March 07, 2010
Being John Malkovich has often been an adventure in quirkiness.
But when Malkovich comes to Toronto in June to open the fourth annual Luminato festival, he’ll be stretching the limits of the Q word.
Playing a sensationally flamboyant modern-day Jack the Ripper in The Infernal Comedy – which had its world premiere in Austria last year – Malkovich will be the only actor on stage.
But this is not exactly a one-man show. It’s a weird and shocking chamber opera featuring a 40-piece baroque orchestra and two sopranos delivering famous death arias by Mozart, Haydn and others on behalf of the 11 prostitutes Jack Unterweger strangled with their own bra straps two decades ago.
“It helps that he is such a flamboyant character, and that’s why I enjoy playing him,” Malkovich said in a phone interview recently.
He confirmed a report from my sources that in mid-June he will be giving that performance at Luminato, which has snared the play’s North American premiere.
Luminato CEO Janice Price refused to comment, but the arts festival will be making major program announcements on Tuesday. Count on this to be one of them.
Malkovich spoke during the lunch break on the set of Red – the big-budget espionage movie currently shooting in Toronto. It’s a comic-book saga in which he co-stars with Bruce Willis, who plays a former CIA agent threatened by a would-be assassin. Malkovich, Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman play members of the agent’s old team who try to protect him. And it’s being produced by Summit, which also produced The Hurt Locker.
Despite his Hollywood star status, Malkovich – who began his career as a founding member of Chicago’s famously daring Steppenwolf theatre company – has never lost his appetite for the special thrill of live performance.
“Live theatre should emphasize the live part,” he says. “It’s by definition ephemeral. It’s different every night, and that’s what makes it magical. I don’t want to give exactly the same performance 5,000 times. For me, it would be pointless.”
Unterweger’s posthumous comeback in this production – on which Malkovich collaborates with writer Michael Sturminger and musical director Martin Haselbock – stirred controversy in Vienna.
Convicted of murder, Unterweger had been pardoned and released early after distinguished literati, including Nobel Prize winner Gunter Grass, campaigned on his behalf.
That made him a poster boy for rehabilitation, and he became a celebrity. Meanwhile, he was killing prostitutes in Vienna, Prague and Los Angeles. After being sent back to jail, he hanged himself in 1994.
Sixteen years later, he has achieved a weird kind of pop-culture immortality, clinging to the limelight for which he had an addiction as strong as his taste for kinky sex and violence.