MCM: John Malkovich


With a strong background in theater, John Malkovich comes across as studied and smart in whatever role he takes on, which makes him a natural for costume dramas. Since his breakout role in Dangerous Liaisons, he’s tended to play dark, sometimes outright creepy characters in frock flicks, but he does them in a seductive fashion that gets under your skin. I think it’s the intelligence and his reedy, whispery voice. He should be in some historical horror because he’s my ideal of a Victorian vampire! But surely he’s a nice person in real life, as he says:

“I don’t think, personally, I’m much like any character I ever played, including John Malkovich (in Being John Malkovich (1999)). I don’t really see the resemblance at all. It’s more a frequency you transmit than something that you fundamentally are.”

He’s not bad, he just acts that way!


Mr. Will in Places in the Heart (1984)

John Malkovich, Places in the Heart (1984)


Biff Loman in Death of a Salesman (1985)

John Malkovich, Death of a Salesman (1985)

The classic American play, Malkovich is the son to Dustin Hoffman’s salesman dad.


Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

He said at the time: “The movie should appeal to everyone. It’s sleazy, elegant, vicious, and mean, and it’s about people doing hideous things to each other. If that weren’t enough, it has a tragic end. What more could people ask for?”


Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men (1992)

John Malkovich, Of Mice and Men (1992)

Another American classic.


Dr. Henry Jekyll / Mr. Edward Hyde in Mary Reilly (1996)

John Malkovich, Mary Reilly (1996)

A twist on the Jekyll / Hyde story, as seen through his maid’s eyes.


Gilbert Osmond in The Portrait of a Lady (1996)

John Malkovich, The Portrait of a Lady (1996)

Malkovich says of his darker roles: “I’m drawn to a character with a lack of humanity. People give reasons for being cruel or sadistic, but I think it is just a lack of humanity and concern for others. I think I’m good at them because I don’t like them. Audiences are attracted to them, but I hate them. It’s strange.”


Athos in The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

John Malkovich, The Man in the Iron Mask (1998)

Oh this movie should have been better…


Le Baron de Charlus in Marcel Proust’s Time Regained aka Le temps retrouvé (1999)

John Malkovich, Marcel Proust's Time Regained aka Le temps retrouvé (1999)


Charles VII in The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)

joan of arc on film

An unusual and fascinating take on the Joan of Arc story.


Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau in Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Shadow of the Vampire (2000)

Malkovich has portrayed several real-life directors, in addition to directing film himself, saying: “I probably know a lot more technically than most film actors about lenses and lights and things like that, but basically to be effective I need the sequence of events behind me. I get that in the theatre every night, which I find freeing in a way.”


Javert in Les Misérables (2000)

John Malkovich, Les Misérables (2000)

The French miniseries version of this tale.


Monsieur Numance in Savage Souls aka Les âmes fortes (2001)

John Malkovich, Savage Souls aka Les âmes fortes (2001)

John Malkovich lived in France for about a decade, is fluent in French, & made quite a few French films & TV series.


Charles Talleyrand in Napoléon (2002)

John Malkovich, Napoléon (2002)

Another French miniseries.


Charles II in The Libertine (2004)


Klimt in Klimt (2006)

John Malkovich, Klimt (2006)

I need to see this because the promo pix make it look like they recreate Klimt paintings in costume.


Rev. Gustav Briegleb in Changeling (2008)

The Changeling (2008)

Kendra enjoyed his marcel wave!


Duke of Wellington in Lines of Wellington aka Linhas de Wellington (2012)

John Malkovich, Lines of Wellington (2012)

This French miniseries is about a Napoleonic-era battle at the lines of Torres Vedras.


Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach in Crossbones (2014)

John Malkovich, Crossbones (2014)

Of his process, Malkovich says: “I’m not a Method actor. I don’t believe acting should be psychodrama. I look within myself and see what I can find to play the role with. If I’m playing a blind man, I don’t go around blindfolded for days. A lot of good actors would, but I don’t go in for that very much, principally because I’d rather make it up.”


Giacomo in Casanova Variations (2014)

Casanova Variations (2014)


Dr. Felton in Last Call (2016)

John Malkovich, Last Call (2016)

About the last days of poet Dylan Thomas in the 1950s.


Hercule Poirot in The ABC Murders (2018)

John Malkovich, The ABC Murders (2018)

Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective!


What’s your favorite of John Malkovich’s historical costume movie or TV roles?

14 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Dangerous Liaisons. And I really need to see Le temps retrouve. Sorry keyboard refuses to do French accent marks.

    • Kathleen Julie Norvell

      I thought he stuck out like a sore thumb in this. Yes, the costumes were fabulous, but his flat voice annoyed the hell out of me and he was outclassed by just about everyone.

    • M.E. Lawrence

      Copy and paste ’em from the Internet. Anyway, do get hold of “Le temps retrouvé” For those who haven’t read Proust–or haven’t read him since university–it might be near incomprehensible in spots, but memory is like that, and the entirety somehow works to convey the spirit of the novels. I’m not sure how accurate the production is; it looks marvelous.

  2. Tara Mueller

    Thank you for including Crossbones in this list. That show was amazingly stupid and for some reason I enjoyed the heck out of it. It was the pirate equivalent of the electric-Jesus Dracula show staring Jonathan rhys Myers where you asked every week can it get anymore idiotic? Both shows consistently answered yes.

    • Kathleen Julie Norvell

      I can’t stand John Malkovich, but I actually liked him in this. Yes, it was stupid, but entertaining and almost worth it to see Julian Sands rant and rave.

  3. susan l eiffert

    He’s not a favorite of mine, but his self-portrayal in Being was great fun. I actually think it must have been hard to pull off. He was awful in Klimt. “phoned it in” as they say. Such a great subject he rendered boring. However, the fellow who played Schiele was spot on!
    Klimt’s circle and that period in Vienna is my area of interest and collecting (No I don’t own an original Klimt!) Malkovich wandered into my booth at an antique fashion and textile show a few years ago, looking at the bathing suits. He wasn’t particularly interested in conversation!

  4. Kersten

    Yeah he is (aside from his voice which is a hate-it-or-love-it feature that NEVER changes) a really interesting actor who is often very poorly cast, kind of like Willem Defoe. He’s so distinctive that it’s hard to not see “John Malkovich” in things (his casting as Poirot is a particularly egregious example as he in no way can pull off a Belgian accent), which doesn’t make him a bad actor at all, it just means that when he’s right for a part he is very, very right, and when he’s wrong…. My family and I were just talking about other actors with distinctive features like that and it so often comes down to their voices. Emily Mortimer is another one (and I adore her).

  5. Bea

    I will always view him with dubiousness, since they cast him over Alan Rickman in the film version of Dangerous Liasions.

    The fools.

  6. Ljones41

    I especially liked him in Dangerous Liaisons, Changeling, Places in the Heart, and Shadow of the Vampire. I also thought he was the best thing about The ABC Murders.

  7. Saraquill

    I have a soft spot for the “Walking on Broken Glass” music video.

  8. Sam Marchiony

    I actually have a hard time seeing him as sexy thanks to Lindsay Ellis comparing his diction to an unhappy Olive Garden customer. Just something about the way he talks… But he does wear fiendish very well.

  9. Katelynn Barker

    One of my coworkers made his costumes for when he did the Libertine at Steppenwolf! Absolutely fascinating guy with hell of a scarf collection.

  10. misat0

    Just, “Linhas de Wellington”, like the tiltle in Portuguese, is a Portuguese, not French, production. In fact, Torres Vedras is a small town north of Lisbon, and the story is about how the Portuguese managed to defeat Napoleon. John Malkovich has a house in Lisbon and a few investments in the city.