Michael Madsen, who admits to being more interested in delivering a good performance than the perks of fame, formerly worked as a gas station attendant in his hometown of Chicago, IL. The older brother of actress Virginia Madsen, Michael's first acting experience took place inside of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, where he studied under the direction of fellow actor John Malkovich. This stage training provided him with the background needed to land a host of small roles, beginning with a bit part in the 1983 film WarGames. After relocating to Los Angeles, Madsen made several television and film appearances, including NBC's Emmy-winning Special Bulletin (1983), and The Natural (1984), director Barry Levinson's celebrated sports drama. Madsen continued to build credibility, gradually going on to land larger parts. Though his profile was raised substantially after appearing in the 1991 film Thelma & Louise, it was his 1989 performance as a psychotic killer in John Dahl's Kill Me Again that caught the attention of Quentin Tarantino, who would later give Madsen his true breakthrough opportunity in 1992's Reservoir Dogs. This ear-splitting performance earned Madsen critical acclaim, as well as further cementing his reputation for playing psychopathic murderers. Sure enough, Madsen would go on to perform in several decidedly evil roles. From the kitten-loving sociopath in The Getaway (1994), to mafia tough guy Sonny Black in Donnie Brasco, Madsen proved himself more than capable of playing a good bad guy. Rather than allowing himself to be typecast, however, Madsen readily accepted the role of a loving foster parent in Free Willy (1993), a seasoned alien assassin in Species (1995), and CIA Agent Damon Falco in director Lee Tamahori's Die Another Day (2002). Over the course of the next decade, however, the veteran actor largely stuck to his tough-guy image, though his reflective role in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films displayed a sense of depth that most filmmakers fail to coax out of him.
Biography by Tracie Cooper
- Acted briefly at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, which was the breeding ground for significant acting talents such as John Malkovich and Gary Sinise.
- Worked as an auto mechanic, gas-station attendant, hospital orderly, house painter and cook before breaking into acting.
- Has authored multiple poetry books, including Burning in Paradise (which has a foreword by Dennis Hopper) and 46 Down, as well as a photography-poetry book, Signs of Life.
- Slated to play the role of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction but had to turn it down because he was still working on Wyatt Earp.
- Has cited Robert Mitchum and Burt Lancaster as major acting influences.
- His children's godfathers include Harvey Keitel, Tom Sizemore, Elias Koteas and Quentin Tarantino.
- Received an Indie Icon award at the 2011 Las Vegas Film Festival.