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Malkovich: I don't always play the bad guy

From Rosie Tomkins, CNN
  • Malkovich has played some of the most compelling villains of his generation
  • He says those roles don't define him and he's tired of being asked why he always plays the bad guy
  • John Malkovich talks about his roles and the fascination people have about him
  • "Being an actor didn't change my life," says the acclaimed performer

London, England (CNN) -- John Malkovich has played some of the most compelling villains of his generation but the "Burn After Reading" actor insists he doesn't always play bad guys.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Malkovich said that his most high-profile roles had been taken out of context from the rest of his work as an actor.

"You are just talking about four or five films that happened to have made a few hundred million dollars," he said. "And then you name 40 or 60 films where this wouldn't be applicable," he said.

However, Malkovich's two latest roles would belie his lament: a notorious serial killer in theater production "The Infernal Comedy," and supervillain, Vulture, in "Spider-Man 4," slated for release in 2012.

Malkovich first hit the big time in with his portrayal of a voracious womanizer in "Dangerous Liaisons." But what really cemented both his quirky reputation and cult status was playing a fictional version of himself in Spike Jonze's surreal dark comedy "Being John Malkovich" (1999).

"How is it being John Malkovich?" -- I've probably had quite enough of that question.
--John Malkovic

Malkovich opened up to CNN's Revealed about his roles, people's fascination with him and the questions he's tired of being asked.

Revealed: There seems to be a fascination with your character. Why is that?

John Malkovich: I don't have the slightest idea why people have that fascination. It doesn't make a lot of sense in the end. I think people attach ideas to people that I don't attach to people.

I mean it could be Bob Dylan, Dr. Dre or Ian McEwan. I like what they do and am very content to leave it at that. Maybe they are lovely, maybe they are monsters and maybe they are unbelievably compelling in person, but I never have that kind of relationship to others.

Revealed: I've read that you say things like failures are a part of life, they don't matter, is it all the same to you if it goes well or badly?

JM: No, of course not, because if a film does badly then that reflects on your ability to get work. I'd hate to see any film I'm involved in fail, especially artistically but also business-wise. I produce movies also, and you don't want to have one that fails because you can't get money to do anything else.

Revealed: What do you find appealing when it comes to roles and projects?

Getting familiar with John Malkovich
1. An overweight teenager, he went on to lose 70 lbs by eating nothing but lime jelly for two months.

2. His parents owned and operated "The Benton Evening News" and a conservation magazine called "Outdoor Illinois."

3. He appear's in Annie Lennox's video "Walking on Broken Glass," wearing an outfit borrowed from the set of "Dangerous Liaisons."

4. "When I first looked at the script, the titles seemed like a one-line joke, but it turned out to be a 100-page joke," he famously said about "Being John Malkovich."

5. He part-owns a hotel in Cardiff, Wales and a hip night club in Lisbon, Portugal.

(Sources:, and

JM: I have no idea, I do the things that appeal to me and I've had the good fortune not to have to be really restricted to just always making decisions based on having to make a living, etc. So, for the most part I've always done what I thought would be the most interesting thing for me at that point in time.

Revealed: When you look at a line, psychologically, what process do you go through to digest it and then deliver it?

JM: I don't really go through a process, it goes through me. I read it and respond to it utterly instinctively without any other considerations. Sometimes, at a later time, maybe there will be intellectual considerations, but, generally, I read it and respond to it instinctively and play it the way it is written.

Revealed: Going to your movie career, is there one role that was pivotal or have you taken each project as it's come?

JM: Mostly the latter, taking them as they have come. Some were pivotal to perceptions, some were pivotal to my growth, because some of my collaborators gave me an insight of their knowledge passed on from their experience. And that caused me to grow, change in some way.

Revealed: What makes you excited, passionate or irritated?

JM: The most evocative thing to me is probably when a writer and a group of performers can collectively put together something compelling that asks the really simple question: "How do we live?" When you do a really good play, the audience and the performers are looking into the same looking glass, the same microscope. And the specimen they are looking at is human life and that's why I do it, that's why I like it.

Revealed: Do you find when you are interviewed you are asked often the same questions? Which ones do you find particularly irritating?

JM: I think I've heard some probably a few hundred thousand times now, but "How is it being John Malkovich?" -- I've probably had quite enough of that question and "Why do you always play a bad guy?" too.

Teo Kermeliotis contributed to this report