In “Dangerous Liaisons”, John Malkovich plays the viscount of Valmont, a libertine confronted with the pangs of love. A striking role for the actor, who saw fiction overtake him during the filming.
Dangerous relationships : devilish
After a modern adaptation by Roger Vadim in 1959, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuill made their return to cinema thirty years later. In 1989, Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Queen) transposes Christopher Hampton’s play based on the epistolary novel by Choderlos de Laclos to the screen with Dangerous relationships. In the roles of the two conspirators determined to sow trouble in sentimental lives of their entourage, Glenn Close and John Malkovich succeed Jeanne Moreau and Gérard Philipe.
The starting point of their diabolical plan, and of their fall, is a proposition from the first to the second. In 18th century France, the Marquise de Merteuil instructs her former lover to seduce Cécile (Uma Thurman), her cousin’s very young daughter, in order to take revenge on another of her conquests with whom she is supposed to marry. Valmont initially refuses, preferring to try to delight the heart of the virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer).
The libertine accepts the request of the Marquise de Merteuil in a second time, when he learns that Cécile’s mother tried to warn Madame de Tourvel about her deceitful nature. A challenge that causes a gear where only cruelty can prevail.
Keanu Reeves, Mildred Natwick, Swoosie Kurtz and Peter Capaldi complete the cast of this drama shot entirely in Île-de-France. The year of its release, which is also that of Valmont – another flagship work inspired by the novel by Milos Forman – Dangerous relationships win three Oscars : Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Artistic Direction and Best Costumes.
A love story that goes beyond fiction
In the movie, a devouring passion gradually arises between Madame de Tourvel and the Vicomte de Valmont, to the point of consuming them both. A fascinating relationship that owes a lot to the chemistry between its performers. Behind the scenes, an attraction between Michelle Pfeiffer and John Malkovich also emerges. The two actors meet again at the heart of a real connection. A situation that Stephen Frears remembers.
Asked by the New York Times in 2003, the filmmaker said about John Malkovich, with whom the collaboration was often turbulent:
Her marriage was falling apart. And during the movie, he had an affair with Michelle Pfeiffer. Dangerous Liaisons is about betrayal, lies and unraveling relationships. It was one of those times when reality and art intersect. It was upsetting for John.
During an interview with Critics at Large for the release of the feature film, the comedian follower of the Method evokes a grueling shoot, which he still remains satisfied because of the result. Asked about his relationship with Stephen Frears, whom he described as a “nightmare” and “pervert”, John Malkovich then assures:
We could argue a lot, but whatever is good about the movie, I credit it. I’ve never been challenged like this before. I haven’t always liked it – people don’t like challenges. It upsets their balance. (…) And that’s what Stephen does wonderfully. He drove me crazy a lot, but so what?
A striking role in which the actor is therefore totally invested. Shortly after filming the Dangerous Liaisons, John Malkovich and his wife Glenne Headly divorce.