is often misunderstood and portrayed as an angry alcoholic when that isn’t the case. I don’t know him personally to say for sure but I don’t believe many of his accusers know him personally to make such judgment calls either. Madsen was arrested on March 5, 2012 for a misdemeanor charge and again on March 7, 2012 for child endangerment and getting into a fight with his son. Several people take part in online arguments over his character and personal struggles because they do not respect celebrities privacy. I was actually shocked to read some of the disrespectful comments about the man. If you google his name, his mug shots pop up and it makes me feel bad for the guy. He should not be remembered for these things. Lets praise Michael Madsen for being a hardworking, devoted father that enjoys helping those in need.  It’s a shame that celebrities have to deal with so much negative attention.

Words cannot express how happy I was that he was going to be a guest at Texas Frightmare Weekend. We giggled like school girls when we found out he was also doing a Q&A. The opening question geared him into discussing how he got his start into the business and what he was doing before hand. This consisted of; working at a car wash, going to school to become a paramedic due to his fathers wishes, working as an orderly in a hospital, and landscaping. Acting is just something he stumbled into. After his friend promised him lots of girls would be at this audition, he accompanied this friend and was asked to read for the part. There were only two lines in the film but he got the part. At the Steppenwolf theater company, he spent a lot of time watching John Malkovich. Eventually, he moved to California and started auditioning for more and more acting gigs.

My favorite part about this Q&A is when he discussed behind-the-scene moments on Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill. I was actually surprised at how well he could do Quentin Tarantino impressions. Those impressions were performed a few times. When discussing his role as Mr. Blond in Reservoir Dogs he expressed how he actually wanted to play Mr. Pink cause he gets away from the bad guys. He didn’t want to get shot. Quentin was set on him being Mr. Blond. He read for Mr. Pink and wouldn’t let it go but Quentin didn’t want that. He had no idea the film was going to be so big. They all told him not to do it cause Quentin was a first time director. He did it because of Harvey Keitel and his longing to work with him.

As for his thoughts on Tarantino, “He is a big talent. He is a genius. He is a very quirky cat. He has an understanding of violent things. Everyone tries to copy him now, unsuccessfully.”  Madsen continued, “We were just trying to be cool,” and  “We just wanted to be cool gangsters with Harvey.” He ad-libbed a lot of those lines. In the scene where he is torturing the cop, classic scene, he ad-libbed the entire thing. The script just said “Mr. Blond maniacally dances around with cop.” Well, he didn’t rehearse it cause he didn’t know what he was going to do. It was a tough scene for him because he’s not really a violent man. He explains that if you watch this scene and watch what he is doing, Quentin is actually telling him “Throw it! Throw it!” But he didn’t want to throw the ear. He started thinking, “What would you do with an ear in your hand?” So hey started talking into it, thinking it would make the cut more crazy. Then he throws the ear. Madsen does another impression, “Three days later Quentin comes up to me and says, ‘Hey Michael, remember when you were talking into the ear? We are going to keep it in the movie.’ You know, it never really occurred to me that it wasn’t going to be in the movie. Thanks Quentin for taking credit for something you didn’t write.” He giggled as he explained this story and even did a good job making out Tarantino’s voice. Tarantino got him back when they were shooting Kill Bill. Madsen was in Mexico shooting a Western and he bought that white stetson during his stay. Later on, when they were rehearsing for Kill Bill, Tarantino walks up to him and say, “You’re not going to wear that hat in the movie. ” Michael says, “Yea I am.” He gets a “No you’re not” reply. “I know why you’re wearing it everyday cause you think you’re wearing it in the movie. ” Days later on set when Madsen is getting propped up Tarantino says to him, “You know Michael uh, I can’t not picture you without the hat. So you can wear it.” They started the grave yard scene first with the hat. The day of the strip club scene, he said they were changing the scene up a bit. This is where the scene where Larry tells Bud to take off the hat comes in. It was Tarantino’s way of revenge. “That’s the crazy genius of him.” He wrote the scene to where he had to take it off. “When Bud has to take off his hat, he is demoralized. I, Michael Madsen, was demoralized.” He explained that he is not that good of an actor and on screen it was Bud being demoralized. “It gave Bud a moral center.” Then he began telling the trunk story on Reservoir Dogs, what another fun adventure. The actor playing the cop approached Michael and said he had never been locked in a trunk before. The actor asked him if he would consider locking him in his trunk. Madsen felt he could learn a lot from having a guy in his trunk. He decided to drive around a little bit even though he was screaming NO! As he was driving away, Tarantino and the others were waving and screaming NOOO! He drove down a long alley with pot holes and he was having a good time with it. The man was studying his craft. Then he drove into a Taco Bell and got a coke with the actor still locked in his trunk. He also forgot he left his tools in the trunk so the poor guy may have been clunked a few times. They both learned something that day. Never ask someone to lock you in a trunk. This is why Madsen had the coke while he was leaning up against the poll. They just changed out the cup so it wouldn’t say “Taco Bell.” I actually use to have this poster of Madsen with the coke, leaning up against the poll but I gave it away so I could have more space for my extremely rare Kill Bill poster. Yes I am kicking myself for giving it away. It would have been nice to have him sign the poster. Shame on me!

One last impression Madsen performed of Tarantino was after he was asked if there were things in Kill Bill volumes one and two that were not used in the movie, “Can you believe it? They want to make the film into two volumes, it’s ridiculous!” I can’t believe Tarantino actually wanted to keep the movie as a whole. Madsen sarcastically replied, “Yea man, that’s ridiculous.” After that final, hilarious impression he said that he didn’t hear of anything that wasn’t used in Kill Bill. A lot of Tarantino fans have been dying to hear about the “Vega Brothers” and if it’s ever going to be made. He was happy to shed some light on this topic. There are rumors of him turning down Pulp Fiction but that isn’t true. It’s only because he couldn’t get out of Wyatt Earp. He wanted to do The Vega Brothers with John Travolta. It was going to be a prequel. It would have to happen before the two are dead. Now they can’t make it because they’re too old. The last he heard from Tarantino is that they were the twin brothers of the Vega brothers and coming back to avenge the deaths of their brothers. Lets be happy that this never happened. Who knows though, some jack ass may come along and cast Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gostling as the Vega Brothers.

Madsen tends to keeps busy and has a lot of films lined up for 2012. It had been pointed out that there are 15 titles on IMDB. Madsen says you cannot trust IMDB and he has to keep cracking down on them, “You get on an elevator with somebody. They tell you that their brother wrote a screenplay and he wrote it for you. You don’t want to insult anybody or be an ass hole. Ten days later it’s on IMDB that it’s in pre-production. You shouldn’t really believe IMDB.” One time he was getting a physical and even his doctor pulled out a script and told him that it’s the story of his life and he wants Madsen to play him. He does believe that you never really know what the film is going to turn out to be. Even the doctor’s film. There are some you will think will turn out good but it doesn’t always work out that way. A lot of it is out of your control. He explained that Vice may be a simple B-Cop movie but he cast it, wrote it, and it’s about redemption. He had a really good time being involved with it and wants to do more screenplay work.

As for roles he always wanted to play, that would be Pretty Boy Floyd, the bank robber in the Dillinger days but he is too old for it now. There are several roles he would have been interested in. “I thought I would be a great Batman.” That one made me laugh as I tried to picture him as Batman instead of George Clooney. He’s fond of all the old Humphrey Bogart pictures, Kirk Douglas, Lee Marvin, and Burt Lancaster. Madsen claims to copy a lot of stuff from those guys. When asked who that he has worked with had the most impact on him he said, “David Carradine. He was the real deal.” They became very close and Carradine’s wedding even took place in Madsen’s own residence. He looked to him for advice and he is sad Carradine is no longer around. “He had an interesting life and was a great actor.” When asked how was it working with Ridley Scott he replied, “I just cannot figure out why I didn’t work with him again.” He was “super cool.” The scene with him and Susan Sarandon in the room in Thelma and Louise was all ad-libbed. It was his idea to flip the table when Susan turns down his marriage proposal. He wanted him to be in Black Hawk Down as well but he was in New York working on 13 contracted episodes that he couldn’t get out of. A fan wanted him to talk about the movie Red Line and Madsen briefly discussed the film and laughed as he mentioned slapping Corey Feldman in the face with a banana peel. The last question asked was about Dennis Hopper and what it’s like working with him. “He was a genius of a man and great actor. He was a very wise fella.” At the time, Madsen had a lot going on in his life while the two were shooting Hell Ride so Hopper was there for him. Madsen expressed wanting to get out of the business but Hopper assured him that everything was going to be fine. Unfortunately, he didn’t spend much time talking about Frank Miller or Sin City but he did say, “Frank is a strange bird” and that he had changed a lot after Sin City.

This was a great experience for me. I hope to cross paths with Michael Madsen again some day and I wish him and his family the best. Madsen expressed his longing for retiring and moving to Mexico. Maybe he will finally get to make that journey after delivering even more iconic performances in the future.

  • Rebekah nicely written! I love your choice of pictures!