NEW YORK — You don’t usually find big-name actors performing in low-budget films. When they do, you know they are participating in a project they care about. In Being John Malkovich, the star-studded cast members speak about the movie with pride and admiration.
During a press conference in the Riyhal Regal Hotel in New York City, actors John Malkovich, John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Orson Bean, Mary Kay Place, director Spike Jonze, writer Charlie Kauffman and producer Michael Stipe gathered to discuss the evolution of the film.
Three years ago, Kauffman wrote the script for Being John Malkovich. There was no guarantee Malkovich would agree to do the film. Fortunately, he did, but the script floated around for three years before Malkovich even read it.
Malkovich was stuck in the Los Angeles airport. He had run out of things to read so he called his office in L.A. and asked it to send over something to read. He got Kauffman’s script.
After reading the screenplay, Malkovich expressed an interest in producing or directing the film if it wasn’t about him. Kauffman didn’t want to change it. And in the end, Kauffman didn’t change it.
It seemed right (that it would be John Malkovich) when I wrote it, Kauffman said. It was the only choice.
Although he claimed he can’t tell how well the script emulates his true self, Malkovich agreed that his personality does shine through in the movie.
I wouldn’t know what is the real John Malkovich, he said. But I think when I first read it, it struck me as being something familiar to me or something I could have lived without necessarily being something I have lived.
After Malkovich agreed to star in the film, things started to move forward.
Jonze bluntly stated, Thank God he didn’t say no. The other actors were cast in their roles, and Kauffman’s script began to take form.
There were no descriptions of the characters, Diaz said. Spike had taken pictures of people on the streets of New York and said `Where’s Lotte? Where’s Craig? Where’s Maxine?’ The characters we were playing were characters. That was one of the most amazing things about this script was that there were actual characters.
While the actors portray true characters in the film, most of them are genuine characters off-screen too. Through the interview, the actors continually joked with each other, often erupting into a cacophony of laughter. The wise-cracking Cusack would throw out hysterical barbs that would force everyone to smile, even the straight-laced Malkovich.
I had to do a scene where I was sitting on the couch with the monkey, Cusack explained, with a smirk on his face. I had to tell the monkey that I was an underappreciated artist and that conscience is a man’s worst enemy, and as a pupeteer I just want to do my work, but I raise issues instead and people can’t handle that. I did that looking straight into a monkey’s eyes, and I thought, my God, this is as good as it gets.
Although the film has its humorous moments, Being John Malkovich forces movie-goers to think and contemplate different ideas. But just what these ideas are, no one involved in the production would pinpoint the central idea.
There are a lot of ideas that the film brings up, Jonze said. I don’t know if there is any one thing about those ideas. It’s just sort of bringing them up for different people to interpret different ways, and if you come away thinking about any one of those things, then that’s good.