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John Malkovich • Interview
‘I am a constant source of embarrassment to myself’
By Rosanna Greenstreet, The Guardian Film
Sat 10 Mar 2018 09.30 GMT
The actor on childishness, night-time wandering and information overload.
“I've permitted myself to learn and to fail with some regularity. And that is probably the one thing I was given, and that I'm still grateful for.” -- John Malkovich
Born in Illinois, John Malkovich, 64, joined Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company and won an Obie for True West in 1983. The following year he appeared with Dustin Hoffman in the Broadway revival of Death Of A Salesman in 1984 and won an Emmy after it was made into a TV film.
He has received Oscar nominations for Places In The Heart and In The Line Of Fire, and also starred in Dangerous Liaisons and Being John Malkovich. His latest film, The Wilde Wedding, is out on DVD and digital. He has two children with the film director Nicoletta Peyran; they have homes in Massachusetts and France.
When were you happiest?
Probably when our children were small, which is not to say I am unhappy now.
What is your earliest memory?
Playing hide-and-seek when I was really little, and getting into a disused refrigerator and closing the door to hide from my brother, which could have worked out very badly. But my father found me.
John Malkovich: ‘What did I want to be when I was growing up? A baseball pitcher.’ Photograph: Daniel Hambury/Evening Standard
Which living person do you most admire, and why?
I admire the mother of my children a great deal, because she’s interesting, smart and funny.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Deplore might be strong, but general childishness, unseriousness and laziness in terms of what I’ve done compared with what maybe I should have or could have done.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
Recently, at the Hotel Caron in Paris, I got up to use the bathroom one night and found myself out in the hallway instead. But that is one of a million: I am a constant source of embarrassment to myself.
Which book changed your life?
So many, but certainly The Sound And The Fury by William Faulkner. “No battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.”
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Doing nothing. I used to be able to prepare for work much more quickly. My brain just doesn’t work on the same level any more, so now my “do nothing” time is 95% gone.
What is your most treasured possession?
I am not super-sentimental about stuff, but I have a little stuffed bear our son, Loewy, gave us; and our daughter, Amandine, gave me a key chain.
What is your most unappealing habit?
It used to be smoking, which, I think, in the end, even if you are not doing it, is still a habit.
What makes you unhappy?
That people are so certain about things that you really can’t be certain about.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A baseball pitcher.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Julian Sands, who is one of my very oldest friends. It would be nice to see Harold Pinter again. It would be interesting to meet Nina Simone, whom I have always admired, although I doubt she was a day at the beach.
What is the closest you’ve come to death?
When I was an idiot high school student, as opposed to being an idiot adult, I used to drive very fast.
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
If one could shut off the modern world and all the information that flows, not necessarily into your brain but at your face, and doesn’t benefit anything or make one better informed.
How would you like to be remembered?
By my friends as hopefully someone who was a good friend, or at least amusing, but I don’t need to be remembered by people I don’t know.
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