Michael Madsen Is a Busy Bad Guy

The most threatening actor in Hollywood discusses his new projects with Quentin Tarantino and Ben Stiller.

Michael Madsen is a busy man.  In addition to working on 10 independent features over the last few months, the quintessential Hollywood bad guy is preparing to team up for the fourth time with Quentin Tarantino on the highly publicized, post-Civil War drama The Hateful Eight. As though that isn’t enough, Madsen is also filming Big Time in Hollywood, FL, a Ben Stiller-produced series for Comedy Central set to debut in 2015. On that show, Madsen will play an alcoholic private eye, who he says is essentially a pastiche of characters he’s played in the past. That means that – like Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs, Virgil Earp from Wyatt Earp, and Sidewinder from Kill Bill, Madsen’s latest wild-eyed, whiskey-soaked wacko will have that guttural snarl, that air of bemused malice. He will be, in short, a Madsen creation.

Hollywood’s go-to psychopath sat down with Maxim to talk about working with Tarantino, Stiller, and – because why the hell not –  Justin Bieber.

You spent time at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago with John Malkovich and Gary Sinise.  How did that come about and what was it like?

The reason I did it was because I had seen a performance of “Of Mice and Men” by John and Gary as George and Lenny and it was the first time I’d ever seen any performance live as opposed to watching actors in a movie. I had approached John after the show –  just walked backstage… and I told him I was thinking about being an actor and he sent me a brochure for classes…. I went there for maybe four of five months and ended up doing a production of Of Mice and Men.

I’ve only seen John Malkovich once in the last 20 years since I left Chicago and I don’t believe I’ve ever run into Gary. I tried to call Gary a couple of times and I got no answer from him. Actually I don’t think he’s very fond of me for some strange reason.

Did you always want to act?

My big dream in life was to be Richard Petty. I wanted to run NASCAR. That was my big boyhood dream…. But I always had a thing about movies. I loved Humphrey Bogart pictures and James Cagney pictures.  I had this idea in my brain that I could be an actor, but obviously, most people that I knew thought I was insane.

Photo: Miramax / Everett Collection

You’ve played no shortage of characters in or around the mob through your career. Why do you seem to gravitate toward these roles?

I understood the philosophy of the villain. I just kind of did. I quickly got the idea that bad guys don’t necessarily think that they’re bad.

Playing bad guys is fun. The reason is because you don’t have a lot of boundaries on you. When you’re playing a villain, you can pretty much get away with a lot of different antics and a lot of different dialog and a lot of different things…. If you’re the leading man or if you’re a good guy, you have some societal parameters on what you can say and do.

You’ve been in three Quentin Tarantino movies you’ll be in a fourth with The Hateful Eight.  Talk about what he’s meant to you and your career.

In a way, he created me. He really did. He understood me as an actor. I understood what he wanted me to do, and we have a similar philosophy of film characters.

Does it concern you that The Hateful Eight script was leaked online?

When the day comes that people underestimate Quentin Tarantino, I think we all just ought to turn in our six shooters at the desk and tie up the horses and go away. Underestimating Quentin is a big mistake….He’s obviously going to rewrite a lot of stuff that nobody’s going to see or hear about until the film comes out.

What did you learn from doing the stage reading of The Hateful Eight earlier in the year?

It was a great way to begin a camaraderie between the actors. It was great to sit with Quentin and rehearse and go through the scenes and have him guide us through it. He becomes a Big Papa. He becomes the father figure of the situation. When you sit there and you listen to him, he has an infectious kind of energy that’s really kind of inspiring.

Photo: Isaac Alvarez

Talk about being in a comedy in the new Comedy Central show Big Time in Hollywood, FL?

I’m doing a parody of a bad guy in that show. I’m playing a dangerous guy, but it’s a spoof of a dangerous person. I’m actually making fun of all the characters that I’ve played over the years just by the fact that they cast me in the role.

I was actually kind of surprised when they called me for the Stiller thing because I didn’t imagine that anyone could perceive me being able to do that.

You acted in a Justin Bieber music video in which he tried to date your daughter and you told him to “hit the road.” If you had a daughter in real life, would you do the same thing?

Of course I would. I think that’s why they gave me the part.

Photo: Everett Collection

You were on the reality show Celebrity Big Brotherin England a couple years ago.  Why did you agree to do reality TV?

If you knew how much money I got for that, you would have done it too.

Photos by Luca Carlino / Demotix / Corbis