During the summer of 1992, I saw the actor John Malkovich. In person. He’s the actor who plays one of the old guys in the movie, Red. The weirdest old guy in the movie, if that helps you place him. He’s also the actor who played Lenny in Of Mice and Men alongside Gary Sinise. He also played the presidential assassin of In the Line of Fire who was eventually hunted down by Clint Eastwood. He played himself in Being John Malkovich, a photojournalist in Cambodia in The Killing Fields and a downright, really bad, despicable man in Dangerous Liaisons. Nearly all of Malkovich’s movies contain unique characters that the actor is able to pull off in the most believable way. He has been in loads of other films, but these are the ones that to me exemplify his ability to capture idiosyncratic characters believably.
Notice that I say I saw John Malkovich. I did not approach him. I did not speak to him. I merely leered. My husband and I and another couple were having coffee at the Farmer’s Market on a cool, sparkling morning in Los Angeles. There were probably foodstuffs and produce to purchase somewhere in the market, but we were just there to hang out. As we sat there, I noticed a scruffy, shabbily-dressed man hastily walk by. I immediately recognized him.
“That was John Malkovich,” I quietly told my friends. They discreetly and slowly turned to confirm it, and yes, oh my gosh, that is him, they said. He continued walking into an open-air newspaper stand/bookstore next to the scattering of tables and chairs that we occupied. I followed, surprising myself with my sense of daring and willingness to annoy. He looked at some magazines or newspapers in the bookstore and gathered no attention.
Based on the characters he so effectively portrayed in films, I was a little scared of him. Sure, he had only been acting when he shot the two men point-blank in In the Line of Fire, but my only exposure to the actor at that point had been in seeing him play characters fit to be feared. Even in Of Mice and Men, Lenny is sweet and unknowing; however, he is also, in the end, a murderer.
In addition, it was clearly obvious Malkovich did not want to be bothered. He didn’t want to be recognized. His incognito dress seemed to indicate that: wrinkled beige cotton or linen tunic and loose-fitting painter’s pants, a doo rag, sunglasses. It seems he was also carrying a satchel or bag slung across his body like a shield to protect him from those pesky and annoying star-crazed fans. What would I say to him anyway? Nice weather we’re having, isn’t it?
My fear kept me from asking for the obligatory photograph. I had left my camera at the table with my friends so going to get it after asking for a photo would, I speculated, turn the casual encounter into more of an event than Malkovich would tolerate. True, I could have retrieved the camera before asking for a photograph, but I didn’t consider that because, as an annoying, star-crazed fan, I wasn’t thinking clearly. Besides, he might have that plastic gun on him that he made by hand in his seedy apartment back when he was trying to murder the president.
So I just eyed him from about twelve feet away, pretending to scan the headlines on a carousel rack of newspapers at the store’s edge. It was enough. I had seen “the” John Malkovich, a big-time celebrity in the flesh. It was my own personal brush with someone else’s fame.
Now, whenever I see Malkovich in a movie, I think about our near encounter. Pretty famous guy. Well-respected. Should have asked for a photograph. He probably would have acquiesced and been an interesting person to have what would most likely have been an uninteresting conversation with. Oh, well. Usually now when I see him in a movie, I say to my husband,“Hey, there’s my friend, John Malkovich.” And then without lifting our eyes from the screen, we chuckle, and continue watching the movie.