Feb. 27, 2024 in Models & Actresses Photos by Julian Everett


Michael Madsen can easily look like a thug. The 37-year-old actor (and brother of actress Virginia Madsen) has certainly played his share—from the ominous Mr. Blond in "Reservoir Dogs" to the hazardous Rudd in "The Getaway" to the threatening Mr. Blonde in "Free Willy," and as Susan Sarandon's boyfriend, Jimmy, in "Thelma & Louise." These are his leather-knuckle, screwface haz 25 others, some you probably wished to know. And he's written a recently published book of neo-Bukowski poetry titled "Beer, Blood and Ashes."

When the contributing Editor David Rensin went to the Madsen's house for this interview, he found that most of his screen-inspired impressions melted away, leaving "a big guy who watches you with all you got deep inside his head as he talks to you, the man with a gaze like quartz that, by the time you get that don't-fuck-with-me look. Either that, you hope you don't make a wrong move." Says Rensin, "Madsen answered the door shirtless, clutching a sleeping baby to his chest. We walked down a flight of steps to his living room where, despite my stated preference for jazz rather, he insisted I have a beer. OK, I'd never had a Red Dog. Then he told me we were talking on the Madsen. I changed clothes and let me into the garage. There was the polished 1967 the Vette seen in a long time. He opened the hood and I talked engine specs. Then he opened the door and said, 'Get in.'

When we reached the Pacific Coast Highway, Madsen turned right and then floored it. He took it through every gear in about ten seconds. All I could do was hold on and hope we didn't roll over. Later, we sat on the back and talked. He sipped brandy then behind with his beer and I had liquor. We talked it up until filtered Camels. We were talking about ten sure scenes when suddenly he turned to a student and laughed at me and laughed off, as if I had passed some sort of test, said, 'I can't believe you got in the car.'"


PLAYBOY: In Reservoir Dogs the most gruesome part to watch of Mr. Blond's big torture scene was when he cut off the cop's ear. What was the toughest part to do? 

MADSEN: I had a hard time with the cop saying, "I've got a kid." That wasn't in the script. That came out in a rehearsal. We were in this warehouse doing improv, trying to figure out how to play that whole scene. The cop was in the chair. I had the lighter and I was going to light him up. He said, "Don't burn me! Don't burn me! I've got a kid!" I said, "Wait a minute. Wait in a minute, wait a minute." Then, I turned to Quentin Tarantino and said, "Quentin, I'm not going to do that. He can't say that. Don't let him say that because I cannot fucking torch him after he says that to me. If he says that to me I ain't gonna light him on fire." And Quentin says, "No, no, I think it's great! I think it's wonderful! It brings a whole new element to it!" I said, "Quentin, maybe it does, but it's not the element that you wrote, man. OK? It's a thing that you've now come to because it's your actor ad-libbed, and it changes it for me. It makes Mr. Blond into something else, and I don't want that." 

How hard is it, when you actually torch him? It's like when Jimmy Cagney gouges Mr. Blonde have to go that way? Would I like the electric chair in Angels with Dirty Faces. I want O'Brien comes to him and says, "Pat boys to burn yellow in the chair for the you because they think you're a big fucking, hero." So the hero goes Rocky Sulli-boys to tear themselves green. That's the cap down the hole. He punches the livin and he's like, "Yeah! Yeah!" He sits in the chair on the strap him in. You see the shadow, they wanna all of a sudden he says, "I don't want. No! I don't want to die! Oh my God! Oh no! No!" and it stops when the switch is pulled. It gives me a fucking chill up my spine. You never will know if he was fucking scared or if he did it for those boys because he liked to think he did it for the boys.


PLAYBOY: Are you happy making movies in the Nineties? Nine cities, ok does another era hold more appeal for you? 

MADSEN: I grew up watching Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum—the Rose Tattoo, Lonely Are the Brave and The Naked Knotts, Mr. Arnold. I wish that I had been part of a studio system where actors were nurtured and brought along. Bogart made 40 films before he did High Sierra. I don't know if that's possible today. Now it's so hard just to get in. A lot of young actors don't realize how hard it is, or know the reality it takes, to not give up. Shit, I'm the son of a fireman from Chicago. I started from fucking nowhere. Today, you got the head shots and the agents and the acting schools. All these young actors are psyched up by all of this stuff when they get on the bus. I read a lot of biographies: those of Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Jimmy Cagney. Most of them never went to acting school a day in their lives.


PLAYBOY: Your former wife's name is tattooed on your arm. Did you think your marriage would last forever? Are you a candidate for laser removal?

MADSEN: A tattoo is something that seems like a good idea at the time. I think of tattoos as scars more than as pictures. It's a picture in your flesh that represents a certain point of your life. I don't see the point in removing them.

Mine are 14 years old. I might cover them up with something that's easier to look at-ocean waves, a Vargas girl-but taking them off is stupid. My advice is, don't get any tattoos. Why? So one day you don't have to answer questions about them [laughs]. A lot of my buddies got 'em. Some of them are good, some of them are bad. You have to have nice work. You have to think about it. You don't want to let some hack carve it into your skin. And you had better like what you get. It's a funny thing, a tattoo. It's painful. It hurts to get the damn things. But I mean, what doesn't? Tattoos are the least of it.


PLAYBOY: Your latest movie is Mulhol-Land Falls. Which of your previous films are worth remembering?

MADSEN: There are only four decent ones: Kill Me Again, Reservoir Dogs, Thelma & Louise and The Getaway. It's been very hard for me because I'm very bad at auditioning. I really can't sit down in a room and read for a panel of people. It doesn't seem to make any sense. It's so far removed from what you actually do in a movie that I don't know how to do it in a room. I once had an audition where I was supposed to be some kind of bad guy. The casting director kept saying, "You've gotta be angry here. You've got to show me some anger. You've got to show me some aggression." I kept trying to get there and she just kept shaking her head. Then she said, "Let me pretend like I'm the other character," and 1 said, "OK, I can do that." She read the other lines and I started to try to play the scene. At one point I picked up the chair that I had been sitting in and threw it across the room. That busted the chair. She got very upset and stopped the whole thing. She said, "You're crazy! You're not an actor. You're destroying property!" I said, "What? I thought we were playing a scene here. It wasn't my intention to destroy your office, but if you want to take me to that place, if you want me to show anger, how can you now be upset by what I did?" I didn't get the part. 


PLAYBOY: You've done plenty of killing on-screen. Have you saved lives offscreen?

MADSEN: No. But when I was a little boy, my father pulled over on the freeway because a guy on a motorcycle had been hit by a car and was lying in the middle of the road. Everybody was going by. When my dad pulled over, another car did, too.

My dad told the other driver to give him his shirt. Then my dad wrapped the shirt around the guy's leg and made a tourniquet. His leg was almost completely cut off. The ambulance came and took the injured guy away. About six months later, my father got a phone call from the guy. He said that they had saved his leg, that they had reattached it. That was a moment. My dad was a hero to me, an unsung hero. I watched my father carry children out of windows in burning buildings and bring them down a ladder.

He never got any awards, but I don't think he really wanted that. He didn't want anybody to say, "Oh, that was won-derful.* He just did it because that was his job. I guess I'd like to think I could match that, or get close to that, someday.

Do something that is worthwhile.


PLAYBOY: You worked with Alec Baldwin on The Getaway. Why will he always remember you?

MADSEN: I pulled out my dick in front of him. There's a scene in the hotel in El Paso where Doc sticks his head out of the doorway and he sees Rudy, who has come to kill him, in the hall. I used to tease Alec about that. I said, "You know, did you ever see the way McQueen played that part? Remember the look on his face when he saw Rudy and Fran in the hallway?" Alec would say, "Oh, I don't want to hear about that." I'd say,

"No, no, no, it was great. He had all these different things going on. It was bewilderment and astonishment and hatred and all this shit, and it was all there on Steve's face." Alec would say, "I don't want to hear about that." When the day came for him to shoot that scene I said,

"You want me to be off camera for you?"

He says, "No, no, Mike, go in your trailer. I'm all right. I can do this." I said,

"Oh, OK, whatever." But I wanted to do something to fuck with him. So when he stuck his head out, I was standing on the other side of the camera, and I unzipped my fly and pulled out my dick! And all of a sudden his face looked just like Steve McQueen's. It was perfect. After they yelled "Cut" he let fly with some exple-tives. He didn't want the director, Roger Donaldson, to print it. He said, "Oh, don't print that one! We have to go again." Roger said, "No, I liked that one, actually. I think we will print that."


PLAYBOY: In The Getaway Jennifer Tilly played your girlfriend, Fran. How much fun was it to tell her exactly what to do and have her listen with enthusiasm?

MADSEN: When I took the job I asked if Fran had been cast yet and they said no.

I said, "Well, you should get Jennifer Tilly. She's Fran, let's face it." They weren't so sure. So they brought all these girls in to audition with me. They must have flown maybe ten actresses to Phoenix to audition. I did the off camera for all of them. It was the scene in the vet clinic with Fran and her husband, Har-old. I had to know how far I could go with the actress because I didn't want to be stuck on the set with somebody who was afraid of me or afraid of what I would do. So I got expressive, snapping bra straps, physical contact and other stuff, seeing if the actress could make herself available to a character like that without seeing the darkness and negativity and horror of somebody like Rudy.

She had to be attracted to Rudy. He was a sick fuck. None of the actresses could do it and I kept saying that Jennifer Tilly was the only one who could. Then I found out that they had already auditioned her. I said, "Do you have her on tape? Let me see the tape." They showed me her tape. I said, "What is wrong with you guys? Man, that's her." And I was right. Jennifer made herself very avail-able. When I hanged the cat on Harold in the bathroom, after he had hanged himself, she laughed and laughed. She thought it was a great idea.


PLAYBOY: What do you plan to do when the thrill is gone?

MADSEN: Race cars. I drove a Nascar at the Phoenix International Raceway when we were making The Getaway. I did four laps, averaging 165. I was invited to go to Richard Petty's driving school.

They said they would sponsor me. When I was in high school, a lot of my friends and I used to build cars and race. I used to make $225 a week at Joe Jacobs' Chevrolet, and I'd spend all my money on my car. I had a 1968 Road Runner with a 440 engine and pistol-grip four-speed. Then I had a Chevelle 396 four-speed. That was my whole life. I thought I was going to be a big-time racing driv-er. I was also a big Mopar boy. I liked the Dodge. There was a 1968 Charger, and then I had a Challenger. God, I think I've had about 30 cars. I have a 1957

Chevy right now, the Stingray, a 1964 Thunderbird convertible. And I've got a 1977 Vette up in Montana. I love cars.

Old cars. So if the acting thing didn't work out, I'd race fucking cars.


PLAYBOY: When you were younger you did a little time. For what? Who would be the best Hollywood cellmate?

MADSEN: It was juvenile shit. Stealing cars, robbery, that kind of shit. Birdman of Alcatraz probably describes jail best. A lot of movies romanticize prison, but there's nothing romantic about it. Morgan Freeman would be the ideal cell-mate. He strikes me as somebody who has inner dignity, and that's rare. I feel like I could talk to the man. He'd listen.


PLAYBOY: You've called yourself a loner and said that you like it. What's so good about being your own man?

MADSEN: Because we moved so many times I was forever the new kid on the block and the new kid in school. After a while I started to realize that having friends is overrated. All that social-interaction stuff isn't what it's made out to be.

People who hang out in cliques are deemed to be so special. In reality they don't have a lot to offer. Maybe I say that because I've just learned to live without it. It's like Alan Ladd riding over the hill at the end of Shane. I'd like to think that most people who see him ride over the hill realize why that's so important. I can't watch it without crying. It герте-sends loneliness and a oneness. He's accepted himself for who he really is, and I think it's healthy. I'm not saying one should disregard his fellowman, because Shane certainly didn't disregard his fel-lowman. But there comes a time to move on. Even though the little boy is saying,

"Mother wants you, I know she does.

And Pa's got things for you to do." Well, Shane did what he had to do and then he left. I do have friends, but I have very few of them. Most of my friends have disappointed me. Most people in my life have let me down. You can torture yourself about it forever, or you can say, "OK, I can live without it. I'm gonna get along fine without it." You're much better off if you get to that place, because then people can't fuck with you.


PLAYBOY: Isn't there a big price to pay?

MADSEN: There are bigger rewards than there are prices to pay. I mean, I'm sitting on the beach, I'm drinking Jack Daniel's and doing 20 Questions [laughs].

But I've fucking worked hard. I've spent 15 years doing this. I'm not under any illusions about what I think, and I don't try to pretend that I'm something I'm not. I got over that whole painful self-indulgent crap about "I'm alone, I'm on my own." Feeling sorry for myself is a fucking waste of time. Being a loner is a reality. My disposition is genetic. My father is a distant man. My mother's father was a distant man. My father's father, they used to call him Silent Sam. This is inescapable for me.


PLAYBOY: As a kid, after your parents di-vorced, you hung out with losers, outsiders and underdogs. What can you learn from outcasts?

MADSEN: Most of the guys I knew had a lot more integrity and a lot more going on than most other people I've met.

They were good men. A lot of good hearts there. And most of them are dead now. It's hard for me to accept. I don't know why I lived and they didn't. I've asked myself that question a lot.


PLAYBOY: You were up for the lead in Natural Born Killers, but the part went to Woody Harrelson. One story suggests you passed on the part because it took Oliver Stone too long to decide. What really happened?

MADSEN: I read Natural Born Killers even before I read Reservoir Dogs. Oliver Stone called me and asked me to play the lead.

But things did take a long time to be resolved. By that time, I'd been applauded for playing the heavy in Reservor Dogs, so I wasn't real sure that being in Natural Born Killers was the right move to make.

So I backed out. I don't like to sit around and grumble about shit. Regret is not a good thing. You do what you think is right at the time, and you should embrace your perception.


PLAYBOY: Tarantino wrote Natural Born Killers. How badly did you want to be in Pulp Fiction?

MADSEN: Quentin sent me Pulp Fiction when I was in New York doing publicity for The Getaway. I read it and, again, I felt like I would be repeating myself, particularly because Vincent Vega was the brother of my character, Nick Vega, from Reservoir Dogs. How could I play my own brother? Then Quentin said,

"Well, I'm going to make The Vega Broth-ers, so if you don't do Pulp, whoever does play Vincent"-who ended up being played by John Travolta-"will be your brother.* Besides, Larry Kasdan had cast me in Wyatt Earp, and I had always wanted to make a Western. As far as I'm con-cerned, Dogs is a better film than Pulp anyway. Dogs made Quentin. I didn't need to be in Pulp Fiction. I'd much rather look forward to doing The Vega Brothers. I hope Quentin does it because Travolta and I together could make a creat Tarantino picture.


PLAYBOY: What's the strangest role you've ever been asked to play?

MADSEN: Helvis. It was about an illegitimate son of Elvis Presley who is a psychopathic killer by day and an Elvis impersonator at night.

A director also wanted my sister and me to be in a film together-as lovers.

The movie was called Galatea. He said, "Think of the notoriety! Think of the press we'll get!" I said, "Yeah. You're a fucking wacko, man."


PLAYBOY: You go into a restaurant, you open the menu and you see a "Michael Madsen." What is it?

MADSEN: [Long laugh] A New York steak. With onions.


PLAYBOY: You have young sons. When they're older and you have to discipline them, will you do it through reasoning or edict, or just show them your films so they'll have an idea whom they're deal. ing with?

MADSEN: You can't tell a kid anything.

When people told me stuff when I was little, I didn't fucking want to listen to anybody. I don't expect my sons to listen to me. But I think if I can reason with them, I will. I like to reason, explain the pros and cons and let them make up their own minds about which way to go.

Shit, I'm not going to break them down.

I don't want to fuck up their spirit like my spirit was fucked with. When I was growing up, it was "Just fucking smack

'em!" We all know that's not the way to go. I mean, if you beat your dogs they're going to turn around and bite your face off someday.


PLAYBOY: What lessons did you learn by pumping gas that serve you well in Hollywood?

MADSEN: Humility. You don't really need to blow your horn too loud. When it's 30 below zero and somebody's honking their horn outside for me to come out and fill up their car with gas, I'm going to put that gas in that car because that's my job. But they don't have to honk at me. This is a hard business. A strange business. I still haven't figured it out. I don't know if I ever will. I don't know if I want to.


PLAYBOY: Is there any mohair or sharkskin hiding in your closet?

MADSEN: No. I always wanted a sharkskin suit, though. Like Sinatra and Sammy and Joey Bishop used to wear. I saw a picture of Sinatra in a black sharkskin suit. It was so cool. I liked those Vegas, Rat Pack movies. Also films like The Dirty Dozen, The Wild Bunch, The Magnificent Seven. Guys looking out for one another.

When men were men and sheep were afraid.


PLAYBOY: Last question: What do you love to watch women do?

MADSEN: Take care of their babies. Yeah. Yee-ah.

Source - Playboy Magazine, April 1996

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