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Equally adept on stage and on screen, acclaimed actor and occasional director John Malkovich long remained an enigma to audiences, while establishing himself as one of the most distinguished and accomplished performers of his generation. After proving himself a venerable thespian with the famed Steppenwolf Theatre company, Malkovich made an immediate impact when he transitioned to the big screen, delivering memorable award-worthy performances in "The Killing Fields" (1984) and "Places in the Heart" (1984). He achieved sex symbol status - an unlikely distinction for the gangly actor - with his performance in the decadent drama "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988), but then he languished for a spell in rather insubstantial films that added nothing to his previous acclaim. All that changed with his Oscar-nominated performance as a would-be presidential assassin in "In the Line of Fire" (1993), which opened the door for Malkovich to play charming, but psychotic killers - for good or ill. Malkovich reached certain notoriety playing a somewhat fictional take on himself in the wildly absurd "Being John Malkovich" (1999), which once again displayed the actor's unique ability to keep audiences guessing while churning...
Equally adept on stage and on screen, acclaimed actor and occasional director John Malkovich long remained an enigma to audiences, while establishing himself as one of the most distinguished and accomplished performers of his generation. After proving himself a venerable thespian with the famed Steppenwolf Theatre company, Malkovich made an immediate impact when he transitioned to the big screen, delivering memorable award-worthy performances in "The Killing Fields" (1984) and "Places in the Heart" (1984). He achieved sex symbol status - an unlikely distinction for the gangly actor - with his performance in the decadent drama "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988), but then he languished for a spell in rather insubstantial films that added nothing to his previous acclaim. All that changed with his Oscar-nominated performance as a would-be presidential assassin in "In the Line of Fire" (1993), which opened the door for Malkovich to play charming, but psychotic killers - for good or ill. Malkovich reached certain notoriety playing a somewhat fictional take on himself in the wildly absurd "Being John Malkovich" (1999), which once again displayed the actor's unique ability to keep audiences guessing while churning out one fine performance after another.
Born on Dec. 9, 1953 in the small coal mining town of Benton, IL, Malkovich was raised one of five children by Daniel, conservation director for the State of Illinois and the publisher of Outdoor Illinois, and J Anne, owner of the Benton Evening News, who was affectionately known as "Frog" by her children because of her deep voice. With his father routinely away on business and his mother unwilling to discipline her children, the Malkovich brood essentially ran wild. As a boy, Malkovich was both literally and figurative a punching bag for his older brother, who chided him for being overweight. When he was 16, Malkovich dropped a good 70 pounds after eating nothing but Jell-O for two months. After graduating high school, he attended Eastern Illinois University, then transferred to Illinois State University, where he majored in theater and became close friends with actress Joan Allen. In 1976, Malkovich left school for good to join the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, where he stayed for the next six years, amassing some 50-odd plays to his acting and directing resume.
During his run with Steppenwolf, Malkovich delivered several memorable performances and first gained notice in Sam Shepard's family tragedy, "Curse of the Starving Class" (1978) at the Goodman Theatre. He later shined as the corrupting older brother in Shepard's mythic "True West," directed by Gary Sinise, and helped establish the theatre company's national reputation with his OBIE-winning portrayal of the same role when the production relocated to New York in 1983. Prior to his award win, Malkovich made his television debut with a supporting role in the politically-themed movie, "Word of Honor" (CBS, 1981). Back on stage, Malkovich earned more praise - and a second OBIE award - for directing Steppenwolf's revival of Lanford Wilson's "Balm in Gilead" (1984). Also that year, he debuted on Broadway as Biff in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," opposite Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman. His performance earned Malkovich a Drama Desk Award and later an Emmy when the play was adapted for television by CBS in 1985. Meanwhile, he made his Broadway directorial debut with George Bernard Shaw's "Arms and the Man" (1985), later replacing lead actor Kevin Kline during the play's run at the Circle in the Square Theatre.
With a long and venerable stage career, it was only a matter of time before Malkovich made the transition to feature films. He made a memorable first impression playing a jaded photojournalist covering atrocities in Cambodia in "The Killing Fields" (1984), then eared his first Academy Award nomination playing the blind boarder, Mr. Will, in the Depression era drama, "Places in the Heart" (1984). On the stage once again, Malkovich won both an OBIE Award and a Drama Desk Award for directing Landford Wilson's "Balm in Gilead." Meanwhile, he excelled as the soldier-of-fortune, Basie, in Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" (1987) before displaying his comedic side in the dual role of nerdy scientist and android in Susan Seidelman's offbeat "Making Mr. Right" (1987). His world-weary, misanthropic persona was on full display portraying the decadent Vicomte de Valmont, high priest of seduction, in Stephen Frears' erotic period drama, "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988). Always fond of offbeat material, Malkovich bought the rights to Anne Taylor's The Accidental Tourist, becoming the executive producer on the modestly successful 1988 romantic drama that starred William Hurt and Geena Davis.
After hosting an episode of "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) in 1989, Malkovich played the brilliant, self-destructive Port Moresby - a thinly-veiled Paul Bowles - in Bernardo Bertolucci's atmospheric but torpid "The Sheltering Sky" (1990). In the "Queens Logic" (1991) - a "Big Chill" (1983) knock-off - Malkovich played a man struggling with his homosexuality. He then followed with the subpar Woody Allen effort, "Shadows and Fog" (1992), playing a clown having an extramarital affair with a trapeze artist (Madonna). Reuniting with Gary Sinise, Malkovich co-starred in the remake of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" (1992), reviving from his Steppenwolf days the role of simpleton, Lennie Small. Despite strong performances, Malkovich failed to attract a wide audience for these films. With his film career seemingly stalled, Malkovich reinvigorated himself with a chilling performance as Mitch Leary, the cold-blooded assassin who taunts an aging Secret Service agent (Clint Eastwood) still tortured over his failure to protect President John F. Kennedy from being assassinated in Wolfgang Petersen's "In the Line of Fire" (1993). The unpredictability and frightening humor Malkovich brought to the role made Leary more frightening than previous onscreen villains and earned him his second Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
On the small screen, Malkovich played the insane Kurtz in Nicolas R g's faithful adaptation of Joseph Conrad's "The Heart of Darkness" (TNT, 1994). Though a good match of director to material, the pedestrian script failed to capture the essence of Kurtz's madness. Malkovich, however, earned nominations at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and Golden Globes. The intelligence and duality he typically exuded lent the necessary edge to director Man l de Oliveira's "The Convent" (1995), a peculiar drama about a literary scholar's emotional and metaphysical adventures. Malkovich then played the sensitive Dr Henry Jekyll and his fiendish alter ego Mr. Hyde in the revisionist misfire "Mary Reilly" (1996), co-starring Julia Roberts. As Gilbert Osmand, the manipulative husband of Nicole Kidman's Isabel Archer in Jane Campion's "The Portrait of a Lady" (1996), Malkovich added another name added to his long list of onscreen rogues. His eccentric nature and stone visage made him ideal for the gold-digging aesthete from the Henry James novel, but good performances and handsome production values were trumped once again by a lifeless script. Building off the capital of his would-be presidential assassin from "In the Line of Fire," Malkovich portrayed genius serial killer Cyrus 'The Virus' Grissom, one of 10 dangerous criminals being transferred aboard a plane to a new maximum-security prison, in the action thriller "Con Air" (1997).
Throughout his career, Malkovich preferred the stage, often decrying the piecemeal nature of filmmaking for compromising his performances. So adverse was the business to his comfort that he settled his family away from Hollywood to the south of France, where he filmed "The Man in the Iron Mask" (1998) and Luc Besson's "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" (1999) - movies made close to his new home. He next played two characters out of the annals of film history: screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz in "RKO 281" (HBO, 1999), an drama about the making of "Citizen Kane" (1941), and director F. W. Murnau in "Shadow of the Vampire" (2000), a textured fictional telling about the making of the silent classic, "Nosferatu" (1922). In 1999, he took on the rare opportunity to play himself in "Being John Malkovich," a surreal dark comedy about an unemployed puppeteer (John Cusack) who stumbles upon a door that leads to the inside of Malkovich's head, and subsequently rents the space for $200 to those looking for their 15 minutes of fame, which culminated in a hilarious scene of the actor going through the trap door himself, where he saw and heard nothing but "Malkovich! Malkovich! Malkovich!" Never straying into parody, he remained surprisingly low-key, while the film became a critical favorite and earned Academy Award nominations for director, screenplay and supporting actress (Catherine Keener).
In 2002, Malkovich co-starred in several projects, including the ill-received mobster-comedy, "The Knockaround Guys." He then made his feature directorial debut with an adaptation of Nicholas Shakespeare's novel, "The Dancer Upstairs" (2002) - part political thriller and part romance between a Latin American police detective (Javier Bardem) and his daughter's ballet instructor (Laura Morante) who may or may not be connected to a group of terrorists. Malkovich then appeared in the international comedy hit "Johnny English" (2003), playing Pascal Sauvage, arch-nemesis of Rowan Atkinson's accident-prone secret agent. Later that year, he played an older, wiser incarnation of career criminal Tom Ripley - a character first popularized by Matt Damon - in the stylish thriller "Ripley's Game" (2003). As Commandante John Walesa, Malkovich starred alongside Catherine Deneuve in "A Talking Picture" (2004), Portugal's official entry for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. After a supporting turn in "Art School Confidential" (2006), he gave an off-colored performance in "Color Me Kubrick" (2007), playing Alan Conway, an Englishman who convinced the public he was Stanley Kubrick, despite bearing no resemblance to the reclusive director. Following his performance as Unferth in "Beowulf" (2007), Malkovich played a CIA agent battling a pair of dimwitted gym instructors (Brad Pitt and Frances McDormand) who possess his top secrets files in "Burn After Reading" (2008).
Malkovich took a small role as a clergyman sympathetic to Angelina Jolie's suspicions of LAPD cover-ups in Clint Eastwood's gripping "Changeling" (2008), and played the titular "The Great Buck Howard" (2008) in the well-reviewed comedy. As the title character, an out-of-date mentalist clinging to the scraps of his career and dragging Emily Blunt and Colin Hanks in his wake, Malkovich won the San Diego Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor. He continued to work, top-lining "Disgrace" (2008) as a college professor ensnared by apartheid, and essaying a death-predicting doctor in the thriller "Afterwards" (2008), but U.S. audiences saw him most prominently in old form again, relishing every villainous second of the supernatural-tinged Western "Jonah Hex" (2010). As the evil Quentin Turnbull, Malkovich took on the comic-book adaptation's scarred superhero (Josh Brolin) as well as fiery gunslinger Megan Fox. Though this was a critical and box-office bomb, Malkovich's projects released later in the year fared much better, with both the playful action film "Red" and the horseracing drama "Secretariat" greeted with positive receptions.
In 2011, Malkovich collected an easy paycheck with an appearance in the robot-heavy sequel "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" and was subsequently more engaging in the apocalyptic horror/comedy movie "Warm Bodies" (2013), where he portrayed a zombie-fighting survivalist leader whose daughter falls for a handsome member of the undead. Later that year, he reconvened with Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren and other co-stars from "Red" for the sequel, which met with a muted response.
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CAST: (feature film)
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"The hardest thing about this part was all the running I had to do--I hate running and don't intend to do it again for a long time. I didn't train for the running scenes either--I just put down my cigarettes for a minute and ran." --Malkovich, remarking on his role in "In the Line of Fire" to Los Angeles Times Calendar, July 4, 1993.
"With Steppenwolf, our approach was to try to make a theater where a bunch of strangers could go into a dark room and forget what they're thinking about for awhile and become immersed in some other view of the world ... It wasn't anything more than that. And we didn't do it using any method. We never felt you had to become helium in order to fly a hot air balloon.
"So how do you do it? How do you get a room full of strangers who don't know you or care about you, people who are pissed off that they had to pay twenty or thirty dollars for a ticket, people who have seen hundreds of plays already and want something different, people leading average, everyday, boring lives who are looking to you to fill that void in their soul--how do you get through to them? There is no answer really, except that you have to work as hard as you can to burst through all that. And if you fail, so what? That's part of it. You have to be thick-skinned about it and go on." --quoted in Buzz, October 1994.
Responding to a question about the impact of violence on children: "I actually think it's up to the parents. I went accidentally with my grandmother to see 'Psycho' when I was 6 years old and I still haven't killed any women in a shower.
"So I understand people's concern and it's a right concern. And I do very few violent films. Certainly would not want to do them as a steady diet. But I think parents should do a lot better job raising their children and teaching them the difference between reality and fantasy. And giving them some idea of what it means to cause pain to others in a real sense.
"Hollywood's at fault, sure, there's no question about that. But it's a business. If people don't go to these films, they won't be made ... But I don't mind a certain amount of violence because the world is violent ... Why not have an acquaintance with it so that when you encounter it in life you have some familiarity with it?" --quoted in Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1997.
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