Being John Malkovich: Reel Vs. Real Malkovich

Being John Malkovich, starring John Malkovich, John Cusak, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, and directed by Spike Jonze, is the strangest movie of the fall season. The movie made waves right after its world premiere at the 1999 Venice Film Festival, where it established Jonze as a major talent to watch.

When Craig (John Cusak) stumbles onto a portal that transports him into the brain of oddball movie star John Malkovich (played by John Malkovich), his crass coworker Maxine (Keener) sees it as a rare business opportunity. Sounds absurd, but Being John Malkovich’s premise intrigued the title character enough to take a meeting with first-time feature director Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who jetted to France (where the actor lives) to sell him on the project.

“I was very impressed by the writing,” says Malkovich, “but I never imagined anyone being crazy enough to make it. It’s not like the title is going to bring people out in droves. Jonze, well-known for his techno-savvy music videos like Weezer’s Buddy Holly,” set in a Happy Days episode-scored again, when Cameron Diaz signed on as Craig’s shockingly homely wife, who dotes more on her clingy pet chimpanzee than her self-esteem-challenged husband.

Working with a modest $13 million budget, Jonze (who appears in David O. Russell’s Three Kings as an actor) cut corners where he could. Instead of hiring thousands of extras for a scene in which Malkovich attends a big event, the director simply took his cameras to last year’s MTV Video Awards. For Jonze, that means some unexpected star cameos.