Perpetual screen thug Michael Madsen steps into the boxing ring and out of his usual role.
As a memorable movie villain in “Donnie Brasco,” “Mulholland Falls,” “Kill Bill” and countless others, Michael Madsen has made a career out of being rough, ruthless and downright inhuman. But this is one Hollywood tough guy who says he’s more of an everyman than most people realize. In “Strength and Honour,” the low-budget indie drama from Irish director Mark Mahon, Madsen gets the best of both worlds, playing a dedicated husband and father with a penchant for bare-knuckle boxing.
Last week, I spoke with Madsen, who, in contrast to his onscreen image, was busy chauffeuring his five young sons in search of Halloween treats.
Show Business: Tell me a little bit about “Strength and Honour.”
Michael Madsen: It’s about an Irish boxer, Sean, who accidentally kills someone in the ring and then promises his wife that he’ll never box again. Years later, he discovers his son is dying of a heart condition. He signs up for this big bare-knuckle fight that happens in Ireland every year so he can save his boy. The prize money is enough to pay for his kid’s operation.
SB: Is this fight based on a real event?
MM: There are events like it, but they changed any references to real ones for obvious reasons.
SB: What drew you to the role of Sean?
MM: My persona in the movies is something I needed to change for a long time, and something I wanted to change. When you’re playing heavies like I do, people think that’s it. I’m a leading man in a tough guy’s body.
SB: How has the film been received?
MM: It’s funny — this film has played so well to audiences across the country in festivals. It’s won a total of 17 awards. I won three Best Actor awards for it. It’s ironic that the thing can’t find distribution.
SB: Have you met with a lot of distributors?
MM: Mark [Mahon the director] has done most of that. Everyone has praise for the movie, but they balk at the $5 million needed for prints and advertising. That’s how much it costs to promote a film now.
SB: Sounds like you need an angel.
MM: Yeah, we need a Donald Trump.
SB: I took a look at your IMDb page, which is like three miles long. You have to be one of the hardest working actors out there.
MM: When you have five kids, you do what you can.
SB: My ex-girlfriend was just enamored of your classic scene in “Reservoir Dogs” where you cut the cop’s ear off. You must have girls approaching you, thinking you’re this sadistic guy and being all into it.
MM: (Laughs) I’ve had some strange people approach me about some strange things. Let’s just put it t hat way.
SB: Do you think “Strength and Honour” will help change the way people see you?
MM: To be honest with you, I’m more interested in Mark being appreciated as a director. It’s really not about me or elevating my career. I think it’s not right that this film isn’t getting out there, because I really think it deserves a chance.
Originally published in Show Business Weekly, November 2008