John Malkovich, 59, incendiary star of Dangerous Liaisons, In the Line of Fire and, oh, that Spike Jonze one — what was it called again? — is poised for a return to our screens this summer in the Moscow-set comic-book adaptation Red 2, with Bruce Willis. Esquire caught up with him on the phone to talk Mr T, bad knees and planting seeds.
ESQUIRE: Am I right in saying that Red 2 is the first sequel you’ve ever done?
JOHN MALKOVICH: Let me think. Yes, I suppose it probably is.
Do you receive any training for an action film like Red 2 or do you just turn up and get on with it?
Well, you have to have training for gunplay and all that stuff. At times you have to look like you know what you’re doing.
How did you come to be Mr T’s acting teacher?
That was 30 years ago, probably, when I taught acting classes a couple of times. He didn’t stay long because he got cast in Rocky III or The A-Team.
Could you see your instruction in his subsequent work?
No. He did what he did. If I’d got to see him work in detail on things that were kind of far away from him… I imagine that he probably had some degree of talent.
I hear you’ve had a bad knee. How is it at the moment?
Much better, thanks. I’ve been working on it very hard for the last six or seven months non-stop. It’s probably just wear and tear. I played football and baseball and basketball a lot and those aren’t fantastic things for your knees. They’re both not so good now.
Does that injury hinder your gardening activities at all?
No. I was in the greenhouse all day today planting my seeds. I did the greenhouse so I could stand up and garden. Then, I built the potager in a way so that you can sit on the wall and do it. Today, I planted pimientos de Padrón, a couple of other peppers, some Thai basil, some Italian torpedo onions and five different tomatoes.
Is it all fruit and veg or do you grow flowers as well?
I used to but I don’t any more. My wife does that… or, let’s say, she supervises it. I retired from my floral career. That’s officially over.
Would you recommend psychoanalysis?
Yes, sure. It’s a good sounding board and pressure reliever and can be a good way, if you’re lucky, of understanding others. I think when I went to psychoanalysis I actually believed that people said what they meant. This was my whole problem.
What was your initial reaction to getting scammed by Bernie Madoff?
It was a shock for a couple of days. The real problem with that was you paid a big percentage of your so-called profits every year in capital gains tax, which I think explains why the government was never too interested in finding out whether it was a true thing or a fraudulent thing. They made billions of dollars off it every year. You don’t get that money back. They keep it. But I was very lucky. I wasn’t one of these poor people who’d worked for 50 years, put together a million bucks and gave it to Madoff. A couple of days later they were bagging groceries or cleaning apartments.
You’re known for playing intelligent nutcases even though that’s been a small part of your film career. Does that irritate you at all?
Sometimes. As an actor, you choose from among what you’ve been chosen for, so certain parts I’ve played it was that kind of person. The other factor, of course, is what the audience likes — and the audience seems to like me being scary and creepy.
Red 2 is out 2 August