John Malkovich is one of the greatest actors of his, or arguably any, generation. In Rogue Hostage, his latest movie, he plays controversial Congressman and business owner, Sam Nelson.
When an armed group traps him, his staff, and customers in a store, threatening to blow the place sky-high, it’s up to his fellow captive Child Protective Services officer and former Marine Kyle Snowden, played by Tyrese Gibson, to save the day.
On what turned out to be the 24th anniversary of another of his action outings, Con Air, I caught up with Malkovich to discuss the draw of the genre, Rogue Hostage, and Con Air’s milestone 25th anniversary in 2022.
Simon Thompson: Rogue Hostage is the first time you have worked with director Jon Keeyes, but you have already made a second film together. What was it about him that clicked?
John Malkovich: I didn’t know him before this. I knew Tyrese Gibson a tiny bit. We had been in a Transformers film together, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, although I didn’t work with him directly on that. I met him in Moscow. I didn’t know Jon, but Rogue Hostage was the first film he sent me. We shot this one in August or September last year, and I found him very collaborative, quick, and to the point. He knew the movie he wanted to make and how to go about it. Anyway, we got on, so we made this, and then we did another movie together about four months later.
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Thompson: This is very different from a big studio movie like Transformers.
Malkovich: I think we did this in two weeks. The second movie we did together we did in about 11 days total, which was even quicker. The number of scenes we were doing each day was triple or quadruple what one would typically do. On these smaller budget films, the ones that aren’t the product of some majors studio, as very few things are these days, the amount of time you can spend in shooting is cut in half or maybe even in quarters. My first big film was The Killing Fields, and that was a four-month shoot. A couple of years later, they started to be three months; then, a few years later, it was down to eight or nine weeks. I did a film with Willem Dafoe and first-time feature director E. Elias Merhige called Shadow of the Vampire, and that was six weeks. I remember thinking, ‘My God, we’re racing through this. We needed some more time.’ Now we make movies in under two weeks, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it dipped under that.
Thompson: Do you prefer that faster pace?
Malkovich: I certainly thought many times while making movies that we wasted a lot of time, to be honest. But on the other hand, now, I kind of think, ‘Jesus, there is just so little time.’ It’s kind of incredible. I did another film recently where we filmed the climax; there are fistfights and killing and blah, blah, blah, which will likely be minutes of screen time. We shot that in the late afternoon. Five years ago, that would have been rehearsed for a week and then shot over three days. Now we do it in two or three hours, essentially without rehearsal.
Thompson: You’ve done a lot of action movies now but have previously said that you haven’t watched a lot of them. Do you still enjoy making them?
Malkovich: Every time I do one, I think, ‘Surely this is the last time I’ll be in a 20 minute fistfight or a sword fight or a gunfight with someone 45 years younger than me?’ Somehow I keep doing it. Do I enjoy them? Yes, some of them I have enjoyed a great deal. Others, you know, it really depends. My last fight may have come, and I am quite long in the tooth, but I’m perfectly happy to keep doing it.
Thompson: Your character is a Congressman. I know you’re not big on voting, but have you ever considered a political career?
Malkovich: No. If politics was about solving problems, the actual present-day issues, of which there are many, then maybe I would have. I don’t think that’s what politics is about, I’m afraid.
Thompson: Rogue Hostage debuts in select theaters and on VOD. Has the success of streaming changed influenced how you make your choices?
Malkovich: I wouldn’t necessarily say it has influenced how I make my choices; it has just influenced my choices. When I was a freshman in college and I came to America, and I grew up in a tiny town in the Midwest, and if I wanted to see Last Tango in Paris, then I had to drive to the big university town that was miles away, but that was the only way you can see it. VHS didn’t exist, and it probably wasn’t shown on television for many years after that, and even then would probably be heavily censored. Then you had VHS, and then DVDs, and all of these things have been movements away from a group of strangers showing up and going into a darkened room and having a collective experience of watching on film. Now you watch them at home, and you’re watching them in bed on your little computer or your big screen TV. As the platforms change and the way people view these products change, your choices change. If you do, for instance, The New Pope, that’s fantastic. You’re working with a brilliant director, you’re with a top-notch company, and you do 10 hours of something you find interesting instead of an hour and a half. Who wouldn’t want to do that? When I started, there were just movies or television, and movie actors in America very rarely did television. I don’t think these things produced by new streaming platforms are seen as remotely inferior to movies these days. In fact, the opposite may be the case as they are more accessible than ever. It is very difficult now because movies that are just for an adult audience have almost disappeared from cinemas, and it’s really only Marvel movies or those huge films that really even play in the cinemas to any significant degree now, at least in America.
Thompson: I think it’s great that we’re doing this interview on June 6, which is the anniversary of the release of Con Air. It landed in theaters on June 6, 1997.
Malkovich: Oh my God (laughs). Really? I had no idea. That is hilarious.
Thompson: I spoke to Con Air’s director Simon West recently about a possible sequel. I know your character, Cyrus ‘The Virus’ Grissom, died at the end, but would you consider returning as maybe his twin brother?
Malkovich: I should be Cyrus’s grandfather at this point, but sure, yeah. I liked Simon very much. I had a great time doing Con Air with all those guys. There were such interesting people who I think the audience sometimes forget about. Besides Nic Cage and Johnny Cusack, you’ve got Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Danny Trejo, and Dave Chappelle. Jerry Bruckheimer managed to get all of these amazing guys together, and it was pretty entertaining to be around. I’m not around that much, let’s say pure male energy. You don’t get a lot of that in the business, so it is pretty unique.
Thompson: When Con Air celebrates its 25th anniversary next year, would you consider marking the occasion with a cast reunion?
Malkovich: Of course, if I’m around, sure. I like all those people. Actually, this thing that I’m doing right now for Netflix
Rogue Hostage is in select theaters and On Demand from Friday, June 11, 2021.