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RED – Why John Malkovich almost did not do this film

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Red - John Malkovich
Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) © 2010 Summit Entertainment

John Malkovich is so unique that Spike Jonze made a movie about tapping into his innermost thoughts called Being John Malkovich, for which the screen star won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor.

With thirty-four years in the business, Malkovich was nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Places in the Heart and In the Line of Fire. He co-starred with Diane Lane in Secretariat, which just opened, and has just finished a role in Michael Bay’s Transformers 3.

His latest movie, RED, opens this week. In it he plays Marvin Boggs, a reclusive retired CIA agent who, along with other retired agents played by Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman, is being stalked by assassins.

I read that you almost didn’t do this movie.

Red - John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman
Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) and Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman)© 2010 Summit Entertainment

When I was first approached about the role I was already in negotiations for something else, but luckily that fell through and I was able to come back to this project which was fantastic for me.

I liked the script and the character very much, as well as all the filmmakers involved. In fact, the writers said, ‘We’ll change anything.’ They were very amenable to my collaborative efforts but I told them not to change anything because I liked it the way it was. It was a very tight script, not a lot of useless blah, blah, blah, with good characters and good fun.

Can you tell us a little about Marvin?

Marvin, as they say, doesn’t get out much anymore. Marvin is very, very paranoid, but the flipside of that is Marvin is usually very, very correct. If Marvin thinks someone is out to get him, they probably are out to get him.

Have you read the comic book? It’s much more violent than the movie.

I never read the comic book. So it’s a more violent book than comic book apparently. The truth is, unless you’re involved in the adaptation, or you have sufficient lead time, and you’re in a position with the people producing or directing it, it doesn’t do any good to read a book of something because what you’re going to be making is the screenplay.

Helen said she was inspired by Martha Stewart for her part, did you have any inspiration for Marvin?

Red - Helen Mirren and John Malkovich
Victoria (Helen Mirren) and Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich) © 2010 Summit Entertainment

I actually base all my characters on Martha Stewart! Somehow people lack the discernment to grasp that. That’s very funny what Helen said.

I actually did base this character on someone but I would never say who it is. I would be interested to see if somebody ever picks it up.

Helen said you were good with the guns. How did you like to fire all these different kinds of weapons?

The sub-machine gun is one of the most elegant, form-meets-function guns that ever existed. I wish I had one, I don’t mean right now! I like to squeeze off a few rounds like everyone else. I don’t hunt or anything like that.

I wouldn’t want a gun really, but I can appreciate the elegance of their design or how they actually function, but I’m not packing and I won’t be any time in the near future.

What kind of expectations do you have when you work with actors like Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren?

I knew all of them slightly. I had run across Morgan several times in the old days when we lived in New York, and we both just did theatre. I always found him very charming and fun to be around, and a terrific actor. I knew Bruce probably the least, although I’d come across Bruce a couple of times and had nice chats with him before. They’re pros.

Do you get more out of a film with good actors?

Red - John Malkovich, Bruce Willis and Mary Louise Parker with director Robert Schwentke
Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and Sarah Ross (Mary Louise Parker) with director Robert Schwentke on set © 2010 Summit Entertainment

Yeah, sure. I like watching all these people, they know what they’re doing, as does Mary-Louise Parker (who plays Sarah Ross in the movie) who I had made a film with many years ago called Portrait of a Lady, and who I’m very fond of watching and acting with. She makes interesting choices as an actor and is immensely receptive and perceptive about what’s going on around her with respect to the other actors.

How do you get your characters spot-on every time you work?

That’s very kind of you to say, but all I do is read the screenplay many, many times, and then when you show up you get a sense of what people are doing. I always look at the whole thing, not really what I’m doing, because whatever I’m doing will happen anyway. I look at, am I a point or a counter-point in this scene, in this story, at this moment?

People often ask me about roles I’ve done. I’ve done a few films where I had a fantastic role, and I was okay in it, but if the film isn’t good you’re much better off not having made it, even if it was a wonderful role. If the film doesn’t work, it’s just a big waste of time, money and effort.

You play a retired agent in this – what about you, any plans to retire?

They’ll retire me when it’s time to retire. They won’t have the slightest compunction about that, nor should they. I will have lived a very long, incredibly blessed life. I will have had the most extraordinary, pretty much undeserved, opportunities continuously for 34 years now, I will have had the pleasure of having worked with some of the most interesting people and some of the most gifted filmmakers around the world, so when they retire me I’d miss the people, but that will be that.