“I’m not a bitter person. It’s dangerous to your spleen and to your emotional health. If I’m angry, I express it. I usually try to express it clearly and correctly, unless the person is just so insulting that you just can’t resist some devastation, but then I forget it,” John Malkovich said while visiting Detroit last month to promote The Dancer Upstairs. It’s a good attitude to have if you’re a movie star, but an even better one if you’re a director, which is the hat that actor-Charlie Kaufman puppet-fashionista Malkovich wears with Dancer.
Though it marks his debut behind the camera, Malkovich made Dancer out to be less the excruciating experience of leaving one’s heart on the celluloid (only to have it stomped on by money-minded producers and studios) that so many directors seem to suffer — and more just another incident in a lifelong string of incidents. The argument could be made that we already know all there is to know about Malkovich, thanks to the movie that took place inside his head, but he assured us that was just another character he played.
Malkovich spent an inordinate amount of time during his Detroit visit distancing himself from his movie. (According to sources, Motown, not Toronto, was graced with his presence because of his profound fear of SARS, although Malkovich maintained that he doesn’t control what cities he goes to on press tours.) Not necessarily because of any great embarrassment or hatred for it, but simply because that’s how he operates.
“I think it’s a very, very fine film and I think it’ll be around a very long time indeed,” he said when pressed. “But it could come out and be forgotten five minutes later. I never worry about something I can’t control. It’s not even a quality that I’ve sort of cultivated. I was born like that, or at least it was kicked into me quite young.
“I got used to at a very young age leaving things behind. I’m a fantastic leaver. You do a play; you rehearse it for four weeks, and that’s a certain kind of very intense working and/ or personal relationship, because of course every working relationship is a personal relationship in some way, or becomes one with time. Then you perform it for six weeks, but then it’s finished and you never ever do it again. You never look at it — you never read it.”
It’s a healthy attitude to have in an industry where everything is up in the air until it all comes crashing down. Shot in 2000, The Dancer Upstairs seemed destined to rot in the Hollywood vault until Javier Bardem was nominated for an Oscar — and still it took three years to get to theaters.
But Malkovich has retained a sense of pride about at least one thing: Dancer is a film that might make people work just a little bit harder while sitting in their seats munching popcorn.
“I think audiences get what they put in, much like a filmmaker really gives what he’s capable of doing or not doing. I think [Dancer] is a film that will cause people to be simply entertained, compelled and moved, but I think also it’ll be a film that causes people to reflect and question rather than answer.
“Most films are things that answer. I don’t have any answers.”Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]