It was an unforgettable sequence, and became an instant classic.
Michael Madsen, playing the psychopathic thug Mr. Blonde, wields a straight razor to taunt and torture a captive police officer - all the while boogieing to "Stuck in the Middle With You" as it plays on the radio. The film, of course, was Quentin Tarantino's explosive 1992 feature debut, Reservoir Dogs.
So powerful was the sequence that it catapulted Madsen into the limelight as a big-screen tough-guy. And, to an extent, it typecast Madsen. He has played a hard-boiled character in more than half of the 50 feature films he has made.
Now, Madsen has reunited with Tarantino for the two-part revenge epic Kill Bill. Madsen plays Budd and co-stars with an inspired cast that includes Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Daryl Hannah, Bo Svenson, Michael Parks, Gordon Liu and Caitlin Keats.
Madsen appeared briefly in Kill Bill - Volume 1 and has a much more substantive part in Volume 2. With the new film poised to make a box-office killing, Madsen is thrilled. "Everybody's happy - Daddy's employed!" said Madsen, the father of four sons.
Even when playing tough, Madsen likes to have the chance to put a spin on his character. But it doesn't always work out that way.
"I don't like to be a puppet," he said. "If you can find a project where the filmmakers are collaborative, that's a good thing; I'd say about three or four projects out of 10 you get that opportunity, but I look for that."
Working with Tarantino again is something special for Madsen. "It's fun - and certainly a pleasure," he said. "He makes reference to a lot of iconic elements in movies, which I think is really cool. Even if you haven't seen the specific movie, you recognize where it's from."
With Kill Bill, writer/director Tarantino paid homage to the martial-arts, spaghetti Western and horror films that impressed him in his youth - and wrapped them around a story of revenge and retribution. The film ended up being more than three hours long, though.
Rather than whittle it down to size, Miramax Films chose instead to split the movie in half and release the two volumes six months apart. Some industry observers thought it was a risky move, especially if the first film tanked. But it didn't. It grossed more than $70 million in the United States alone. "I do like the way it came off, and I think it's a tremendous achievement by Quentin," Madsen said.
The films star Thurman as a skilled assassin known as The Bride, who was left in a coma for four years after a botched assassination attempt. Back on her feet and raring for revenge, Thurman's character laid waste to onscreen villains Lucy Liu and Vivica A. Fox in the first installment; next on her list are Budd (Madsen), Elle Driver (Hannah) and, of course, the ubiquitous Bill (Carradine). Budd is the one potential victim who has come to terms with his possible fate. Should The Bride come for him - and she will - so be it. That he feels a sense of remorse for his past misdeeds, however, doesn't mean he'll take it lying down. If she comes to play, Budd will play, too - and Budd plays rough.
Madsen, born in Chicago, is himself a lifelong film fan and it's not surprising that he has an affinity for such big-screen tough guys as Robert Mitchum (his favorite), Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson - whose A&E Biography Madsen narrated last year.
"That was a lot of fun," he said. "Charlie was a one of a kind."
Sharp-eyed viewers will note the poster of the 1974 Bronson film Mr. Majestyk hanging on the wall of Budd's trailer in Kill Bill - Volume 2.
Madsen, whose sister Virginia is also an actor (The Hot Spot, Candyman), first earned notice as Bump Bailey, the ill-fated outfielder succeeded by Robert Redford's Roy Hobbs in The Natural (1984). Subsequent roles in Oliver Stone's The Doors and Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise (both 1991) were followed by Reservoir Dogs and a more gentle turn as kind-hearted stepfather Glen Greenwood in the box-office hits Free Willy (1993) and Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home (1995).
Since then, Madsen has made as many as 10 movies in a single year. He is other roles include Species (1995) and Species II (1998), playing Virgil Earp in Lawrence Kasdan's Wyatt Earp (1994), Mullholand Falls (1996), as Mafia boss Sonny Black in Donnie Brasco (1997), and outlaw Frank Miller in the TV remake of High Noon (2000).
More recently, he appeared as the antagonistic CIA agent Damian Falco in the James Bond adventure Die Another Day (2002) and played real-life police hero Frank McGregor in last year's TV film 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out.
Currently, Madsen is preparing his own feature directorial debut - a drama about real-life, Depression-era gangster Charles Arthur Floyd, better known as "Pretty Boy" Floyd. The project, which is still early in pre-production stages, would have Madsen in the lead role. Yes, once again Michael Madsen will be shooting up the big screen.
"I'd love to ride off into the sunset with the leading lady, but I don't get offered those parts," he said. "But if they ever bring back the Dirty Harry franchise, I'm their man!"