© Razor Magazine June/July 2001
Interview by Craig Vasiloff
It is wet in New York City. Ugly wet. Rain pours down in a waterfall of anger. Thunder bellows and lightning cuts through the sky like a sharpened blade. Inside the nondescript Soho loft of photographer Sioux Nesi the outside scene is replicated with assistants, stylists and caterers, all hustling about in some sort of chaotic order.
Michael Madsen sits quietly and bites into a cheeseburger. He is still wearing the clothes from our photo shoot and looks casually rumpled. We sit off in a corner trying to find some quiet place to talk while Sioux and her legion prepare for the next round of photographs. "I'm always surprised when anybody wants to take pictures of me. I can't imagine anybody cares anymore," he states. I think he says this to calm himself down, having just admitted to me his hatred of photo shoots. "On the screen I can pretend to be another character, and I have a dialogue that's written for me... a situation to be in, but something like this, this is me."
What that traitorous camera catches is truly Michael Madsen. Every complex unadulterated inch of the man most of us know as the dark, loner–type villain. His films show a side of him he rarely exposes in public; Reservoir Dogs, The Getaway, Donnie Brasco... each show a man comfortable living in the shadows. The man I see before me is more reminiscent of the character he plays in Free Willy. Calm, compassionate and caring.
We get to talking about drinking and hard living, something Madsen is very familiar with. But, like there are two sides to a coin, there are two sides to Michael Madsen. "You know, in my lifetime I've probably drank enough Jack Daniels to float a battleship and I've definitely done a truckload of drugs over the last 20 years, but I was never one of those people who got addicted or hooked in such a way that it turned me into some kind of stumbling idiot. That never happened. When my kids came around I realized that those types of things weren't really healthy around my sons. When that happens your life kind of goes in a different direction and you get focused on other things. Sitting around in hotel rooms and snorting blow when you have a son and you know he is across town... you are not as likely to do that sort of thing because you would rather go to the batting cages with your boy or do his homework with him or stuff like that. I'm a big baby when it comes to my kids. I'm such a soft touch. I spend a lot of time thinking about them and worrying about them." And Madsen also fights for them as he recounts his recent battle with his ex–wife to settle their custody agreement. "Where is it written that a mother is the sole most important thing in a growing child's life? I think that the father has just as much validity and just as much importance. It's really hard if you're a father, it's hard to get the balance. The more control I have over my own destiny is always better, which is, basically, the big trick."
With a script he wrote himself, Thunderbird Park, going into production with producer Billy Bob Thornton on board, a book of poetry, Burning in Paradise out and a CD to his credit, it seems Madsen is breaking his own mold. He's a man of many talents, and a man of many interests. A fan of such greats as Hank Williams, Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum and Jimmy Stewart and a lover of war flicks and creature features, he's a lot to take in at once. "I don't really enjoy acting as much as I imagined that I would when I started out. I had a very idealistic opinion of what it was and I figured if I did good work it would eventually take me to a place where I could make pictures like the ones that I remember when I was a little boy; the Bogart pictures and the Mitchum pictures. But that was a different time and a different era. It's not the perfect little world that you would imagine when you are young and idealistic and just starting out. You come in like Gulliver and then you get tied down by the people of Lilliput... and that's the reality of it."
The poems on the following pages are from the as yet unpublished, Quack, Quack by Michael Madsen. Look for him soon in two new Quentin Tarantino features, Kill Bill with Uma Thurman and next year in a Dirty Dozen remake, Glorious Bastards which will begin filming in France later this fall.
Paper by Michael Madsen
It's funny when you write on paper because each word is born like a little baby. It grows up just like a kid, depending on who reads it. You can't help but think of all the people that put pen to paper. All the words that came out with blood and sweat and pain and joy and love and hate and weary wonderful silence. I just burned some hairs off my arm with a cigarette. Yeah, think about it. I wonder what Ernest was thinking when he loaded the gun.
Something by Michael Madsen
A poet that I like once wrote something like "It's the little things in life that will drive a man into the madhouse." Well, I agree. A paint chip, a crooked picture frame, your kid's skid-marked underwear left in the hall, snails eating the plants, rust, being trapped in a place where a song that you hate is playing, hang-ups on the answering machine and people who talk too loud, the wrapper on a straw and the garbage bag that breaks. Flowers that die and the sound of your ex-wife's voice. Old letters and overcookded meat, watered down ketchup and soft apples and of the course, the grocery cart with the bad wheel. The wrong blanket, the wrong pillow, the wrong channel. That fucking wick in the candle, dead batteries and bad charcoal, flat tires and traffic. Disc Jockeys who want to be Howard Stern and more stories about Monica Lewinsky.
Enough, enough, enough.
Blessing of the Hounds by Michael Madsen
I saw this show on The History Channel one day. Things always seem interesting when they become history. Anyway, it was about a fox hunt. This old–time actor who is history now, Dan Dailey, had on a little cap and some tight–fitting get–up for riding a horse. He smoked a cigarette while being interviewed about the fox hunt. I'd call it a chase or a fuck–up or a one–sided slaughter that only the hounds seem to understand. He went on and on, in his deep voice, about the thrill of riding fast, blowing some insane horn, trying to find a red fox. Man, he loved it. There were a lot of other guys too, wearing the same little outfits that would look better on women. No one was interviewing them, because the only opinion worth hearing was that of an actor. People always think actor's opinions are worth something. Except, maybe that fox. They all rode and shouted and followed the barking hounds, breathing hard, slathering and foaming and hardly ever stopping to piss. I think there was even music on the soundtrack because everyone really felt damn good about this noble sport, the sport of Kings, the sport of Princes or, maybe that's Polo. In the beginning, before everyone is mounted up and adjusted, someone gets the dogs together and there is a "Blessing of the Hounds." I'm not sure why; for luck, I assume or maybe relief from some strange anxiety. A priest does it. Whatever the reason, it goes back generations. The thing of it is, I just don't get it. I really can't make any sense out of the whole fucking thing. All my life my heart has sought after a thing I cannot name. If I knew what it was, maybe I'd chase it with dogs, dressed like a woman.
Paper, Something, Blessing of the Hounds © Michael Madsen 2000/2001