Atomic Blonde
Empire Australasia|May 2018

After reservoir dogs, Michael Madsen became tarantino’s go -to tough guy. He shares memories of a friendship that began with a severed ear.

Damon Wise

“NOW THIS IS something you gotta see, okay?” Michael Madsen pulls out his iPad and punches at the keypad. “This is Charles Bronson,” he cackles, “in a perfume fuckin’ commercial in 1976, man, okay? You gotta see this, man. This is amazing. It’s so funny.” On screen, a fuzzy analogue image bursts into grainy life. Bronson looks longingly at a bowtied lounge pianist, walks out past the over-familiar Bronx concierge and steps into a taxi that takes him to his bachelor pad. Alone in his mancave, the Death Wish star whips off his shirt, throws it into the air (it doesn’t come down) and liberally douses himself in ridiculous quantities of a Japanese aftershave named, somewhat unappealingly, Mandom.

“Look how fast he goes,” beams Madsen. “There he is, man. Look at that fucker! LOOK AT THAT FUCKER, MAN!”

Although he turned 60 this year, the screen hardman seems much younger and gentler in the flesh. His voice, though gruff, is softer than you might expect, much like his face, which, close up, suggests how time might have been kinder to Mickey Rourke. He’s modest too, and as he pours a sachet of Emergen-C into his bottled water, he makes a point of dedicating the interview to someone else. “You know when Budd pulls his sword out?” he says, referring to the samurai sword-wielding assassin he played in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. “On the sword it says, ‘To my brother Budd, the only man I ever loved.’ Well, there should be one that says, ‘From me to Quentin, the only man I ever loved.’ I wanna go on record by saying that.”

This bromance dates back to 1991, when Madsen received the script for Tarantino’s directing debut, Reservoir Dogs, the story of colour-coded gangsters who hide out in a warehouse after a jewellery heist goes bloodily wrong. Harvey Keitel was attached, and Madsen was itching to work with him again after shooting female buddy-outlaw movie Thelma & Louise the previous year — he’d played Louise’s musician boyfriend Jimmy, whose few scenes with Keitel’s detective Hal Slocumb had been cut from the film. His agents, however, weren’t so keen. “They were like, “Nobody knows this guy Quentin. He’s got no money. You might wanna pass,’” remembers Madsen. “And I was like, ‘Not only am I not gonna pass, I’m gonna fire you fuckers. So fuck you, okay?’ ’Cause Harvey Keitel is Mr. White, and I’m gonna go shoot with Harvey Keitel.”

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