John Malkovich

The vet­eran ac­tor and co-star of the new Net­flix thriller Bird Box, on Martin Luther King Jr., the im­por­tance of van­ity, and the dif­fer­ence be­tween fash­ion and style.

Men's Journal - - CONTENTS -

The vet­eran ac­tor on MLK, the im­por­tance of van­ity, and fash­ion ver­sus style.

What’s the best ad­vice you ever re­ceived? My fa­ther used to say to me, when there was some mis­be­hav­ior, “Johnny, when you pull the chain, the toi­let flushes.” I think it’s re­ally good ad­vice—ac­tions have con­se­quences.

Who was your hero grow­ing up?

Mostly Martin Luther King. He made a very pro­found and ar­tic­u­late ap­peal to peo­ples’ bet­ter na­tures and didn’t kill any­one to do it. It seemed to me, even as a child, like some­thing that was so ob­vi­ous. And I think he brought quite a siz­able ma­jor­ity of the coun­try around to that point of view in a fairly short time.

How should a man han­dle get­ting older?

You have to ac­cept it and sort of curb your re­sent­ment. As peo­ple get older, there is quite of­ten a dif­fi­culty in ac­cept­ing change. And for­giv­ing change. You see these enor­mous cul­tural shifts, and you say, “I don’t get this, I don’t get the point. Blah, blah, blah.” But so­ci­ety moves on. It’s not yours to get or not get.

You’ve been with the same part­ner for al­most 30 years. What’s the se­cret to a happy re­la­tion­ship?

Dumb luck. My part­ner is some­one who lis­tens very fairly, is su­per-an­a­lyt­i­cal, and has a very, very good sense of hu­mor, which to me is hugely crit­i­cal.

What is the one thing men should un­der­stand about women?

See them not as some­thing to con­quer but as some­one to part­ner with.

Is it ever OK for a man to lie?

I’ve been lied to a mil­lion times; one just sort of has to ac­cept it. More im­por­tant is know­ing how and when to tell the truth. If I’m upset about some­thing, I need to take a day or two, so that I can talk about it more dis­pas­sion­ately and in a way that might lead to a health­ier re­sult. If I just start hol­ler­ing, what good does that do? You’re a fash­ion de­signer on the side and are fa­mous for your sense of style. How would you de­fine style?

I have al­ways been in­ter­ested in fash­ion, but I don’t think it’s very im­por­tant. The real def­i­ni­tion of style is how you move through life.

What role should van­ity play in that?

I think van­ity is good in a lot of ways. It en­cour­ages peo­ple to make an ef­fort, which is good, be­cause when you stop mak­ing an ef­fort, you start drift­ing away.

What ad­vice would you give your younger self?

Why so se­ri­ous? And don’t whine.

What ad­ven­ture most changed your life? Start­ing Step­pen­wolf Theater in 1976, the day af­ter we fin­ished univer­sity. It taught me how to work in a very col­lec­tive form. And it taught me that we had to care about what we did, be­cause other peo­ple won’t, or don’t have time to, or can’t.

How should a man deal with re­gret?

You hope you can for­give peo­ple’s tres­passes, and you hope that they can for­give yours.

What hu­man qual­i­ties do you most ad­mire? In­tel­li­gence, warmth, and hu­mor.

And which do you most de­spise? Bul­ly­ing. In any form.

How do you want peo­ple to think about you when you’re no longer here?

I worked with a lot of fan­tas­tic peo­ple who have pre­ceded me into the nether­world. I re­mem­ber them in­cred­i­bly fondly, even their flaws. That’s the best any­body could hope for. Al­though I’m not at all con­vinced nec­es­sar­ily that will hap­pen to me.

—IN­TER­VIEW BY LARRY KAN­TER

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