John Malkovich: “Theatre reminds me of life. Because you had to be there"

“Theatre reminds me of life. Because you had to be there,” John Malkovich, the famous Hollywood actor told an audience in Nicosia when asked to explain why he favours theatre over cinema.

The Cyprus International Theatre Festival presented an “Open Talk with John Malkovich: Art, Culture and the Economy”, on 16 May at the Cyprus Theatre Organisation (THOC), in Nicosia. The talk was coordinated by Alexander Weinstein, a performing arts producer and consultant for the International Network of Contemporary Performing Arts (IETM).

“I’m not a very profound person,” John Malkovich tells Weinstein when asked, what does it mean to be John Malkovich? “My mother referred to me as a plodder, which I think is absolutely true.”

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Of course, there’s nothing non-profound about the legendary actor’s career; though, it is clear that Malkovich himself looks at his Hollywood career as a kind of “means to an end”. His true love, evident through this talk, is theatre. “Cinema was more like I got known as a saxophonist but I played the piano. It’s still music but it’s not really work. I grew up in the theatre, that’s what I like. Theatre reminds me of life. Because you had to be there. The show they see tonight will not be the same as last night.”

Asked what he feels he has gained – and lost – as he’s got older, Malkovich said there is the obvious loss of certain physical abilities. “You lose a lot of things that you used to do physically; your sight isn’t as good, you’re sore from you don’t know what really.” But on the flip side, “you think less of things that are not super important now”.

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Here, Weinstein interjects: “What is important?”

“For me, the important things are family, we have a two year old granddaughter who is the delight of our lives" … "And then work.”

He added: “Life is short and I don’t have that many years left to do the things that interest me. So that’s quite important in my life right now, more than it would’ve been 20 or 30 years ago.”

Elsewhere, the topic veered into politics and at one point, Malkovich was asked about his take on the Cyprus problem and whether he thinks the global powers are honest in wanting to help find a solution.

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“Cyprus is never really talked about anymore, I remember it clearly from my childhood, but I don’t know, I don’t think the global powers are very... a number of things in the past years have caused me to doubt their wisdom and their honesty, certainly America and I put most countries, the big countries, in that basket. It’s very sad, I think it’s devastating for the youth.”

In the Q&A that followed, Malkovich was asked, among other, about his opinions on social media and AI – and he did not disappoint.

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“Well I call it antisocial media, I think it’s absurd.” And AI? “I don’t find it smart at all. When AI can do Mozart, or Schumann or Dostoevsky, I’ll pay attention. But I don’t think it will ever happen. People can do spectacular things, beautiful things. Of course they are imperfect vessels. I wish people would just get used to that, accept it.”

He was also asked whether it is worth taking the risk to follow a career in theatre. “My opinion is just do what you love. A lot of peoples’ lives go wrong by doing something they hate. Businesses close every day, hospitals close… so what’s safe? I don’t think anything is without risk. The real risk is doing something that doesn’t interest you.”

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