The following article contains minor spoilers for “RED,” in theaters today
With an ensemble cast like the one featured in “RED,” in theaters today, it’s hard to say that any single person steals the show. If pressed, however, John Malkovich as the loony, conspiracy-fearing retired government killer Marvin Boggs would be the actor to which that designation was applied. Malkovich has delivered his share of crazy in past roles, so Boggs isn’t exactly a stretch for him. The character is nonetheless charmingly eccentric in a he’s-funny-but-might-actually-kill-you-after-he-finishes-his-sentence sort of way.
Malkovich, who also puts in time off-set as an accomplished fashion designer, admitted during a recent press day for the film that the key for him to finding his characters lies in the way they dress. “I have a tendency to have very good relationships with costumers,” he said. “That’s something I generally collaborate with them quite closely about. I even have several very good friends who are costumers.”
“Obviously it’s a very important element of what you do,” he continued. “That’s probably the… most important way I would work on that visual element, in collaboration with the costumer. Or it could be in collaboration with the makeup artist or the wigmaker or whoever it is – but anything that has some impact in a visual term. That’s the first thing really an audience sees.”
For “RED,” and Boggs specifically, firepower is just as important to the character as getting the outfit right, if not moreso. “I spent a lot of time with the armorers on this movie, discussing those very things,” Malkovich revealed. The quirks are right there on the screen in the finished product, too; one of the most memorable moments in the film comes when Boggs reveals that the pink stuffed pig he has fixated on carrying is actually concealing a small automatic weapon.
While Malkovich admitted that he did in fact base Marvin Boggs on a specific person, he refused to reveal who that was. He did say that the inspiration definitely wasn’t incarcerated mass murderer Cyrus the Virus, a previous role of his from Michael Bay’s good-bad 1997 action/thriller “Con Air.” There are certainly similarities between Cyrus and Boggs, but Malkovich was quick to point out the fundamental difference between the two.
“Well, I think they’re different in that Cyrus was very definitely all there – it’s just where he was was not a very pleasant place to be,” Malkovich said. “Marvin is probably not so much all there. Partially there – instinctively observant and quite often correct in what he instinctively feels. Also, because of the tone of the movie, I wouldn’t have thought they were too similar.”
Another source Malkovich steered clear of for inspiration was the original DC Comics/Wildstorm comic created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, on which the film is based. This is partially because Boggs – and indeed, many of the movie’s key players outside of Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) – is an entirely new creation from sibling screenwriters John and Erich Hoeber. There’s more to the decision of skipping the comic book than that for Malkovich, however.
“I never read the comic book,” he said. “I met the author, but I didn’t read it. The truth is, unless you’re involved in the adaptation or unless you have sufficient lead time and you’re in a position with the people producing or directing it, it doesn’t do any good to read something because what you’re going to be making is the screenplay. Often, once the actors get involved, it’s really too late to impact on that sensibly. You can impact upon it in small ways, but usually that work is done. And that’s really the work of the writers and the director and the producer more than the actor.”
“All I do is read the screenplay many, many times, and then when you show up, you get a sense of what people are doing,” he continued. “I always look at the whole thing, not really what I’m doing, because whatever I’m doing will happen anyway. I look at the whole thing and see…basically, are you a point or a counterpoint in this scene, in this story, at this moment, and that’s how I look at things.”
Malkovich admits that, despite his status as a respected, veteran actor, he tends to be directed “quite closely” and that is how he prefers it. “I think there are basically two schools of acting. Some actors are highly reticent to commit anything to celluloid that is not their choice,” he explained. “I have nothing against that. Then there’s another type of actor, which is what I am, which I would prefer the director make clear what they want from me. Not to the extent of being a crypto-fascist. That I’ve had also and it’s kind of dull. Really I’m not cut out for those few people I’ve run across and I certainly won’t be darkening their door again.”
“RED” director Robert Schwentke does not number among those unlucky few. In fact, Malkovich pays him just about the highest praise any actor could offer their director. “Robert is not dissimilar to Joel and Ethan Coen,” he said, referring to the brilliant filmmaking team behind modern classics “The Big Lebowski” and “Fargo.” “They have specific notions about what they want and yet they’re also happy to see what you [the actor] bring. Robert is a lot like that – he watches the actors very closely and he has opinions about it. Personally, I revel in that, and I think most directors want some options. I think probably they’re relieved when you think of some.”
“My basic feeling is, directing a movie is a more or less a terrible job,” he continued. “Why don’t you [as an actor] try and be helpful and constructive on the set? It’s not an easy job. That’s, at least, what I’ve tried to do in my career, for the most part.”