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Mad for Malkovich

He gets to boil over in 'Burn After Reading,' an offbeat Coen brothers comedy, before heading off to a Clint Eastwood project.

September 07, 2008|Michael Ordona | Special to The Times

Calling from, as one might well imagine, France, John Malkovich is measured, urbane and dryly witty. And yet, when Ethan and Joel Coen wrote him into their upcoming "Burn After Reading," it was as a burned-out former CIA analyst prone to fits of apoplectic rage.

"Yeah, well, probably, people like to see me lose my temper, for whatever reason," Malkovich muses in his familiar, languid delivery. His character "has done this job, which I don't think has much impact on anything in a positive way. He has a miserable marriage, he's a drunk and he doesn't seem to have much to focus on except writing his sort of fictionalized biography or his attempt at achieving Tom Clancydom."

Not that the two-time Oscar nominee is complaining. He was delighted to join George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and Brad Pitt as "a group of people, the next one is dumber than the last, who are lost," and who get mixed up in a plot to sell the analyst's stolen memoir to the Russians, of all people. The Coens have said they generated the script for the offbeat comedy, which opens Friday, by writing parts for actors with whom they'd always wanted to work.

Clooney and Swinton have previously called out the Oscar-winning auteurs for enjoying themselves a bit too loudly during filming. Malkovich confirms those reports. "They had quite a few giggles during the stuff we did, which I think is absolutely fantastic, actually. I mean, I don't know what the sound person might think about that -- [the Coens] kind of respond like they're watching a play.

"A day or two after" he wrapped on "Burn," Malkovich started work on “Changeling,” with Angelina Jolie and Amy Ryan, due out Oct. 24. In the film, based on the real case of a woman in 1920s Los Angeles who believes the boy returned to her after her son goes missing is not her child, Malkovich not only shifted gears to a drama and to playing a pastor with a "lifelong grudge and obsession about the LAPD," but also to the direction of Clint Eastwood.

"There are some similarities between him and the Coen brothers. They don't make drama, they're not mentally ill, they don't play cheap psychological games with the actors, they're not control maniacs, they have very significant leadership abilities," says the actor. "The thing that I think would define their similarities the most is their calm. You're not tense on their sets." Among the significant differences between the brothers and Eastwood: "The Coens are Midwestern and he's Western in the Steinbeck sense of the word. He's a kind of myth, and they're kind of myth busters in a certain way.

"He also has quite a good sense of humor, little remarked upon," he adds. "And a kind of humility in a kind of old-fashioned way that I think would surprise people."

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