One of the best aspects of Netflix’s new comedy Space Force is for certain the performance of John Malkovich, who brings a delightful gravitas to the silly antics surrounding the American government’s efforts to “put boots on the Moon (again).”
The role of Dr. Adrian Mallory, General Naird’s (Steve Carell) partner/sometimes nemesis, was written with Malkovich in mind, because as Space Force co-creator Greg Daniels told our own Adam Chitwood, “Netflix announced the show before we had a script, which was a little bit nerve-racking. But the thing about it was that John Malkovich’s agent called and said, ‘Hey, Malkovich saw the announcement, and he would love to be a part of it.'”
Malkovich confirmed that story when I spoke with him via phone, specifically mentioning how much he had enjoyed Daniels and Carell’s previous collaboration, the iconic comedy series The Office. In general, Malkovich is a big fan of comedy — in fact, as you’ll see below, this entire interview nearly got derailed because it started with him asking for sitcom recommendations.
Once we started talking about Space Force, though, he offered up some fun insights about what it was like to play with Carell and other cast members, including Ben Schwartz and Jimmy O. Yang. He also took a moment to reflect upon one of the odder projects on his resume: the short film 100 Years, which he made with Robert Rodriguez in 2015 but will not be released until 2115. “What will all the things we talk about now, what will come of them?” he asked — a question that’s a lot harder to answer than what TV shows he should watch.
COLLIDER: How are you handling everything so far?
JOHN MALKOVICH: Oh, me, fine. Yeah, just having a very quiet time. And you?
Pretty much the same. It’s nice to be able to do interviews like this, and talk to people about fun shows.
MALKOVICH: What have you seen that you’ve liked lately, that’s coming out?
Well, there’s a show called Space Force…
MALKOVICH: Yeah, no, I mean, apart from that.
Aside from that, what have I seen? Gosh, that is a good question. You know, let me think about it. By the time we’re done talking, I will have some good recommendations for you.
MALKOVICH: Okay. Oh yeah. Very cool. Thanks.
So one of my colleagues talked to Greg Daniels, and he was saying that you asked to be part of the show after you saw the teaser for it. Why was that?
MALKOVICH: I just thought it was a hilarious idea, and when I was doing a play in London, when the teaser came out, I saw that Steve Carell was attached, and I’ve watched The Office with my daughter and we thought that it has super funny things in it, and just thought it sounded like a very funny idea with the really ideal personnel attached. It wasn’t quite clear if there’d be something for me or not, and then they sent me the first few scripts and asked me to look at Doctor Mallory, who I liked very much and just thought it was a very funny idea.
So did they definitely write the character just for you?
MALKOVICH: I don’t know. You’d have to ask Greg that. [Note: To quote Daniels, “we were able to write the character with him in mind from the beginning, which is a great benefit.”] I think they already had, obviously, set up the conflict, if you will, between the sort of elegant solutions of science and real life. Of science being hit in the face with real life, and vice versa.
So coming into it, what surprised you most about the experience?
MALKOVICH: That usually you don’t laugh at filming, even in a comedy, but because this has a lot of people who are really funny and who are funny not just because of the lines they say or how they do it, but are funny in behavior. The sort of funniness with depth. And even sometimes with sorrow or pain. So the surprise was really just laughing all day. I’ve never had a job like it and doubt I ever would again.
Who in the cast was the most prone to break during the scene?
MALKOVICH: I laugh very easily, and often for a very long time, but Steven, Steven can get very amused, Steven Carell. Ben’s great at keeping a straight face, but he was dynamic, and he can get very amused. Don Lake is very hard to make laugh, but he makes people laugh a lot. Jimmy keeps his wits about him quite well, Jimmy O. Yang. There are a lot of funny people in it, and that’s a great thing to watch because these kind of series, they’re not sprints, they’re relays and everybody has to be able to pass the baton, and pass the baton and watch others run.
Yeah, one of the things about the show that’s really cool is that you get an opportunity to play with a lot of the other actors.
MALKOVICH: Yeah. There are some I didn’t get to play with like Jane Lynch, and the great Fred Willard who we lost recently, people like that who are hilarious. But I got Steve on Steve. Most of my scenes are with Steve, or Don Lake, Jimmy, Noah [Emmerich], some very funny people.
So people of course think of you as being capable of being funny, but do you think people think of you when they think of comedies that often?
MALKOVICH: Honestly, I wouldn’t I have the slightest idea how people think of me, if they do, assuming that they do. I’m sure they have better things to think about. But I couldn’t imagine how someone, anyone thought of me.
Well, let’s say you’re walking down the street, is there a particular role that most people seem to recognize you for?
MALKOVICH: Depends on the neighborhood. You know, at one time it was, “Hey, Cyrus the Virus,” and another time it might be for Being John Malkovich, or In the Line of Fire, or Dangerous Liaisons, or all kinds of things. People have a lot to do and a lot to think of, and as those characters said in Being John Malkovich, “I loved you in the jewel thief movie.” You know, people even think you’re in films you weren’t in, so I don’t really think about that too much.
To wrap up, I’m curious about one project you have coming up, but it’s a long way away — the film 100 Years. Is there anything you can tell me about that?
MALKOVICH: Well, that was really a commercial for a French company’s cognac they make which is called Louis XIII. That was something I did with Robert Rodriguez. And the reason they wanted it to be a hundred years is because the cognac takes a hundred years to make. So the person who harvested, and the kind of fellow master who harvests it and begins the process of making that cognac, of course never sees it finished. And that was the idea.
So Robert and I did the thing together, and he wrote some and I wrote some, and we made a little feature — It’s a short film, 13 minutes or so, or less, I can’t remember. And right now it’s in a vault in Cognac, in France, and they’ll show it in 94 years. We have tickets that’ll be of no use to us or to our children, but maybe possibly to their children or grandchildren, should they decide to avail themselves of that opportunity. That’s all I can really say about it. On a certain level, it’s just like we’re greeting them from this once-living past.
It’s wild to think about, especially right now.
MALKOVICH: That’s right. You know what, it was wild to think about. Exactly. And really make. I think it probably surprised Robert, who is much younger than me, of course. So he would have less thoughts maybe along those lines, but it really made one contemplate first of all, what’s coming, which one is curious about, even if we know that we won’t be there. It’s curious what will happen. What will all the things we talk about now, what will come of them? What will become of them? All the things they talked about in the ’70s turned out to be BS, and in the ’90s I’m sure that will too, and in the 2020’s, I’m sure it will too.
To hear what people had to say about what was coming, which I’ve got no small amount of time into doing, was really fascinating. And you know, on a certain level, it makes you wish you were around just to see what happens, but it’s going to happen without us anyways. It was very insane to look at and contemplate.
Wonderful. Well, that’s my time with you, but I did promise you a couple of recommendations. These are both on Netflix, staying loyal to the brand: There’s a Canadian show called Kim’s Convenience. It’s about a family that owns a convenience store in Toronto, and it’s really funny.
MALKOVICH: Oh, that sounds nice. Excellent.
And then I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this, it’s slightly older, but there’s a show called Episodes — it was originally on Showtime and basically it stars Matt LeBlanc as himself, starring in a new TV show written by a pair of British writers.
MALKOVICH: Oh, I read something about this in an English paper or magazine or something. Fantastic actors. Very well, I’ll look at those. Thank you for that.
Space Force Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix.