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”…

Big Daddy Larry King

It took Larry King 66 years, seven marriages and five children to discover the greatest “thrill” in life: parenthood. Sitting in the children’s room of his Mediterranean-style mansion in Beverly Hills, with five-week-old Cannon in his arms and 15-month-old Chance playing on the floor beside him, King says that he pinches himself every day — “I can’t believe everything that’s happened to me”.

Having interviewed nearly 10,000 people, among them six US presidents, being recognised around the world by the millions watching “Larry King Live” on CNN every day, and paid “handsomely for something I’d do for free” — it all pales beside the joy of new fatherhood.

“Before, I was so goal-oriented that the (professional) goals were ahead of everything. I loved my children and tried to be a good father, but work always came first. Ten years ago, if you had asked me whether I’d rather have a little baby or moderate a presidential debate, I’d have chosen the debate. Now the babies and the family come first”…

Costner’s last stand

Kevin Costner has never given up on his search for the people who he reckons are the most “difficult to find”: the ones “who think outside the box”. He looked for them — futilely yet persistently — when he first called himself an actor and hoped that someone would hire an ambitious college graduate without a single acting credit on his CV.

He broke just about every Hollywood rule when he produced, directed and starred in “Dances with Wolves”, the more than three hour-long western epic he had been repeatedly warned against, and it won him an Academy Award for best director, the respect of the film-making community and tens of millions of dollars.

He then defied all modern trends in his business, choosing non-commercial — and often unattractive by many standards — roles, some of which provoked harsh criticism and doubts about his talent. He has invested more than $20m in businesses that haven’t made him a dime, and has been trying for years to build a luxurious resort in the Black Hills of South Dakota, against the will of the Sioux Indians…

It’s show time

Conan O’Brien has no regrets that the longest election in US history is over. True, Campaign 2000 and the 36 agonising days that followed were a gift from heaven for late-night TV hosts. They were courted by both Al Gore and George W. Bush, who made “nice-guy” appearances aimed at winning young voters (keener viewers of late comedy shows than the prime-time evening news). At the same time they had a ball firing jokes at the candidates.

But now, with a new president in office, “it gets even better”, says O’Brien, beaming at the thought of the mocking monologues probably being born in the writing room of his show, “Late Night with Conan O’Brien”, as we speak.

“Presidents get funnier all the time,” he says. “Nixon was a lot of fun for comedians — a good target. But Clinton may be the funniest. The bonus when you are finally president is that you don’t have to come on these dreadful shows any more”…