Although he's been in nearly 100 movies (from the acclaimed Thelma & Louise to the action-packed Relic to the family-friendly Free Willy), actor Michael Madsen will be forever burned into the minds of moviegoers as the malevolent Mr. Blonde in Quentin Tarantino's 1992 debut Reservoir Dogs.
This week, Madsen returns to his pal Q.T.'s acting ensemble in the action epic Kill Bill: Vol. 2. In the film, he plays a philosophical ex-hit man named Budd who both hinders and helps the revenge plot of Uma Thurman's bloodthirsty Bride.
Madsen recently took time out of his busy schedule to chat via phone with the Alibi about Bill, Budd and a certain, long-promised reunion between brothers.
When you were asked to play the role of Budd, did you see Kill Bill as one, single screenplay?
Yeah. In fact when I read it, I was having trouble understanding how it would be possible for [Quentin Tarantino] to actually make the film. I just said, "Oh my gosh, how are you gonna get anybody to be able to do this?"
How long was the original screenplay?
It was about an inch thick.
I almost can't imagine it as a single narrative. The second film is so different, it really pulls the rug out from under you.
They're two different movies. I agree with you there. One of them is an action picture and one of them is character driven. ... I'm glad they cut it into two parts. I think it's a tremendous achievement. This guy [Tarantino] is at the top of his powers. If he never made another movie for the rest of his life, he'd still go down in history as one of the greatest directors.
Quentin seems to love working with certain actors. Did he write the role of Budd with you in mind?
Actually, there was a role of a character named Mr. Barrel that wasn't shot. I think it was only one scene in the movie that he originally asked me to do. From hanging out at his house and just having conversations, getting together to talk about Mr. Barrel, somewhere along the line he decided to write out the character.
So, did you then have a hand in creating Budd?
Yeah. I definitely came up with a lot of stuff. There are a lot of scenes in the film that are totally made up and improved. ... But that's the great thing about [Tarantino]: He comes up with things at the spur of the moment, and then it becomes reality.
You've played a lot of villains in your career, but what's interesting about Budd is that he seems to be a very reluctant bad guy.
Well, I think he's the moral conscience of the film. He's a vulnerable, sympathetic character. Having been in on the script since the beginning, it's hard to say if that happened while playing the part, or if it was Quentin's original intention. But even scenes like in the graveyard where I give [Uma Thurman's character] the choice between the mace or the flashlight [before being buried alive]. Thing is, I didn't have to give her that flashlight. I think there is some notion of conscience in the part of Budd. Even at Budd's trailer when I tell my brother, "We deserve to die." I think I'm the first person that actually acknowledges there was some wrongdoing. I loved that about Budd, because it's not just one-dimensional.
But, going into a Quentin Tarantino film, you know you're going to get some great dialogue, you know you're going to play an interesting character.
Well, yeah. There's no tension on the set, because everybody's so damn happy to be there. Everyone's working so hard to do their very, very best. That's the way films should be all the time, but seldom are. You have a very comfortable feeling walking into that situation—especially me, because I've known Quentin so long. I know what he's gonna say before he says it most of the time.
Budd's trailer is such a great environment. Did you spend a lot of time there, getting into character?
In fact, my hotel room started to resemble Budd's trailer in a lot of ways. So I suggested I just stay there. I said, "Why don't I just sleep on the set, man?" It wasn't exactly a bed and breakfast. "Why should I go back to the hotel; It's the same goddamn thing." [Tarantino] loves detail. And the details of Budd's trailer were just unbelievable. You stepped in his trailer, you felt like you were in a place that somebody really lived. A lot of that stuff is never even seen on camera. But there's a feeling that's generated. The feeling comes into film—which is a strange phenomenon of celluloid: that emotion can be picked up on a piece of plastic. It's the environment that's created for the actor, so the actor feels like he's really there.
And are you involved in Quentin's next project, the World War II film Inglorious Bastards?
Yeah. I got a really wonderful part in that. He wrote a character named "Babe" Buchinsky—Buchinsky being Charles Bronson's real last name. So, I'm pretty honored that I'm going to be carrying that tag. I've always wanted to do a World War II movie. I'm jonesing for it. My father's brother was killed on the beach in World War II.
Is there still talk between you and Quentin about doing The Vega Brothers with John Travolta [whose character in Pulp Fiction shares the same last name with Madsen's character in Reservoir Dogs]?
Oh, absolutely. I think he abandoned the idea for a while. But when we were out in San Diego at the ComiCon [in 2003], Quentin took a little vacation to Mexico, and when he came back he had the whole idea for The Vega Brothers in mind. He called me up at my hotel room and ran the whole thing down for me. And it was just—I mean it was startling. I couldn't explain it to you because it's very hard to explain the parameters of the plot. But I can tell you for sure he's the only man in the world who could get away with that plot. Or even make that plot work. Or even consider filming that plot.