John Malkovich

Active - 1978 - Present  |   Born - Dec 9, 1953 in Benton, Illinois, United States  |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Comedy Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

One of the leading actors of his generation and an important figure in world cinema, John Malkovich made the term "icy calm" his trademark. After winning acclaim for his characterization of the scheming Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons, he became associated with a series of roles that, to put it plainly, essentially required him to be an evil bastard.

The product of a large, highly intellectual family, Malkovich was born December 9, 1953, in Christopher, IL. Initially a portly youth, he underwent a self-imposed physical transformation, emerging as a star high school athlete. He went on to attend Eastern Illinois University, where he originally aspired to be a professional environmentalist. With his friend Gary Sinise, Malkovich helped co-found Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre in 1976. Seven years later, he won an Obie award when the Steppenwolf production of Sam Shepard's True West was brought to New York. He next appeared on Broadway with Dustin Hoffman in the 1984 revival of Death of a Salesman; when it was transformed into a television movie a year later, Malkovich won an Emmy for his efforts. While he was working on Broadway, he made his film debut, playing a blind transient in Places in the Heart (1984), which earned him an Oscar nomination. He also had a starring role in The Killing Fields the same year.

Although certainly capable of projecting warmth and pathos, Malkovich became best-known for his ice-water-in-the-veins roles. In addition to praise for his performance in Dangerous Liaisons, Malkovich won recognition -- and Oscar and Golden Globe nominations -- for his portrayal of the chameleon-like political assassin in Wolfgang Peterson's In the Line of Fire (1993). Other sinister Malkovich characterizations include Kurtz in the 1994 TV-movie version of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, the secretive Dr. Jekyll in Mary Reilly (1996), and Isabel Archer's dastardly husband in The Portrait of a Lady (1996). In 1999, Malkovich played what was undoubtedly his most unusual role -- himself -- in Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich. Both the subject of the film and one of its stars, he had the surreal duty of letting the film's other characters into his mind, something many audience members had no doubt been dreaming of doing for years. The film provided Malkovich's career with a sort of popular resurgence, and the following year found him essaying the role of a wild eyed F.W. Murnau in the dark horror comedy Shadow of the Vampire. The second feature by experimental filmmaker E. ELias Mehrige, Shadow of the Vampire took a magic realism approach to documenting the production of Murnau's legendary 1922 classic Nosferatu.

In the years that followed Malkovich continued his trend of alternating roles in high-profile Hollywood fare with more artistically gratifying foreign films, and after turning up in the German miniseries Les Miserables (2000) and Je rentre a la maison Malkovich turned up opposite Vin Diesel in the box office flash Knockaround Guys (2001). In 2002 Malkovich picked up where Matt Damon left off in the thriller Ripley's Game before traveling back in time for the historical adventure drama Napoleon. After cracking up international audiences in Johnny English (2003), fans got to see Malkovich take on the role of a Stanley Kubrick imposter in the fact based Colour Me Kubrick.

After a string of decidedly small films, Malkovich surfaced in 2005 in the sci-fi comedy blockbuster The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Based on the cult novel by Douglas Adams, the picture cast Malkovich as an alien guru and gave him a chance to flex some of his sillier chops. Subsequent roles in Art School Confidential, the Coen Brother's Burn After Reading, and Jonah Hex offered a bit of levity between performances in more serious-minded dramas like Disgrace and Secretariat, and on the heels of a memorable comic performance as an unhinged former assassin in the big budget action comedy Red, Malkovich could be spotted amidst an explosion of robot carnage in 2011's Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Maintaining his theatrical ties while tending to his successful film career, Malkovich appeared in the 1993 Broadway production State of Shock, and has periodically returned to Chicago to both act and direct in local presentations. For a number of years, he was married to fellow Steppenwolf alumnus Glenne Headly.

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  • Family is of Croatian heritage.
  • Conquered a weight problem and lost 70 pounds at age 16 by eating only Jell-O for two months.
  • Joined Chicago's newly minted Steppenwolf Theatre in 1976 as one of the company's nine original members.
  • First film appearance was in 1978 as an extra in Robert Altman's A Wedding; first major movie role was in 1984's Places in the Heart, which resulted in his first Oscar nomination.
  • Made Broadway debut opposite Dustin Hoffman in the 1984 revival of Death of a Salesman; won an Emmy for the subsequent TV version of the play.
  • His profile was boosted after appearing in Dangerous Liaisons in 1988.
  • Has played himself twice in films (Being John Malkovich; Adaptation).
  • Made his directorial debut with 2002's The Dancer Upstairs.
  • Lived in France for over 10 years near Provence.
  • Has designed two lines of menswear under the labels Uncle Kimono and Technobohemian.