John Malkovich is an intense actor. His roles are often
unconventional, dark and the littlest bit creepy.
When the Chicago native enters a room he quietly unfurls and
unfolds, seemingly gliding with the precision of a jungle cat, yet
lumbering with the purpose of a Grizzy bear. And, though soft
spoken with a voice like steel wool, sharp, ever observant eyes
make you think twice about asking him the wrong question.
Check out Cosmotot's chat with John's "Secretariat"
co-star Diane Lane and director Randall Wallace
Sitting down with Malkovich at the Trump Tower to talk about his
role as natty Lucien Laurin in Disney's Secretariat was an
overwheming, amazing, intimidating treat, and once the father of
two smiled, warmly I might add, the conversation became almost
Acting appears to be so effortless for you. Is it the
way it seems?
Well, I think anything you do isn't really done effortlessly.
It's always a struggle to do something, anything well, and you have
to have a certain degree of training, and you have to take certain
steps to ensure that you make it look effortless even if it
I wouldn't include acting among my most difficult jobs I've had,
but it's also a matter of your personality, too. Some people would
be terrified to do that, and some people wouldn't last for five
minutes working in an office.
Was there something you particularly liked during
Well, there wasn't anything I disliked shooting I think. But I
liked - I think we all liked shooting the reactions to the Belmont
which was such an incredible race, and which we all knew quite
You watched Secretariat when you were
So it must have been exciting to be a part of it again
in a way.
That was such a clear memory of mine. It was something that
really stuck in my mind.
You've mentioned having nothing in common with the real
life Lucien Laurin who is no longer alive. How did you prepare for
Rewatched all the races, re-read Bill Nack's book about
Secretariat, and a lot of the articles. There wasn't tons and tons
of preparation time, because sometimes the studio takes a long time
to decide things and I'm not going to work on anything if I'm not
sure it's going to go anywhere.
I also spoke at length with Ellen Chenery and also spent a great
deal of time with the writer who wrote about Secretariat. It was by
Bill Nack who was there and covered Secretariat.
Would it have added anything to your performance to have
been able to meet him?
I would say there's no real difference unless the person you're
playing from real life or what we refer to as real life, is very
known. He was not very known, nor would it particularly have helped
to know him. There are certain things that you kind of have to do.
So in a sense you go into an impression, but I try to avoid doing
What would you have liked to ask Laurin?
I would have loved to hear his opinion of why he thought the
horse was so special, what he thought made it such a monumentally
successful racehorse, because there isn't all that much about that
Tell me about your experience with the different horses
on set. Did you feel as much of a connection to them as your
Well, we had 6 different horses so… it was always different. One
of the Secretariat horses was a little bit skittish publicly, but
most of them were probably a lot easier than most thoroughbreds
I always have a pretty good relationship with horses for the
most part, but I think thoroughbreds can be incredibly difficult,
and we did have some real racehorses, and Otto was thrown many
times as a jockey. They can act out. And there's not a thing you
can do about it.
Horses are typically portrayed as soothing creatures
that have a therapeutic effect for a lot of people. Did you feel
I don't trust horses at all, but I like them a lot. So I'm
always very happy to be around them with my eyes open.
I have a healthy respect for horses, too.
Exactly! I was riding a horse once in Poland for a movie and the
character I played was in the wilderness and there were a lot of
montage scenes where I ride up to a farm, gravel flying, sun
setting... and Elf, my horse who was just massive, bolted one day
and you can pull on his reins, pull on his hair, punch him in the
Finally, I was able to run into a stream and literally pull away
hanging on his neck. If he'd wanted to keep on going he would have.
And I had a little kid riding with me at the time, but he wasn't
hurt and I jumped right back on. Wasn't very happy with him, but
right back on him.
To me, they're very powerful animals. You have to get careful
when you get up to them. And it can be hard to know them
Maria Pilar Clark is a mom times two and Windy City-based writer.
See more of Pilar's stories here.
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