King Con: John Malkovich

Photo: Henny Garfunkel/Retna

John Malkovich is an excellent fraud. Two of them, in fact. In Art School Confidential, he plays a blowhard art instructor with a taste for freshmen. And in Colour Me Kubrick, premiering at Tribeca, he’s Alan Conway, an unemployed English alcoholic who impersonated Stanley Kubrick (despite looking nothing like him and knowing little about his work) in order to score free drinks and score with young actors. Logan Hill spoke with Malkovich about the art of the con.

Actors always seem to love playing con artists.
Of course! Actors generally get to do things you probably shouldn’t do in real life—well, at least as much as one might like to or be tempted to. Though I suppose a lot of actors just go ahead and do it, don’t they?

But these guys aren’t so much libertines as buffoons. Is it hard to make an idiot convincing?
Oh—I don’t worry too much about that, because I think if you made a film about most people they would seem like idiots.

Do you take more liberties playing a real-life fraud like Conway?
I sort of thought, Oh, why bother to really do the character one way? Because whenever the mood hit him, he would just change anyway.

In every scene you seem to be trying out a new accent. Were you going for anything in particular?
Oh, it was just, you know, whatever accent came to mind. I actually had to sort of practice those a lot, because it’s not so easy to do a terrible accent. And generally you don’t mix South African with Irish with Danish. But I saw Conway on a TV program, talking about his bang-up American accent. It sounded like a North Korean being molested with a telephone pole.

Of all the accents you cooked up, which was your favorite?
I’m always fond of my Charlton Heston Yiddish.

Both Conway and your art professor lie their asses off to get into the pants of younger men.
Well, again, I think all of that stuff is very normal. More and more, it seems that identity is just a question of what works for the next fifteen minutes.

The last time you made headlines was a few years back, before you left Paris and everyone was debating the Iraq war. I recall you calling French officials “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”
Well, what I have to say in France, I say in France. And if I say something to say here, I say it here. Right now, I don’t have much to say. Every country has their problems. Utopia means elsewhere.

How’s your fashion line, Mrs. Mudd, coming?
I just turned in the spring and summer line for 2007—the drawings and fabric choices. But I’m still in quite a battle, frankly.

Because I want it done the way I want it done, and until that happens I won’t be happy. As I’ve said to my partner, if this was a play, you’d be in jail. You can’t take a play someone has directed and do whatever you want with it. I don’t know where they get that idea. I’d never do it to anybody.

Art School Confidential, Sony Classics, May 5.

Colour Me Kubrick, Tribeca Film Festival

King Con: John Malkovich