John Malkovich considers himself lucky, but he knows more about loss than most. In recent years, the actor has experienced a series of devastating blows which have shattered his financial security and changed the makeup of his family forever. Now, Malkovich has revealed how he survived such a tumultuous time in his life.
Today, Malkovich is known to fans as a charismatic movie star. He has starred in the region of 90 films, covering genres as diverse as blockbusters, European arthouse and indie. Some of his movies have delighted audiences, while others have flopped. But over time, the actor has become an icon of modern cinema.
Malkovich is perhaps best known for his distinctive, drawling voice, which he has lent to a number of seductive characters over the years. Alternatively, he is probably most associated with the film Being John Malkovich, which sees him deliver a hilariously self-deprecating performance as himself. However, one thing that isn’t usually associated with the movie star is an upbeat demeanor.
Malkovich was born to parents Joe Anne and Daniel Malkovich in 1953. He grew up with his four siblings (an older brother and three younger sisters) in Benton, Illinois – a small mining town. It was here that his mother ran the local newspaper, while his father was a state conservation director and environmentalist who published the Outdoor Illinois magazine.
Growing up in a large family, it seems that there was never a dull moment for Malkovich. Food fights were apparently a regular occurrence at mealtimes. However, real violence was an aspect of Malkovich’s young life too. And he would often sustain beatings from his dad as well as his older brother, Danny.
In an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian in May 2020 Malkovich opened up about his sometimes violent childhood. However, he claimed that it was nothing out of the ordinary for the period. Malkovich explained, “You crossed the line and you got a beating. That was very common at that time.”
Malkovich added, “Sure, I had a lot of violence growing up, but so what?” Furthermore, when it came to his brother Danny, at least, it seems that Malkovich may have given as good as he got. When asked about a rumor he’d chased his sibling with a butcher’s knife, the actor said only, “My brother didn’t get anything he didn’t deserve.”
However, Malkovich was eager not to paint his brother in too much of a negative light. Speaking of Danny’s intimidating attitude he explained, “That’s not saying I didn’t love him – he’s gone now. He could be hilarious, very smart and extremely witty, but he was quite the torturer… People get sick of being tortured.”
Beatings at home weren’t the only things that Malkovich dealt with as a youngster. As a teenager he weighed 225lb and was taunted by his peers who called him “Piggy.” Reflecting on these jibes, Malkovich told The Guardian, “Kids aren’t very nice.” Presumably, the teasing stopped when Malkovich quickly dropped several stones thanks to a crash diet consisting mostly of Jell-O.
The area in which Malkovich grew up was not affluent, though his family was fairly well-off. As a child, the would-be actor assumed he would become a prison guard or a teacher. His parents had other aspirations, hoping that their son might become a park ranger. In the end, he attended Illinois State University where it seems that he found his calling.
According to Malkovich, he discovered a passion for acting by accident. He would later reveal that it was his crush on a girl that led him to the theatre during his time at college. He would later become a founding member of the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, alongside fellow actors Joan Allen, Gary Sinise and Glenne Headley – who he would go on to marry in 1982.
Getting Steppenwolf off the ground wasn’t easy, and for many years Malkovich and his contemporaries had to juggle regular jobs with their theater business. In a 2001 interview with The Guardian, Malkovich revealed the “real people’s jobs” he’d tackled, telling the newspaper, “I did a million things.”
Listing the kind of jobs he’d taken on to keep things ticking over, Malkovich detailed, “I worked in an office supply store, I drove a school bus, I painted houses, I worked for a Mexican landscape gardening company, picking out weeds. And generally when I was doing something it somehow took my interest.”
But Malkovich’s hard work soon paid off. It was a production by the Steppenwolf Theatre that gave him his big break. He was acting in a version of True West, a play by Sam Shepard, in New York when he was apparently “discovered.” Funnily enough, he found inspiration for his role in his taunting brother and their childhood in smalltown Illinois.
Malkovich’s performance in True West earned him his first Obie Award, which honors excellence in off-Broadway productions. He claimed a second in 1984 when he directed Balm in Gilead. Later that year, Malkovich made his Broadway debut, acting alongside Dustin Hoffman in Death of a Salesman.
The production of Death of a Salesman in which Malkovich starred was subsequently made into a TV special by CBS in 1985. For the adaptation, Malkovich reprised his role as Biff Loman and subsequently won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Special.
Prior to his Emmy win, Malkovich had set his sights on cinema. He appeared as an extra in Robert Altman’s 1978 film A Wedding. However, it wasn’t until 1984 that Malkovich picked up his first major movie role in Places In The Heart, for which he bagged his first Oscar nomination.
Following Places in the Heart, Malkovich starred in films such asThe Killing Fields, Empire of the Sun, and The Glass Menagerie. However, it was his role in the 1988 movie Dangerous Liaisons that brought the actor to the forefront of public consciousness.
The Dangerous Liaisons gig was not only a defining moment in Malkovich’s professional career, but in his personal life too. His on-screen romance with his co-star Michelle Pfeiffer was reportedly replicated in real life. As a result, Malkovich’s marriage to Headly was subsequently brought to an end.
But Malkovich’s relationship with Pfeiffer was not to last either. And following the breakdown of his marriage and affair he became depressed for a year. It was at then that Malkovich turned to psychoanalysis which, as he told The Guardian in 2001, gave him “ideas about why I responded in certain ways and why I wouldn’t put myself in certain situations again.”
Malkovich subsequently found love with Nicoletta Peyran, the second assistant director on his 1989 movie The Sheltering Sky. The pair have been together ever since and have two children, Loewy and Amandine. They lived in the south of France but later settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In 1992 Malkovich went on to appear as Lennie in a film adaptation of the John Steinbeck classic Of Mice and Men. A year later, he received a second Oscar nomination for his part in In The Line Of Fire. However, Malkovich’s best-known role from this period was perhaps his 1999 movie, Being John Malkovich.
Malkovich played a version of himself in the absurd comedy, which goes behind the scenes inside the actor’s head. The Malkovich in the movie was seemingly inspired by his previous roles. He is avant-garde, lascivious, stern and irascible. And perhaps surprisingly, the actor wasn’t offended by such a portrayal; it seems that he simply embraced the hilarity.
It’s been said that part of Malkovich’s charm lies in the fact he’s quite the unlikely leading man. He was losing his hair by the time he reached his early 20s, is ever so slightly cross-eyed and is tall and heavy set. But nevertheless, he has often excelled at playing masterful seducers.
Above all though, it could be argued that Malkovich’s signature is his drawling voice. He speaks slowly and carefully, often giving off a downbeat demeanor. However, this would be at odds with how the actor sees himself, describing himself in his 2020 interview with The Guardian as a “class clown.”
By 2020 Malkovich had starred in roughly 90 films. He’s also turned his hand to producing, working behind the scenes on films like Ghost World, Juno and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. And in recent years, Malkovich has returned to TV, starring in The ABC Murders, The New Pope, and the Netflix comedy Space Force.
Because of the success he’s experienced over his career in 2020 Malkovich told The Guardian that he considered himself lucky. However, that’s not to say that he hasn’t ever been dealt a bad hand in life. For one thing, back in December 2008, Malkovich lost all of his savings to an investment fraudster.
Explaining how his life savings were drained, Malkovich told The Guardian, “Our then-business manager had invested pretty much everything we’d ever made with somebody called Bernie Madoff.” In 2009 Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in jail for an investment defrauding scheme worth $64.8bn.
Revealing how he learned of Madoff’s scam, Malkovich added, “I saw a picture of Bernie Madoff in handcuffs and said to my wife: ‘I’m going to go to the corner to get a packet of cigarettes. I think we have a little problem with Madoff.’” And it seems that Malkovich had been putting things lightly.
While Madoff wound up in jail, Malkovich never saw his money again. He revealed, “Everything I’d ever made was gone.” You may have expected the actor to be furious, or heartbroken, at the very least. However, he seems to have taken the setback in his stride. He later told The Guardian, “That was a couple of days of shock, I suppose.”
When asked how much he’d lost to Madoff’s scam, Malkovich answered, “Oh, I don’t know. A lot. But I don’t think it mattered that much. We just made changes to the way we lived and the money we spent.” Revealing what he meant by that, the actor explained, “I had to do more work that paid for a number of years, and work all the time.”
After losing everything, Malkovich said he spent no longer than a few days being angry with his situation. He explained, “After a couple or three days, you go: ‘You’re lucky to be alive, you’re lucky to have a job.’ Almost no one has money in the banks. I read somewhere that a huge percentage of Americans wouldn’t have $400 to put between their hands in an emergency.”
It would appear that Malkovich isn’t the type to harbor resentment for the curveballs life throws his way. He said as much in his 2020 interview with The Guardian when he mused, “I try not to worry about things I can’t control.” And that includes holding it together when he lost four members of his family in quick succession.
Over a five-year span starting in 2009 Malkovich lost his brother Danny and two sisters, Amanda and Rebecca, all of whom were in their 50s when they died. Around the same time, the actor’s mother, Joe Anne, also passed away. With his father already gone, this period left Malkovich with just one living sibling, Melissa.
While Malkovich acknowledged that the death of his relatives was devastating, he told The Guardian, “But what can you do about it?.” He added, “I don’t think anybody enjoys their family or siblings dying. I liked all mine. But what can you do? It’s the final act in life.”
Malkovich went on to explain his attitude towards life with an anecdote about him meeting a little boy in Canada. The youngster had leukaemia and had lost his hair. The actor explained, “They wanted me to talk to him because people somehow think people in the movies have some power to do good.”
Revealing how his encounter with the boy played out, Malkovich said, “He was self-conscious about his hair, and I said: ‘We’ve got the same haircut,’ and he said: ‘Yes, but not for the same reason.’” And in that moment, Malkovich said he realized just how fortunate he had been in life.
He would later tell the The Guardian, “That is how I look at life; I was very lucky. I’ve been luckier than anybody I know. Luckier than all of the children in my family, all of whom were more interesting or more talented or smarter than me. So when things have happened that have been sad and difficult, I don’t feel the need to complain about them.”
So while Malkovich may be known for his soft, melancholy voice, it seems that deep down he’s an eternal optimist. As a result, we shouldn’t be fooled by his downbeat demeanor. In his interview with The Guardian he concluded, “I’ve never been a negative influence. I think I’m quite a positive person, all in all.”
Given his tendency to look on the bright side, Malkovich claims that it wouldn’t bother him if he was never offered another acting job again. Mulling over such a situation, he said, “It would require a change in the way we live. But we already did that 12 years ago. So that would be fine.”