Michael Madsen Interview: 'Reservoir Dogs' Star Sets the Record Straight in Rare Interview
Just as his credits run the gamut from the hippest of cult films to the biggest studio blockbusters, Michael Madsen’s characters transcend beyond both ends of the spectrum. The versatile actor’s career spans over 25 years and over 170 films.
Most notably recognized for his role as the sadistic killer (Mr. Blonde) in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Madsen has also starred in central roles in such films are Free Willy, Donnie Brasco and Kill Bill, in addition to a supporting role in Sin City. Other film appearances include Thelma & Louise, The Getaway, The Doors, Wyatt Earp, Die Another Day, Vice and Mulholland Falls.
“Well, the thing of that is, I’ve tried to tell … you see, it’s much more interesting to say that I turned it down. I don’t do many interviews or talk shows, so I don’t really have a chance to tell my side of that stuff. But, I’ve tried to get it out there, and I’ve tried to tell the truth so many times, but everyone wants to believe that original story.”
Television appearances include Cagney & Lacey, Miami Vice,Crime Story, Tour of Duty, Quantum Leap, CSI: Miami and 24.
The Chicago native just recently starred in Loosies which was just released on DVD and Infected which will hit theatres October 2012.
In addition, Madsen is an accomplished poet and has an international following. His first book, Burning in Paradise (Foreword by Dennis Hopper) won the Independent Firecracker Award. The Complete Works of Michael Madsen has been an international bestseller and includes a decade of Madsen’s poetry dating up to 2005. It was followed by Signs of Life, his first ever book of photography. Expecting Rain, a book of poetry and photography, is due out later this year.
Madsen was arrested in March 2012 after an altercation with one of his sons, but the actor will not face charges of child endangerment due to insufficient evidence.
The actor lives in a Malibu house that once belonged to Keith Moon, the original drummer of The Who, with his wife Deanna Morgan. They have three sons together and Madsen has two sons from a previous marriage. His sister is actress Virginia Madsen, and he also has an older sister, Cheri.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Michael, how are you?
Michael Madsen: I’m real good. Thanks for your time. I’m not on the Internet much and haven’t had a publicist in a while, so I thought it might be a good time to get something positive out there. There are a lot more people on the Internet interested in what I’m doing than I ever realized, so I think it might be kind of rude not to have something to say once in a while (laughs). They’ll wonder if I’ve gone to another planet.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, we average 40-60 million hits a month, so you will be seen.
Michael Madsen: Good Lord! That’ll help. Smashing!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You know, I remember seeing you on Cagney & Lacey back in 1984.
Michael Madsen: That was one of the first things I ever did. I was an auto mechanic at the Union 76 in Beverly Hills, and that was one of the first jobs I ever got. I did Miami Vice, Cagney & Lacey and St. Elsewhere. Yeah, that was a good episode on Cagney & Lacey. Tyne Daly won an Emmy for that episode.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, she absolutely did. The episode was titled “Heat.”
Michael Madsen: And she absolutely didn’t bother to mention my name when she picked up that little statue (laughs). I’m not an ego-oriented person, but looking back on it sometimes, I think, “Geez, that whole episode was about me and her trapped in a boxcar. She got the statue and didn’t even mention my name.” She didn’t say, “Thanks, Mike.” So, everybody forgot about my little contribution. Whatever she got awarded for, I was instrumental in bringing out, I guess, so … I don’t know … it’s silly. But, it’s nice of you to remember something like that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I thought your performance was remarkable.
Michael Madsen: I was very young and very idealistic.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you learn anything from that experience?
Michael Madsen: Yeah. I learned that it’s acting and that you don’t have to be that person to play that person. I learned that Tyne and Sharon were on a show that was already successful, and the whole show was like a machine. I realized that you can only be as good as the people you’re surrounded by.
I didn’t know nothing about nothing, and I realized that the only way you’re going to learn how to do it is to do it. You can spend your life in acting classes, and nothing is ever going to happen. Let’s face it. I’m not Laurence Olivier. I’m not going to do any Shakespeare. But, it’s a learning process, and I did learn stuff from that show even back then. I learned how to be patient.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Loosies just came out on DVD.
Michael Madsen: Well, Peter Facinelli is the kid from Twilight. He wrote that script, and he wrote that role for me. Michael Corrente directed, and then they got Vincent Gallo. I play a cop, a New York City detective. Peter’s a pickpocket, and he gets hold of my gold shield. I end up chasing him around the city trying to get my badge back. We shot it in Rhode Island. Peter’s a really nice kid. You get somebody young who will write a role for someone like me who has been around a whole, and it’s very flattering. It’s hard to say, “No,” to something like that.
I think the movie turned out good. I’m not the villain. Billy Forsythe is in the film, and he’s a good friend of mine. I haven’t seen the completed film yet, but I certainly hope it turned out to be what we shot because the stuff I did I was happy with. I thought everybody did a great job. I shot Infected with the same production company.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Infected will be released in October.
Michael Madsen: That was a first time director, Glen Ciano. A lot of representatives don’t want you to work with first time directors because the movie could turn out to be a disaster, but if I had not done Reservoir Dogs … I mean, Quentin was a first time director. I obviously said, “Yes,” to that. So, I wanted to give Glen a chance. It’s a horror genre film about a family that’s basically trapped in a cabin, and there is a lot of gunfire (laughs). I had not done that genre of film before, and I thought it would be interesting. I happen to think it turned out real well. I haven’t seen the final cut, but I’m a little bit more interested in the future.
I’m going to New York to make a picture with Heather Ferreira called The Little Matchstick Boy, and I believe that Michael Chapman who is Martin Scorsese’s director of photography is going to shoot it. It’s like four weeks in New York. I’m going to play a Vietnam vet. The film will be directed by a woman, which I find interesting. I’m looking forward to getting started on that film.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): For a while, there was talk about a Reservoir Dogs sequel.
Michael Madsen: I don’t know how they could do that because everyone was dead. The only thing Quentin ever told me was that he wanted to make a film called “The Vega Brothers.” It would be me and John Travolta. It would turn out that Vincent and Vic had twin brothers and that they are both getting out of prison at the beginning of the movie. They go back to get vengeance upon the people that caused the deaths of Vincent and Vic in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Quentin had a few tequilas before he told me this scenario, so I can’t really explain it the way that he did (laughs).
I’m doing the sequel to Sin City. That would be Sin City 2. I’m going to Ft. Worth, Texas, and there is supposed to be some sort of a symposium or some Sin City panel where we’re going to talk about the film. I’m looking forward to that, too.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Weren’t you offered the lead role in Pulp Fiction?
Michael Madsen: Well, the thing of that is, I’ve tried to tell … you see, it’s much more interesting to say that I turned it down. I don’t do many interviews or talk shows, so I don’t really have a chance to tell my side of that stuff. But, I’ve tried to get it out there, and I’ve tried to tell the truth so many times, but everyone wants to believe that original story.
The truth is that I was in Arizona making a movie called The Getaway. I heard that Larry Kasdan wanted me to be in Wyatt Earp, and I wanted to play Doc Holliday. I had a couple of days off from The Getaway, flew back to LA, and I met with Larry. I told him I wanted to play Doc Holliday. He said, “It’s already cast. I got Dennis Quaid for Doc Holliday.” I said, “Okay. Well, I guess that’s it.” I actually got up and was going to leave the room when he said, “Why don’t you play Virgil?” I had read the screenplay and Virgil was Wyatt’s brother. I knew I’d be able to walk down the street to the O.K. Corral. It is western history. I had already done Reservoir Dogs, so I really wanted to do a western. So, I said, “Okay, Larry, I’ll do it.” I agreed right then and there that I’d play Virgil.
By the time I got back to Arizona, they had already worked up my contract for Wyatt Earp. When Quentin came to me with Pulp Fiction, I was already contracted to do Wyatt Earp. I was actually on David Letterman promoting The Getaway and met with Quentin that night at the Regency Hotel. He was trying to talk me into doing Pulp Fiction. I said, “Well, I’m contracted to Wyatt Earp. Why can’t I do them both?” My agent then (who is no longer my agent) couldn’t put them both together.
Larry Kasdan had a two week rehearsal that he wanted to do, and I begged him to let me out of it so that I could do Pulp Fiction. But, Larry would not let me out of the rehearsal. I had to do Wyatt Earp. That is the true story. That’s how it really went down. I never turned down anything. I couldn’t have done both. It just didn’t work out that way. But, if I had played Vincent, I would have been playing my own brother. It wouldn’t have made any sense (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m glad to have the true story.
Michael Madsen: Yes, please put it out there. Unfortunately, Wyatt Earp was boring. It was a long walk down to the O.K. Corral. We should’ve took the horses (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have there been other roles you’ve wanted that you’ve lost to another actor or never had a chance to audition?
Michael Madsen: No. There are pictures I’ve done that didn’t get released properly, that I thought were really good like Vice. It went to DVD without theatrical release. I did a motorcycle picture with David Carradine and Dennis Hopper called Hell Ride, which was executive produced by Quentin Tarantino that went straight to DVD and didn’t get a theatrical release.
I think both of those movies would have done very well if they had gotten traditionally released in theatres. But, regret wise, that would be the only thing that comes to mind. I look forward to the future. You can’t go back. There is no such thing as a time machine. If there were, I’d buy it and jump in it. But, you have to live with what you do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve said that you don’t do many interviews. Some actors shy away from cameras when they’re not on set.
Michael Madsen: I haven’t been on the Internet that much and haven’t been on many talk shows. I’m not really a publicity seeker. I haven’t had a publicist in a really long time, but there’s always some blast in the media about so many things. I’ve got five sons to support and have done a couple of projects, so I thought it might be time to get a publicist and maybe get a few positive things out there. That’s why I’m talking to you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve had some negative publicity recently. I’m glad some of those particular issues are over.
Michael Madsen: Well, listen, that whole thing was a giant misunderstanding. It was a family issue. I haven’t been charged with anything. It was all completely overblown, and it was a really big misunderstanding. Obviously, if any of it were true, I’d be sitting in a jail right now. I wouldn’t be sitting in my publicist’s office talking about my career. It’s one of those things that people like to jump on. It seems like anything negative gets so much more publicity than something positive. It’s really sad.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Unfortunately, that is the way it is.
Michael Madsen: It was a family matter that should have been dealt with at home and it has been. It’s over and done with now. I’m just glad I’ve been exonerated and can concentrate on making a living and getting back to work.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Absolutely. Let’s talk about your poetry and photography.
Michael Madsen: I’ve written about five books. I have a brand new one called Expecting Rain. It’s a book of photography, short stories and poetry. Dennis Hopper really is responsible for me doing photography. We used to be pretty good friends, and he taught me a lot about photography. I’ve been writing for quite a while. Jerry Hopkins, who wrote a biography of Jim Morrison, is going to write the Foreword for my new book, which comes out sometime in September. It has short stories and poems. American Badass is a great book (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did you come up with that title?
Michael Madsen: I don’t know. I got tired of seeing bad pictures of myself. I thought a book about writing could be very boring and so I wanted to add photographs. I was sitting around trying to name the book. I honestly, truly don’t know. I just thought of it. Let’s just call it that (laughs). I made a hot sauce and a barbecue sauce, and I called them the same thing. I got a distribution company who’s going to start putting them into grocery stores, so that’s my tag now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I may have to slap some American Bad Ass on my grilled chicken.
Michael Madsen: All you’ve got to do is go to the website – michaelmadsenhotsauce.com (American Bad Ass Products line).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Michael, how difficult was it to raise five sons? I would think the women in the household would’ve been driven crazy by all that testosterone.
Michael Madsen: My poor wife was surrounded, and I’d usually find her tied to a tree when I’d get home. We have a little six year old, too. Raising teenagers in 2012 is perhaps the hardest job in the world. It’s harder than making movies. It’s harder than anything. Family is the most important thing to me, but nowadays, it’s a different world. The media is different, politically everything is different. It’s a whole different ballgame than it was when I was a kid. Raising them is a very complicated equation.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What did you teach them about surviving in the world?
Michael Madsen: No matter what you try to teach them, they’re out there in the world, and they’re learning what they’re going to learn on their own. Many times when dad tells the story of how he had to walk ten miles in the snow to get to school, they just kind of look at me and shake their heads. They say, “Oh, no, there goes dad again. He’s going to talk about the ten mile walk to school and how he went to work when he was 14 years old.”
They learn their own lessons and get their own friends. They’re on the Internet now, and that’s the Wild West. I think the Internet is incredible, but I think it’s also very dangerous for kids who can access a lot of stuff they really shouldn’t be looking at. I wanted to be super dad. I wanted to be the best dad, and I think perhaps I gave them an idyllic childhood with chimpanzees at birthday parties, tigers, camels, popcorn machines, moon bounces, motor bikes and go-carts. They had the idyllic childhood. Now, the three out of the five are taller than me. My son, Max, is 6’3.” It makes hugging kind of awkward.
They get their own agendas. When they pass 16 or 17, they get their own agendas. You really have to work real hard to keep some order in the house. You have to try and teach them some sort of ethics that they need to go to work and support themselves. Be kind and courteous to the family. It’s tough. But, we’re close, and we’re going to stay that way. It’s something you have to pay constant attention to.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me something about yourself that people would be surprised to know.
Michael Madsen: I’m probably a lot more interested in playing heroes than I am in playing villains. I’m much more of a stay at home dad and not much into the party scene. Many people have pre-conceived notions that I’m riding around on a motorcycle with a bottle of whiskey in my hand. I find it funny that in actuality, I’m lying on the couch watching the Lakers with my sons or swimming laps in the pool or taking my little boy to ride his dirt bike. That side of me isn’t exciting, I guess, so that’s why nobody really knows about it.
People seem to be fascinated when they find out I’ve written a couple of books because it’s not expected of me. It’s not thought that I would do something like that. I would say that people who know me know me, and people that don’t know me think that they do based on information they’ve heard from other places. It’s not based on any kind of truth. It’s a weird place to be, being recognizable. Being recognizable in the film business is not great. Sometimes, it can be really awkward, you know? You give up your ananemity. It’s an awkward thing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): By the way, IMDB has that you’re filming The Genesis of Lincoln, which also stars C. Thomas Howell and Robert Carradine. Is that true?
Michael Madsen: No. That’s an independent filmmaker who really wants to make that picture. He’s a young kid. The thing is that you run into somebody in an elevator, and they say, “My brother-in-law Pete just wrote this screenplay, and he wrote it for you. I just happen to have a copy of it.” The next thing you know, it’s on the IMDB that the film is in pre-production. The IMDB is very irresponsible. I’ve contacted them 100 times to say, “Please don’t ever put anything on there that you haven’t talked to me about.” But, their setup is that they are a public company, and they’re going to write what they want and put on there what they want whether it’s true or not.
I am doing Sin City 2 and going to Texas to do a Sin City panel. I’m going to New York to do a picture with Heather Ferreira called The Matchstick Boy. I think Michael Chapman is coming out of retirement to shoot the movie. I’d rather concentrate on things that are positive and good that are coming up. I haven’t been on the Internet unless it’s some negative shit, so I’m just trying to straighten it out and get some good information out there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Good luck with all future endeavors, Michael.
Michael Madsen: Thanks for your time.
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