John Malkovich, the two-time Academy Award nominee who lends his voice and his image to Unferth (above), King Hrothgar’s right-hand man in Beowulf talks about joining Anthony Hopkins and Angelina Jolie in Robert Zemeckis’ motion-captured, animated, 6th century fable out on DVD this month.
Q: How did you get a sense for what you would look like in the finished film?
JOHN MALKOVICH: Well, you had a sense of it because they actually made, for instance, real costumes that you wore, not while you were filming. But you actually knew what it was and, in my case, a real wig or two, the real props and accessories and everything, the weight of them. They did all that. I mean, they’re quite organized. But I think what people are referring to, Anthony, Ray, Brendan and myself all grew up really doing theatre. And you never see yourself in a play and it’s not really necessary. I’ll see this film, but even if I didn’t, it would still be what it is. I mean, my seeing of it would add nothing to the equation that’s not meant for me to see.
Q: Is technology like this an exciting prospect for you? Or do you see yourself sending in your voices in the future?
JOHN MALKOVICH: Well, we do send our voices in all the time. You send it in every film you do, you loop it, at least some part of it. Many actors do voiceovers; we do car commercials, toilet bowl cleaner, et cetera, et cetera, Discovery Channel, all kinds of things. And I don’t find it scary at all. I find it quite interesting. At the first roundtable I had today, somebody said – and I suppose they meant based on my performance, and I could only assume that was of a compliment – that they could easily imagine me playing Bette Davis, which now I intend to devote myself to wholeheartedly. But that’s, obviously, quite a frightening idea to my non-fans, but, see, as an actor, I think that’s fantastic that you don’t have to look like yourself or be your age in this film, and all of us go from older to younger or we play our children. I mean, that is, after all, what we are supposed to be doing. And normally, when people go to see an actor, they just remark on if they’re sexually attracted to them is the main thing, the first thing, and then the second on the quality of their plastic surgery. And I do the same and it’s totally fine with me. It doesn’t bother me at all. But it might be more interesting if I could look like you, you see, why not? And it’s not like it’s some big innovation to look like yourself, and we’ve had a good 100 years of cinema now. And guess what? Gary Cooper looks like Gary Cooper and Cary Grant looks like Cary Grant.
Q: When you’re not being wired up with all this gear, did you and the other actors do any bonding?
JOHN MALKOVICH: Yeah, because there are a lot of scenes that you’re not in. And there’s a lot to talk about. I mean, Ray, I’ve known for years and I’ve worked with before. Anthony, I’d only met once but always really liked. Robin, I didn’t really know. Brendan, I didn’t know. I didn’t work with Angelina, although I’m doing a film with her now, but Crispin I had known socially through friends, so I knew him a tiny bit. But we didn’t really work together; he was just there, I think, a half day in the period of time I was there. Yeah, it was great.
Q: Did you hang out with them during off hours?
JOHN MALKOVICH: I had dinner out in Anthony’s house one night and saw a bit of him, and Ray, but, frankly, this went so fast and there was so much text involved every day, and the majority of us are no longer 16, so it kind of comes in one ear and goes out the other. We had a lot of work to do. The days weren’t very long.
Q: How long did you work?
JOHN MALKOVICH: Four weeks, off and on.
Q: What’s it like shooting The Changeling with Clint Eastwood and Angelina Jolie?
JOHN MALKOVICH: Well, that’s a delight because [Clint] is someone I’ve worked with before, although not as a director. I acted with him once, many years ago. And I’m just very fond of him. He’s very bright, very economical, quite funny, actually, in a kind of quiet way. I mean, quite shy. And I play a pastor who tries to aid Angelina’s character in finding her son, who has disappeared.