Michael Madsen Interview

Michael Madsen: Toothpick Vic

Michael Madsen imageMichael Madsen has been in a large number of films dating back three decades, and is beloved by countless fans as the cool, tough and sinister Vic Vega (“Mr. Blonde”) from the Quentin Tarantino masterpiece “Reservoir Dogs”. He also worked with Tarantino and the late David Carradine on “Kill Bill” and writes poetry that can be found (among other things) at his official website: www.michaelmadsen.com.

INTERVIEW

Lawrence Tierney imageHow was it doing the scene in the office with the late Lawrence Tierney and Chris Penn? Chris Penn imageLawrence was angry and Chris and I were having fun. Lawrence didn't really like Quentin at that point. We did three wrestling takes. We broke a lot of stuff and kept going out of frame. Lawrence kept yelling at us because he wanted to go home. Finally the third one was the only one usable and that's the one in the movie. If you look at our close ups you can see how sweaty and out of breath we were because they did all three takes really fast. It was a long morning.

Michael Madsen in Reservoir DogsHow about the warehouse “face-off” scene between you and Harvey Keitel (“Mr. White”)?
Harvey Keitel imageIt was my idea to drink the soda. Quentin had that pole put in there for me to lean on. Harvey encouraged me to amp it up so I did. Harvey's very good when you throw some real energy at him. He doesn't like fakey actor bullsh*t. If you don't bring it he has no problem telling you. He was wonderful to work with and later became godfather to my son Max. I first met Harvey on Thelma and Louise but our scene together was cut out of the final film.

The torture scene with “Marvin Nash” (played by Kirk Baltz)?
He asked me to put him in the trunk of my car so he could see how it felt to be locked up. After he got in I drove around the neighborhood for a little while because I then realized it was a good idea for me also to get into character. I don't think he appreciated it so I had to later remind him it was his idea. He was so good in that scene. Sometimes someone can be so good you don't even see it. He really sold it. He was very brave and that scene bound us together in cinema history.

David Carradine imageHow was it working with David Carradine (and Quentin once again) in “Kill Bill”?
Quentin Tarantino imageI had met David before. I made two pictures with David before Kill Bill but we never got to really know each other well until we played brothers for Quentin. He turned out to be one of the most interesting gracious men I ever met. I could not say enough about David so I won't try and obviously working with Quentin again was one of the best moments of my career. 

How long have you been writing poetry and who is your biggest influence?
I've been writing poetry for about ten years and my biggest influence was Loren Eaisley.

Interview by James M. Tate

RELATED SITES:

Michael Madsen’s Official Facebook page

Michael Madsen Poetry

Michael Madsen Official Site

SPECIAL BONUS FEATURE!

TALES OF EXTRAORDINARY MADNESS:
MEMORIES OF LAWRENCE TIERNEY AND SCOTT BRADY

Tim Tierney is the son of legendary actor Scott Brady, and the nephew of Scott’s brother, the one and only wild man himself, Lawrence Tierney, who began acting, like Scott, in 1940’s film noirs and whose career, unlike Scott, sporadically hit the skids with drinking bouts, fights, and prison.

Tim recollects about his father Scott Brady (“He Walked By Night”, “Johnny Guitar”, “Gremlins”) and uncle Lawrence Tierney (“Dillinger”, “Devil Thumbs A Ride”, “Born To Kill”, and whose career was rejuvenated in the iconic 1991 Quentin Tarantino film “Reservoir Dogs”).

What are some memorable experiences hanging out with your uncle Lawrence Tierney?
It was always fun to see the deference he got from people. I was there when they were trying to get him to agree to do "Armageddon" and he didn't want to do it. It was a one-day job and they were offering him a lot of money, but something put him off about it and he told them no. They had to up his pay substantially beyond their first offer and then get some young production assistant girl to sweet-talk him until he agreed. And after all that, they didn't use his footage.

Did your dad and uncle not get along too well?
Scott and Larry were estranged in later years and my impression is that they were never very close to begin with. I think that what caused the falling out from Scott's perspective was an accumulation of incidents over the years (consider Larry's very public record of being a difficult person to deal with) combined with both their parents dying in close succession in the early 60's putting extra stress on their relationship. Sometime in the mid-60's they had a major knock-down fight and that was the last time they spoke for years. It was after this that Larry quit acting and moved back to NYC.

What are some Lawrence Tierney “antics” that happened through the years (as shared to you by Lawrence himself)?
I remember the first time I met Larry was in 1983 when I was 13 and he came out for my uncle Ed's funeral. It was the first time he and my dad had seen each other in about 20 years, and it was tense. I was accustomed to other aunts & uncles being glad to see me, but this guy just grunted and growled, so I kept away.

The craziest thing he did in his later years was during an off day in the filming of "Reservoir Dogs" when he tried to shoot my cousin (his nephew) Michael and ended up doing some time at a prison camp for it. Tarantino said of it "He was taken from his bail arraignment to the set."

One time we were driving up the PCH and he [Lawrence Tierney] noticed a seaside bar and recounted a story to me about a time back in probably the late 40's when he was in there on a night when the place was mostly empty and he got into a loud argument with a guy he was shooting pool with. The bartender produced a revolver from behind the bar and told them both to shut up, which bothered Larry that the guy needed to intimidate people with a gun. Later, the bartender went into the back room for something and Larry jumped the bar and grabbed the gun: "I swear, I was just going to ask him if he still felt like a tough guy", but when the bartender came back out and saw Larry with the gun he ran down the street screaming.

Another time, we were in Venice together and a restaurant he wanted to visit saw him coming and they shut the door and put the "closed" sign in the window. I never found out exactly why, but I did not blame them.

Finally, it is important to understand that Larry never truly calmed down later in life, he just slowed down. For example, Larry had some friends who liked to talk about the old days when they would tear the town apart before they all settled down – but the thing was that these guys were middle-aged and talking about their crazy days in the 1980s, when they were in their 20's and hanging out with a guy in his 60's! Larry had probably gone through several crops of such youngsters in his life.

What key memories do you have of your father Scott Brady?
I recall my dad being around the house a lot, since much of an actor's life is spent being in between jobs. Scott was a nut for Notre Dame football and was very active in the ND "subway alumni" community and knew a lot of people involved in the team. In fact, back in the 50's he used to throw a party for the team at his place in the Hollywood Hills each year when they would come out to play USC. Besides that, he also read a lot and loved doing the NY Times crossword puzzles. For him at that point in his life, acting was just his job and he rarely talked about it or about his past as a star. He liked to refer to himself as an "ex-celebrity" and would sometimes rant about all the "Hollywood phonies" he had no further use for.

He was conservative, hated hippies, and often told my brother and I to keep out hair cut short, never smoke pot, and never use hippie phrases like "hey, man" or "cool." He was also very patriotic and hated flag-burning Vietnam protesters even though he was against the war himself.

When Scott did talk about his old days, it was often frank stories about mistakes he had made in his career or life with an intended lesson for my brother and me. For instance, he once recounted how he didn't keep good track of his money and ended up getting fleeced by the IRS over back taxes. Several times he talked about all the wild parties he threw at his house, and the crowd of no-goods he attracted who were always ready to enjoy themselves on his dime.

Another story was about the time he drove down to the beach after he had been drinking and swam out into the ocean a long ways, all alone. The next day he realized what a crazy risk that was, and how the papers would have gone nuts over it if Scott Brady had disappeared leaving only his clothes on the sand...

His most dramatic early-days story was about a time when he was in a bar and two guys started giving him a hard time about not being so tough in real life as he was on screen. He finished his drink and left, but they came out after him. "I could tell that one of them was following directly behind me, so I took exactly two steps into street and then turned & swung. I caught him right on the jaw: Bing! A perfect shot! The guy fell back and hit his head right on the curb, and I turned white – I thought I had killed him. Now his buddy is telling me they were only joking and I'm imagining my career is over and I'm going to jail. It turned out the guy was okay, but I was scared to death."

How was it growing up related to famous actors?
Before I get into Scott & Larry I want to make mention of their lesser-known younger brother Ed. He acted in some American films in the early 50's (including "The Hoodlum" with Larry in 1951) and then moved to Germany for several years where he became fluent and acted in several German films. He returned to the USA by the early 60's and did some TV work playing German characters in American war-shows, but gave up acting for more steady work as a building contractor (one of the apartments he built was the scene of the notorious Wonderland murders!). Ed became a ranked grand-master in chess, and got his own boys into it as well as my brother and me, as he and Scott generally stayed close and we saw his family a lot.

Growing up with my dad was fun since he had a job that was so interesting. We got to go onto movie sets, and watch his shows on TV or in the theatre when they came out and always root for the character he played. Of course by this time he was older and often played bad guys who would lose in the end, but along the way we enjoyed it when he had the good guys on the run. For instance, he guest-starred in an episode of "Welcome Back Kotter" where he played a tough coach who didn't like Travolta's character (Barbarino) and ends up slapping him in a confrontation – I remember my brother and I cheering at the TV when he did that. "Dad slapped Travolta! Yes!"

As for Larry, his name was never mentioned in my house and I was about ten when I first learned my dad had a brother named Larry who was also an actor – shocking news for anyone, especially a kid. Like I said earlier, I first met him when I was 13 when he came out for uncle Ed's funeral, but it was over ten years later just after my mom died that I decided as a young man to make an effort to get to know him since he represented a way of learning more about my dad, who died in 1985 when I was only 16.

I had a lot of questions about things now that I was older but Larry initially wanted nothing to do with me: it was as if he was a window into the past, but with the curtains closed. Later, as he became more open he also grew too erratic to have a normal conversation with: the window had the curtains open but was becoming opaque. Upon his death the window became bricked-over, replaced by his unspeaking portrait. So, I got to know him well in certain ways but at the same time don't feel that I got to know him well at all. He could be very guarded about himself and also moody about what he wanted to talk about or do on any given occasion. I never did find out much about my dad or even Larry's own history other than a handful of random stories.

One thing I want to make clear is that Larry was far more than the thug that his reputation casts him as. He was well read and even wrote poetry. He also could discuss philosophy (he had lived in Europe and knew Jean Paul Sartre), and spoke good French and Spanish. He was chivalrous towards women, and had a strong sense of dignity (he was once hired to recite Bukowski, and declared the material "vulgar" and walked off the job). Several times he admonished my brother and me not to repeat the kind of mistakes he made when he was younger.

In closing, I will leave you with this short poem Larry once told me:

The finest things a man can do are to LIE, STEAL, SWEAR, and DRINK:
**LIE for the one that you love.
**STEAL away from bad company.
**SWEAR by your country.
**...and when you DRINK, drink with me!

Official Page for Scott Brady (Tim's site)

Interview by James M. Tate

Facebook Fan Pages for:

Scott Brady

Lawrence Tierney

Murphy’s Law

Female Jungle

Dillinger

Lawrence Tierney/Scott Brady CFF Blog


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