Interview with Michael Madsen
In April, during this year's Wales Comic Con, I had the opportunity to chat with Chicago born Actor, Writer, Producer and Poet, Michael Madsen. We talk about his start in the industry and working with several interesting film directors, including Quentin Tarantino, Uwe Boll and Roger Donaldson - who I previously interviewed for Vulture Hound. Mr Madsen agreed to chat with me because of his upcoming projects, which includes a documentary on his life, American Badass. I thank Mr Madsen for the opportunity to talk with him. He first came to my attention in Reservoir Dogs and I've followed his career ever since that star making role of Mr Blonde.
What made you decide to become an actor?
My father was a firefighter and he wanted me to be a policeman or a firefighter. The closest I ever got was I went to school for a while to become a paramedic and I was also a plumber's apprentice. I also worked on a lot of cars. I was building race cars because, in reality, I really wanted to be Richard Petty (seven time NASCAR championship winner). I wanted to drive in NASCAR. I thought that was my future because I love driving those cars, but life intervened, I accidentally got a part in a film and one thing lead to another.
You began your career in small roles in movies such (Wargames) and episodic TV (Miami Vice). What lessons did you learn from this period in your profession?
I didn't know what I was doing but I pretended like I knew. I realised that when you are pretending that's actually acting and I didn't realise I was pretending to act. I didn't know anything about cameras and the technical end of things so I was a bit shy with the process. It suited me well and it paid a lot better pumping gas.
You came to the attention of the public through your role in Thelma and Louise. How did you get cast in the role of Jimmy?
I met the screenwriter in Las Vegas when I was doing a picture called Kill Me Again with Val Kilmer, who introduced me to the Director, Ridley Scott. They wanted me to play the guy in the parking lot who gets shot by Susan Sarandon. I didn't want to play that guy. They were laughing at me.
"You don't want to do this Ridley Scott movie?!"
I said "No man! I don't want that fucking part! What am I gonna get out of that playing the rapist?"
He said "Who do you want to play?”
I said “I'd like to play Jimmy. I want to be Susan's boyfriend”
He goes "Oh man I don't know if that's gonna work out"
So he asked me if I would take Susan out to lunch.
They gave me her address and I picked her up took her for lunch in Santa Monica. We never talked about the movie, we just chatted with each other about everything else in the world and the next day they called me up to say "Ok do you want to be Jimmy?” That's how I got it. It was one of the only times I got to play a sympathetic character because everyone wants me to be the bad guy.
Can you talk about working with Lawrence Tierney in Reservoir Dogs?
Lawrence Tierney used to hit me up for $20 every day "Gimme 20 buck's, Gimme 20 buck's"
I'd say “I just gave you 20 buck's yesterday!”
"No you didn't"
”Yes I did man!”
"Gimme 20 bucks"
He took a swing at me one time. If I hadn't backed off he would have hit me right in the face. We were out the front of Musso and Frank's (the famed Hollywood restaurant).
When he got cast in the movie the producers told us don't let Lawrence drink and so naturally the first thing I do, Tim Roth and I, we took Lawrence to drink. We wanted to see what would happen if we took him to Musso and Frank's. He got really loaded, he walked outside of the place, onto Hollywood Boulevard and he dropped his pants in the middle of the street; all these cars were stopping, honking.
We were like "Lawrence get out of the way! Pull up your fucking pants!" I had to go out into the street "Lawrence what are you doing"? I said
And he goes "Gimme 20 bucks"
I go "No! Fuck you"
He took this wild crazy swing at me, I backed off and he missed me by inches. I felt the breeze. God bless him, he's passed away now but he was quite a character.
Did you think during the shoot of Reservoir Dogs was going to be successful as it became?
No I don't think anyone of us realised what we were making; I think we all thought we were making a low budget gangster movie. I don't think anybody thought twice or a second about how big it would be, it was impossible to know.
You've worked with Quentin Tarantino several times since Dog's what's it like being directed by him?
The beauty of him is that he's the same guy he was when we did Reservoir Dogs with the same heart and same personality all the way up to Once Upon A Time….. in Hollywood. He's a great friend. He's hired me five times. Some of the best pictures I've done have been with him. He remembers his friends. Also he resurrects actors out of oblivion, that people haven't seen for years. He loves making movies and I love being in them.
You appeared in the 1994 remake of The Getaway directed by Roger Donaldson, can you talk about working on it?
I wanted to work with Roger because he was doing a remake of the Steve McQueen film, The Getaway. Obviously I wanted to play the lead, Doc McCoy, the McQueen role. I could have done it and I would have been good in it but the studio wanted Alec Baldwin, who was with Kim Basinger at the time and wanted to put the two of them in a movie. I got the opportunity to play Rudy, which AL Lettieri did in the original picture. The whole time I was doing it I was a crazy, psycho, bad guy which was wonderful fun and a great part to do.
You appeared in two PM Entertainment movies The Sender & Executive Target, what can you tell us about making those films?
Those movies are terrible! They're kind of exciting and fun to watch now but at the time they were done they were looked at rather unfavorably. I really feel like I got taken advantage of in that situation because I didn't really have good representation, I never have, and I didn't have a publicist; I was just trying to make a living and PM Entertainment paid me a lot of money to do those movies, to be honest, that's why I did them. I wanted to be the hero, the lead guy, instead of the killer; It's just the scripts were terrible and the guys who shot them didn't know what they were doing. Those movies are awful and embarrassing but I did them. I've done a lot of films that are great, that made a lot of money for people and I'm really proud of and I've done a lot of films that I shouldn't have done.
You appeared in Bloodrayne helmed by Uwe Boll, was it a good experience?
Well you know Bloodrayne is one of those movies that made itself. It just got made by somebody who didn't know what he was doing. He had a tremendous amount of money, he had riding horses and we were going to Transylvania. I liked the travel part of it, plus the experience of doing it, but then again it's one of those things where you look at the movie and it's horrible. Is it a comedy? What is it? It's preposterous.
What qualities do you look for in a script before accepting?
Right now I'm looking for a hero. I really wanted to be a good guy and I'm so well known and recognised for things like Reservoir Dogs and The Getaway, it's very hard for people to think of me in any other way than as a killer.
What underrated TV or Film performances would you recommend fan's check out?
Strength and Honour. I was an Irish American prize fighter. It never got any distribution, it went straight to DVD. So then the director sued and the movie got pulled from distribution. So no theatrical release, sadly. It came out on DVD with Vinnie Jones on the cover of the fucking thing! I guess they violated a lot of contractual issues. It's underrated and forgot about. Its pretty fucking sad because it's a good fucking movie that I was good in.
You appeared in Die Another Day, were you a fan of the Bond franchise before being cast?
Pierce Brosnan and I were friends because we were neighbors and our kids played together. One day we were sitting outside Pierce’s house and a great big, red, lifeguard helicopter or fire helicopter flew over the house. When I saw it, I go (he hums the Bond theme) - I was doing the music from the film and Pierce started laughing.
He always wanted to play James Bond but he was stuck on Remington Steele (80s TV Series), he couldn't get out of it. Then his poor wife passed away, it was a really sad time for him. He finally became Bond but his wife didn't live long enough to see it.
When I did the Bond music for him he asked me. I said "It would be a lot of fun to be in a Bond Picture"
He goes “Do you want to be in one?”
My response was "Well, Yeah!"
So I flew to London, I got to meet Barbara Broccoli and she interviewed me. They gave me the part as Falco in Die Another Day, which was a tremendously exciting experience. They flew me over British Airways, put me up in a nice hotel and I had a Jaguar to drive around. That was shot at Pinewood Studios and there's pictures of me riding around at the studios on a bicycle. It was a great, great time as an actor and my wife came over with me to enjoy it. To be in a Bond film is really a great honour and when people bring me memorabilia to sign Bond stuff I think it's really awesome.
You recently co starred with John Travolta in Trading Paint or Burning Rubber for its UK Release, are you disappointed that The Vega Brothers never came to be made?
It just didn't happen yet. The Vega Brothers is still a possibility, as long as John and I are still alive. It could just be us later on, you know? The reason why it didn't get made was it was originally thought of as a prequel to Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, because we are both killed. Essentially Vincent Vega is John and I played Vic Vega. I couldn't have played both parts, I would have been my own brother, so now we are the Vega Brothers. It was going to be a prequel about me and him - so, now, it has to be some weird thing.
The only thing I ever heard from Quentin Tarantino was he said you guys could be twin brothers to Vincent and Vic. The beginning of the film you are both being released from prison and you get together to make a club in Las Vegas it's called the Vega Brothers. I said "Yeah, sounds pretty cool." I talked with John Travolta while I was working with him on this race car movie Trading Paint. I don't know what happened with it. I never fucking saw it as it didn't get a theatrical release. I would have loved to have seen it play in a big theatre. I don't know what the fuck happened, it was a good movie as far as I know. I didn't do any press or publicity for the film; it's me and John Travolta, holy fuck that could have sold easily!
As part of my research I found that you were considered for these roles are any of them true?
Martin Riggs in Lethal Weapon?
I've only heard that recently it could be possibly true but I would have known if they wanted me, I would have remembered somebody asking me. They may have thought about me but didn't let me know about it. If I was skipped over then too bad, it was the only good film Mel Gibson made.
Bud White in LA Confidential?
Seth Gecko in From Dusk till Dawn?
What upcoming projects do you have?
Well Trading Paint just came out… I have Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (he shows me his stuntman jacket embroidered with Tarantino's writing) which I told him to use his own handwriting - that's my idea. When we were doing Kill Bill I told him use your own handwriting for the credits and he did now, it's become a thing that he does - So I have that coming out. I did a picture in Puerto Rico called The God's Eye that hasn't come out - So just trying to keep busy. I have a busted leg, so right now I can't do anything except voice overs or trade shows. I gotta keep making a dollar so it's tough. God bless you for doing that interview with Roger Donaldson because I love him, besides Quentin he's a great friend, good man and an excellent director very underrated.
They are doing a documentary on my life it's called American Badass it's all about my career, my life and my films. Roger appears in it being interviewed about working with me - it was really nice for him to do it. John Travolta is in it even Ron Perlman, Charlie Sheen, Daryl Hannah, Producer Mario Kassar and several directors including Quentin Tarantino who did 45 minutes for me. We just have to figure how to edit it because he said so many amazing things about me.
It begins with my house burning down in Malibu in November 2018 before Thanksgiving, that really broke me. It broke me and my fucking family. It was such an unbelievable tragedy, it really fucked me up bad, I'm still not over it. It's such a sad, horrible thing to happen to a family - my poor kids and my wife - I don't know if we'll ever get over it.
Which Actors do you like to watch?
I like Robert Mitchum, Lee Marvin, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas all those cats.
Burning Rubber AKA Trading Paint is available now and Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is released in the U.S. on July 26th 2019 and in the U.K. on 14th August 2019.