By Lisa Morgan

I had the extreme pleasure to spend the better part of an hour on the phone with the notorious
bad boy, Michael Madsen. This deep, analytical thinker, who applies his powers of observation to
acting, photography and poetry, was probably one of the easiest people I’ve ever talked to. Far from
the practiced and coached interview one might expect from a member of Hollywood’s hot list, Madsen
spoke freely and honestly about his inspirations, experiences and perspectives. It seems his successes
were a result of some kind of prepared, accidental providence; the result of simply knowing and
being who he was, and by chance, finding ways in which to express his deep thinking nature. He’s a
thoughtful, straight shooter with nothing to hide and a lot to share.

Madsen the Poet: “I like him better than Kerouac: raunchier, more poignant. He’s got street

language, images I can relate to, blows my mind with his drifts of gut-wrenching riffs. This actor is a
poet and he is cool, of course, he is Michael Madsen.” Dennis Hopper

It was Dennis Hopper’s recognition and praise that inspired the actor best known for his
performances in Reservoir Dogs, Donnie Brasco and Kill Bill (among others) to continue in his writing
endeavors as a poet and muse. His first book of poetry happened almost by accident as he was using
the scraps of paper, napkins and matchbook covers that he was constantly writing on as kindling to build
a fire on a frigid New Mexico night. He shared with me that his girlfriend at the time, stopped to look
at the scraps that he was burning and said, “What are you doing? You should publish these!” Thus,
Beer, Blood and Ashes and Eat the Worm were published. That was in 1995. Since then, he has released
Burning in Paradise (1998), A Blessing of the Hounds (2002), 46 Down; A Book of Dreams and Other
Ramblings (2004), and When Pets Kill (2005). In 2005, 13 Hands Publications compiled all of his poetry
into one book, and released The Complete Poetic Works of Michael Madsen, Vol 1: 1995-2005. Another
book of poetry, American Badass, was released on September 25, 2009. Madsen dedicated the book to
the memory of his friend and Kill Bill co-star, David Carradine.

“I was astounded to hear someone of his (Dennis Hopper’s) caliber to say that about my
writing,” he said, as moved by the idea today as he must have been then. “It was overwhelming. At
the time I wasn’t even considering trying to write anything again. But his commendation inspired me
to keep going. James Cagney said, ‘Everyone wants to be admired.’ More than anything, I think you
want to do something that makes a difference. The funny thing about books: with movies you hear
about them all the time. They’re in your face; people are talking about them. With books, it kind of
disappears into a different world…it leaves home like a grown child that you haven’t heard from, and
shows up when you least expect it. I like that even better now than making pictures. I’ll tell you this,
I’m very glad I did it. There were a lot of times I thought it was preposterous and a waste of time. Now
I realize that it really gets out there and it gets around in a different kind of way than a movie; it’s more
interesting.”

“I just finished a new book, and I find it hard to believe that I’ll ever write another one. It’s kind
of the same thing as American Badass, but a little more streamlined. I feel like I’ve said everything I
had to say in it. I swear I haven’t written another thing since I wrote it.” That book, Expecting Rain, will
debut mid-summer of this year. Madsen promised me that he was going to make an appearance at the
upcoming AMFM Festival in Cathedral City to do a Q & A for the screening of The Getaway. He will also
be reading excerpts from Expecting Rain.

“I’m a thinker, sometimes to my own detriment, and I’ve been blessed with perception. I have
more perception than the average person needs. I’ve never had to conjure up anything to write. I’m
constantly writing things down on napkins and receipts.” He chuckled as he told me, “I even wrote on
my leg at one time because I was stuck in a cab in New York City and didn’t have any paper.”

He dove into detail about the background that formed his skills as an actor, writer and artist. “I
was kind of a hoodlum as a kid; I was kind of a ‘roustabout’. My parents split up, and I didn’t know what
to do with myself. I ran off and did my own thing. I put on the ‘black hat’ at a very young age, and the
guys in the white hats don’t like that. You get surrounded by an awful lot of people who will do you in.
You tend to run with the wrong crowd, and it gets to be a lonely thing. I had somewhat of a lonesome
experience as a young boy, and spent a lot of time watching people – what they say and what they did. I
had to; it was self-preservation at the time. Later on in life, it served me very well.”

Madsen the Photographer: “I’ve always been drawn to black and white photography; maybe
because I remember my mom watching TV in black and white. I remember very clearly, watching the
Kennedy assassination in black and white. Like writing, I just did it for me, and didn’t think anything
would come of it. If people said it was good, I didn’t know if they really liked it or if they were reacting
to the photographer/movie actor thing. Somehow, people think that the pictures would take on some
enormous worth just because I was a movie actor. It was Dennis Hopper, once again, who saw one of
my photo books and encouraged me to seriously pursue taking pictures. He told me that, and all the
while, I had no idea that he himself was a photographer. He showed me some black and white photos,
and I thought they were great. It wasn’t until a month later he finally told me they were pictures that
he’d actually taken.”

In 2006, Madsen released his first book of photography entitled: Signs of Life, published by 13
Hands Publications, which also contains some selections of his poetry. He dedicated this book to the
memory of his good friend and fellow actor, Chris Penn, who starred with Madsen in Reservoir Dogs and
Mulholland Falls.

Madsen the Actor: As we spoke, it became very clear how his relationship with the late

Dennis Hopper impacted Madsen . “Dennis said some tremendous things to me. He referred to acting
as ‘a calling’. I don’t know if I can call it that, but Dennis did. One time I told Dennis that I wasn’t
comfortable as a movie actor. He asked me, ‘Well, what else would you have done?’ I told him, I
probably would have been a carpenter. Dennis said to me, (and here Madsen slips into a perfect
impression of the icon) ‘Look what happened to him, man.’ I thought to myself, he’s right! I’ve got
nothing to complain about.” He laughed as he reminisced thoughtfully about his old friend.

Madsen is starring in the independent film, Serpent in the Bottle, which will also be screened
at the AMFM Festival this summer. Here, he gets to slip into a good guy role as the sage bartender
who offers up golden nuggets of wisdom to the struggling main character. He describes his role as “the
Morgan Freeman/Hal Holbrook in the movie.” It’s notable that Madsen has been in a lot of independent
films. I asked him if it was by chance or choice. “It’s a little bit of both,” he answered. “Someone told
me early on not to do Reservoir Dogs. You never know what someone has or what they’re going to do.
I try to give people a chance, and see if I find it interesting and can bring something to it. 7 times out of
10 it doesn’t work. I’ve been lucky, because I’ve done some good ones.”

I made mention of the fact that many of the roles Madsen had played were bad guys. “I didn’t
intentionally go for roles as bad guys. I worked at a gas station, had a dream, like everybody else in
Hollywood, but little confidence it would happen. At my first reading, I was wearing my uniform; I
worked at a gas station, so I was wearing my Union 76 shirt with name patch and work pants. I was on
my motorcycle, on my way to work, and stopped in to read for this audition. I didn’t even consider what
to wear. I just went in, read and went to work. I heard back the same day that I got the part. It was a
two part episode of St Elsewhere with Denzel Washington. The agent trying to represent me said, ‘The
casting director thought it was genius coming in dressed as a blue color worker.’ I was stunned. At that
moment, I realized the oblivious nature of Hollywood and the inane fragility and façade of Hollywood.
I thought, ‘Is that all there is to it?’ They cast me as the mean brother who was lying to the hospital
about who beat up my younger brother, stirring up racial tensions while protecting my father. From
then on, I was cast to do the same thing. I was happy to do it; I didn’t have to pump gas and drive tow
trucks anymore. I didn’t realize I was being steered in that direction. I was just happy to stay busy doing
what I wanted to do.”

“I wasn’t being force fed into the public either. I didn’t have a large studio and publicist behind
me. These days, actors are fed to the public. The industry and their financing has the ability to get
behind an actress or actor in such a way that you hear about them or see them every day of your life,
whether you want to or not. That’s considered to be ‘Star Power’. God forbid you have an opinion
about that or say what I just said. Then you’re perceived as the enemy- someone who figured out the
game. The people who created the game don’t like that at all. You inevitably end up as a cowboy, and
you better have a good horse.” Delving further into the nuances of Hollywood, he added, “Hollywood’s
funny. You’re walking down the street one day with your ass in your hand. The next day you do
something smart, and everybody wants to be your best friend. Even the people who walked right past
you when you had your ass in your hands will tell you, “Oh I didn’t see you” or “I knew you’d be alright”,
as if they’d never passed you by.”

It is my opinion that Michael Madsen definitely has “a good horse” and with his multi-faceted
abilities to express and portray thoughts, observations and ideas, he will be contributing and making a
difference, in one form or another, for a long time to come. Perhaps I am biased. After all, when I asked
him, out of all these things that you’re doing, what is your favorite part? He answered, “This part – this
interview right now. It’s really true,” he reiterated. I scrambled for composure. The guy’s still got it.

We will all have the incredible opportunity to meet this man of many talents and depths, ask
questions and hear him read his poetry at the AMFM Festival, the three day celebration of art, music,
film and more. The festival will be held in Cathedral City, June 13-16th. For tickets, go to amfmfest.com.
To follow Michael Madsen go to michaelmadsen.com.

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