August 20, 2002 - To many, Michael Madsen is instantly recognizable as Reservoir Dogs' Mr. Blonde.
With a long list of credits behind him, you might also remember him in films ranging from Donnie Brasco and Mulholland Falls to Species and Free Willy (yes... Free Willy). Gaming fans will probably recognize his voice as that of Toni Cipriani in Grand Theft Auto III.
Still, his role in Quentin Tarantino's debut film is about as iconic as they come – which is all the more reason to pick up a copy of Artisan's 2-disc Reservoir Dogs Special Edition DVD.
IGN FILMFORCE: Ten years later, how big an impact would you say Reservoir Dogs has had on your career?
MICHAEL MADSEN: Well, you know, it gained a lot of steam over time. It was something that, initially, wasn't that big of a thing – but over time, it made a difference, and over time it became what it is now. It definitely helped me. I think that, if you're an actor, if you're lucky enough to have one film that does well or that people remember, then I think you're very fortunate.
IGNFF: How difficult is it, as an actor, to capitalize on a success like that and keep the momentum going?
MADSEN: Well, you've got to have good representation. You've got to have people out there who have the same objective as you do. You have to have someone who knows what you're after, and not try to sell you as a flavor of ice cream. I think that I was the victim of bad representation, and I don't really know that I was able to move in the direction that I wanted to with the people that were repping me – but through it all, I think I was able to get to some other stuff on my own.
IGNFF: To extend the metaphor, what "flavor" were they trying to sell you as?
MADSEN: Whatever was current, you know?
IGNFF: Was it trying to pigeonhole you as a "heavy"?
MADSEN: Yeah. I think it was like, "Well, that worked, so we gotta keep doing that kind of a thing." But I was able to go on and be the father in the Free Willy pictures – that's about as big a departure as you can have from Mr. Blonde. So I was able to diversify a little bit.
IGNFF: Is it something that you have to be vigilant of when choosing roles?
MADSEN: I think you really do. I think you have to pay a lot more attention to it than I thought years ago. I used to be very idealistic about these things, and I know that, over time, you learn that it's a business – that's why it's called show "business" – and you have to pay pretty close attention to what you do.
IGNFF: What are the temptations when it comes to straying from that path? Is it money, or...
MADSEN: It's the material. You always want to look for good material, but there's a lack of it out there.
IGNFF: At what point does "I need to get a job" outweigh the search for quality material?
MADSEN: When you become a father, when you have children, and you've got to buy diapers. And you've got to pay the mortgage. That's when you take a job regardless of whether or not it's a good screenplay.
IGNFF: How would you describe where your career was at prior to Reservoir Dogs?
MADSEN: I was just a young man starting out... didn't really have a lot of pressures. I was doing episodic TV and things like that. It was all right. I was headed towards something better.
IGNFF: If you were to talk about your goals at that time, what were they?
MADSEN: I wanted to make memorable pictures. I wanted to make something that would last... That was my main intention.
IGNFF: During the production of Reservoir Dogs – or any project, for that matter – where a light blinks on and you think, "This is something special," or is it always after the fact?
MADSEN: I think that we knew that we had a great screenplay, and I think that we knew that we were having a good time, and I think we knew that we had a good look, and I think we knew that we had a great director of photography, and I think we knew that Quentin's energy was very infectious – and I think that we thought he was on to something. I think we had a lot of high expectations, but not for a minute do I think that we ever knew that we were going to make something that was going to work that well.
IGNFF: I'm assuming it's a pleasant surprise when that happens...
MADSEN: Yeah... I think it has to be that way. If it was so easy to predict these things, everyone would be making these great pictures. But we all know that they're not. I think it's a very hard thing to define.
IGNFF: Now that you're working with Quentin again on Kill Bill...
IGNFF: How would you describe Quentin and the working relationship with him, ten years later?
MADSEN: I think he's pretty much the same guy that I remember – he just has bigger toys to play with now.
IGNFF: Is it surprising in this business when people are able to maintain their original personality?
MADSEN: It really is. It's a rarity. I've seen a lot of people go through changes, but he's been constant.
IGNFF: What are the status of the other projects with Quentin – The Vega Brothers and the WWII project?
MADSEN: He's finished writing the WWII project, as far as I know, and I think we're going to do that sometime next year. The Vega Brothers is probably way in the future. I think we will do it, but I just don't know when.
IGNFF: What is your role in Kill Bill?
MADSEN: I'm Bill's brother... Bill's younger brother... It's nice to know that I can still play the younger brother. It's always a pleasure.
IGNFF: You're also in the new Bond film...
MADSEN: I did a small part in the Bond picture, and I did a big Western called Blueberry that I just finished. I've got a big comedy coming out called The Guest, with Molly Shannon, Tara Reid, Andy Richter, and Terence Stamp.
IGNFF: An impressive cast...
MADSEN: Yeah. I did a campy thing in a picture for Pauley Shore. He wrote and directed a picture that has Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Tommy Lee, Heidi Fleiss... and I appeared as Michael Madsen in it, spoofing myself. I don't know if it's ever gonna come out.
IGNFF: What happened to your TV series, Big Apple?
MADSEN: Well, it's a good question, and I wish I knew. You'd have to ask Les Moonves – the Wizard of Oz of CBS. I heard that his wife didn't like the show, and so that's why they pulled it. But I really don't know, and it's hard to say. These guys are not the geniuses that you imagine they might be, and they make decisions about shows that no one can understand. I think that they wanted to put all of the reality TV on, and survival shows, and the Big Apple just wasn't making ratings – it just wasn't drawing the audience – and I don't think that they were willing to let it go long enough to catch on. David Milch is a genius – he's a great writer and he was a great friend to me, and I liked the show. I think that they should have let the show go for a while, but, you know, c'est la vie. TV isn't my thing.
IGNFF: And the show was cancelled right before it was revealed who the girl's killer was...
MADSEN: Yeah! They just didn't want to have the patience to wait and see what happened. It's a "get mine, get yours" mentality and they just didn't want to give it a chance. It's sad, you know? It was a good show.
IGNFF: All executive offices are equipped with a roulette wheel and a magic 8-ball...
MADSEN: It's very possible, man... It's very possible. I heard a good joke... "Executive producers like to watch pornographic movies backwards, because they like the part where the hooker gives the money back."
IGNFF: And they have the tape on a loop, because there's nothing better than a hooker giving back money more than once...
MADSEN: Exactly! Grand Theft Auto...
IGNFF: You did voiceovers for that, right?
MADSEN: I did. Unfortunately, when I did that voice, I had no idea what that video was about. Having four sons and having them have the video game, and now seeing the horror that it is – I don't know if I would have lent my voice to that particular thing if I had known some of the intent of that video.
IGNFF: It's quite a popular game...
MADSEN: Yes, it's quite popular, but it's very disturbing, also.
IGNFF: How does it feel to be involved with something like that, where you find out after the fact what it's all about?
MADSEN: It's kind of a drag, you know, because you get involved with someone and you loan your talent to something with the idea that it's something entertaining, and they don't really give you the full story of what the parameters of it are going to be. And when you find out later, it's too late – then you just have to live with it. You don't want to start making excuses for it, because no one wants to hear you whine about it – but I was a little disappointed. I didn't realize that it was going to be so violent.
IGNFF: I assume that it makes you more cautious in the future when accepting roles like that...
MADSEN: Absolutely, man. Absolutely. The whole doing voice for video games thing is in its infancy. I went in to it very na?ve, and I would never do that again unless I knew exactly what they were going to do.
IGNFF: Would you be interested in doing a TV series again?
MADSEN: You know, the only series that I ever really liked was Vengeance Unlimited. And there again – back to Les Moonves and CBS and ABC. They just didn't leave it on the air, and just when I got used to the idea that I was going to try and make it work, they pulled the plug. You know what I really would have liked to have done was The Fugitive. I think that they should have had me as the Fugitive, as Richard Kimball. I think I could have made that show work. I think I could have made it work on every level...
IGNFF: It probably would have added the intensity that the show was lacking...
MADSEN: Yeah. The way it came off was blas? – it was a boring, ridiculous farce. It's sad. It's sad that they went safe on it, and it didn't work. But they shot themselves in the foot. I met the people that were making it, I knew the writer, and I made an effort to extend myself – that I would have wanted to do that show – but they didn't go with me. They didn't think I was the... whatever they thought. They decided to go another way. Since that happened, I don't any interest in TV anymore. I really don't. I don't like the politics of television.
IGNFF: It's not exactly a creative outlet...
MADSEN: No... There's just too much whining, and there's too much of a committee – it's just nuts. They put it together like a cheese factory. There doesn't seem to be anything cohesive about it. They try to sell these shows like a bag of potato chips, and you find yourself being manipulated by the powers – and if they don't like it, the pull it. It's just an amazing amount of time and energy invested and it doesn't work – it's all for nothing. It's very exasperating. I don't like TV. I've got a bad taste in my mouth about TV after Vengeance and Big Apple.
IGNFF: And perish forbid you try a different flavor than plain potato chips...
MADSEN: I could have made The Fugitive a very successful television series, and it's very sad that they didn't realize that.
IGNFF: One other thing I wanted to ask you about was your poetry...
MADSEN: I wrote a couple of books. I wrote a book called Burning in Paradise that sold out of print, and there's a new company that picked me up called 12 Gauge. I finished another book that Quentin wrote the foreword for, and it's called A Blessing of the Hounds. It's short stories and poems and reminiscent things and black & white photos of my childhood and other things. 12 Gauge is going to release that, I think, sometime in November.
IGNFF: I read some of your stuff... It's surprisingly beautiful...
MADSEN: Well, I never set out to be a writer, but it kind of happened accidentally, and every time that I say I'm never going to write another poem, I end up writing something. It's an outlet. I write stuff on matchbooks and napkins – whatever piece of paper happens to be in my grasp at the moment. It's a funny thing... In away, I respect it more than I do film acting. It's a strange process...
IGNFF: Because it's more personal?
MADSEN: Yeah... It really is. I hesitated of putting that out in a book form, or having anybody really be able to get that close to my thoughts, but it was received pretty well. I was amazed by how many people really understood it, so that's why I did another one. But I think I've run out of it...
IGNFF: But you've said that before...
MADSEN: "The Lonely Writer"... It's like, "Oh god." It gets kind of old after awhile...
IGNFF: Would you say that you're happy with where your life and career are at right now?
MADSEN: Well, I think I've got a second wave. There's definitely a second wave coming, and I'm very grateful for that.