Seeing John Malkovich

John Malkovich fails all attempts to describe him, even though he is not necessarily an enigma. The moment you utter a word supposed to illustrate a certain part of his character, you realise that another one, with quite a different meaning, would suit him much better. The most common adjective people use to express their opinions of him — both complimentary and dismissive — is “weird”, but, with a little imagination, most of what he says and does makes sense.

In fact, imagination and creativity are key to understanding an actor who has starred in nearly 40 films over only 18 years, including “Empire of the Sun”, “The Glass Menagerie”, “Of Mice and Men” and “Being John Malkovich”, and just directed his first, “The Dancer Upstairs”, yet still claims to have “no knowledge of what a real movie is”…

Working for Uncle Sam

Rob Lowe’s comeback story is of a peculiar kind. For his audience, seeing one of 1980s-Hollywood’s highest-profile heartthrobs in a serious, political role, in an award-winning TV drama series about life behind the scenes at the White House, has provoked a reaction just short of shock. But for the 37-year-old actor and ex-Brat Pack member, whose career had slipped over the past decade, playing deputy communications director Sam Seaborn in “The West Wing” is a logical turn that shows “everything I can bring to a part”.

“It taps more into my abilities as an actor than any other part I’ve done,” says Lowe, whose looks typecast him as the invariable romantic youth from the start of his career. “This is a role on which my physicality has no bearing whatsoever. Sam could have been played by anyone. The hallmarks of this character aren’t physical but verbal and cerebral”…

Wherever I lay my hat

Robert Altman spent three decades after his first hit film, the 1970 war satire “M*A*S*H”, telling the US what was wrong with it. Whether it was the unlikely mixture of country music and politics in “Nashville”, the scathing view of Hollywood in “The Player” or the suburban epic “Short Cuts”, American audiences reluctantly recognised the merits of Altman’s films but rarely gave him wholehearted approval at the box office.

Europeans loved the maverick director’s take on just about all things American, partly because his shrewd observations reflected their own perceptions of the superpower’s arrogance and greed. In fact, Altman’s name today stands next to Bergman’s, Fellini’s and Truffaut’s much more naturally than beside Coppola’s, Scorsese’s or Spielberg’s…