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Ripley's Game - John Malkovich Q&A



Compiled by: Katherine Kaminsky

Q. This film has a dark humour running through it, how much of that comes off the page, or does it come from you?
A.
Well, with this I thought Charles, the writer [Charles McKeown], made a very good structure, but a lot of those things were the result of discussions with Liliana (Liliana Cavani, the director) , because my feeling in reading the script was that we have a 120-page European film without a philosophy, and that really isn’t on.

Q. You’d read the books and tried to buy the rights for Talented Mr Ripley yourself. What was the appeal of the character for you?
A.
I wasn’t trying to buy it for myself to act in, because when we produce something, we never really think about that at all. It was to produce and, perhaps, to direct. I’d always found the books very funny, very clever, very cinematic, in that they appealed to some troubling aspects of human behaviour.
Why do we like someone who does such unconscionable things with such regularity?
I thought she wrote about that very cleverly, and created a world where, if you suspect that someone has discovered your art scam, and that will keep you from having the kind of leather you want on your walls in your home, clearly it’s a better idea to kill them. And how does one create that world, and why do we like it? That’s what appealed to me in that whole series.

Q. Should we read anything into the fact that both you and Ripley are American ex-pats, living in Europe. Is there a shared sensibility?
A.
I don’t think it’s by chance that he came to Europe to do what he does. The puritans left here and they had to go somewhere, and they went to America. In Europe, I think the moral relativism, let’s say, is much more pronounced.
The actions, and I’m not trying to intimate, aren’t in any way worse, or more shocking, it’s how they're perceived and the outrage they cause that is much, much less pronounced, it seems to me.

Q. This is the fourth time Ripley has been portrayed in a film. How do you approach the character; do you ignore the other films and go back to the books?
A.
Well, I knew already very well the other films - the Wim Wenders one I’m very fond of, so I didn’t have the luxury of ignoring that. But I never think much about comparisons because one isn’t doing the same thing, and it’s not the same age or time, as the films are structured differently. I went over and over the series of books for things I thought were needed. I remember, in one book, Ripley has to pick up a passport from a German girl and his wife goes with him and there’s this little tiny thing, when they’re leaving, the wife remarks that the girl is very attractive, which opened up a whole world of how their relationship might be.
That’s what I would look for more than what somebody else did, because then you’re interpreting an interpretation, and there’s no point in doing that.

Q. Is that the sort of thing that informs the relationship between your screen wife? Plainly, she knows what he does?
A.
That was always my feeling, and that’s something we worked very hard on. The film had a terrific structure, but I didn’t think it told us about the people, so all of her scenes were written during filming.

Q. Is there any truth in the rumours of Ripley's Game being a troubled production and that you ended up directing it?
A.
It was a somewhat chaotic working environment. Liliana did not leave because she was upset, she had a contract at La Scala to direct an opera, and, as the start date was being pushed back further and further while all the financing was being put into place, we knew she would have to leave before the end of the shoot.
I’d spent at least six or seven hours a day with Liliana, discussing how she wanted the last scenes directed.

Q. Are you leaving France?
A.
We are thinking of moving, but there’s no animosity. I’ve been pretty much audited everywhere, and it’s never as much fun as one would hope. I hope to be here in the Autumn, to do an English film.

Q. Do you find it harder now to travel around now you have children?
A.
It is now they’re well past the age of starting school. When they were little, it was very easy, you could just grab the dipers, but they get to an age when they get their own minds and it gets more difficult as time goes on.

Q. Has this influenced the decisions you’ve made regarding your career?
A.
It has a huge influence, yeah. When are their vacations? How long does it take, etc, etc? It may seem like a sort of daft way of choosing things, but I like to have a life and I don’t want to miss my children growing up. So it does have a big influence, yes.

Q. Do they enjoy visiting the film sets?
A.
No! They liked very much meeting Rowan Atkinson, partially because they find him funny, and partially because he has a McLaren F1, which they got to ride in. That, to them, was a good film, but, generally, they don’t like it. They’re very sullen when they come to visit me on set.

Q. Did introducing your children to Rowan make you a bigger hero in their eyes?
A.
All parents are big losers to be avoided around their friends at any cost. It may have got me some brownie points for a brief moment.

Q. Are there drawbacks for a Hollywood star who does not live in Hollywood?
A.
I don’t see any drawbacks to it really. I’ve continued to work in the States. Like most people, I probably haven’t found the ideal things to work on, or the things that really would have completely involved me, but I think that’s the same for any actor.
So I don’t see that it’s made that much difference. I just did a month-long press tour in the States and most people seemed to think I either live in New York, or I’m English, or I’m Yugoslavian.

Q. Would you consider playing Ripley again?
A.
I think that totally depends on how this goes, as to whether that would even be a possibility.

Q. Would you say he was one of your favourite characters?
A.
I had a lot of fun playing him. Most of the things that were my favourites, I did on stage because it’s just a whole different way of working, and the writing is different, and the way you work on it is different.

Q. How did you find working with Ray Winstone?
A.
I’m a huge fan of Ray Winstone's. I remember seeing Nil By Mouth, over on The Strand, and I thought I was going to be chucked out of the theatre because I was just laughing so hard. Sometimes Liliana had a way of directing people where she would grab you by the lapels, allegedly to guide you somewhere, but sometimes it was quite sort of brusque, and seeing her put her hands on Ray, I would have to warn her, that wasn’t going to work here. I had a great time with him, he’s someone I think is just a terrific performer, so it was a real pleasure.

Q. Will you do anymore directing?
A.
Sure, I’d do it again, but it would have to be a story I would feel qualified to tell. I’ve always directed, but in the theatre, or fashion, or some way, that’s just easier. The Dancer Upstairs took eight years, and that’s not a complaint, it’s fine, and I enjoyed doing it.
It would have to be something I was very dedicated to, in order to spend that kind of time; plus I produce a lot, which is very time consuming.

Q. You are branching out into clothes. What’s the name of your label?
A.
Our film company’s called Mr Mudd, so we were going to call it Mrs Mudd. However, there was a problem with that, so it’s going to be called Uncle Kimono. It’s sort of late Fifties, early Sixties, California beach boy, Palm Springs, lounge lizard, Swiss banker that got fired.

Q. What’s your next film?
A.
It’s a film called Colour Me Kubrick, about this Englishman who went around impersonating Stanley Kubrick for a couple of years a while back, who would find a stupid heavy metal rock band, and say he was going to promote them in Vegas.
He tricked a lot of known people, who really believed he was Stanley Kubrick, because no one really saw him. He was a kind of a wanker, who just used it to meet boys.

Q. Can we look forward to you appearing on stage in the near future?
A.
I’ll come back sometime, but haven’t found something lately I was desperate to do.

Q. You play a lot of menacing characters, but you seem to be a calm and pleasant person, what really pushes your button?
A.
Bullies.

Q. Is that from childhood?
A.
Probably. Be they physical, emotional, political, intellectual, usually pseudo. That kind of pushes my button, which I’m not proud of. One should be careful about what buttons one has to be pushed.

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