That Time John Malkovich Nearly Burned Down Steppenwolf

News   That Time John Malkovich Nearly Burned Down Steppenwolf
Actor-director Malkovich tells Seth Meyers how he became known for the “worst production of a play in the history of Chicago theatre.”
John Malkovich
John Malkovich Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Actor-designer-director John Malkovich visited Late Night with Seth Meyers January 30. Before his Oscar nominations in 1985 and 1994 for Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Places in the Heart and In the Line of Fire, respectively, Malkovich had been a member of Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

“I directed the production of a play called Savages, written by the great English playwright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton,” said Malkovich. “Savages is recognized as the worst production of a play in the history of Chicago theatre. That’s in the books.”

There were two actors who used torches in the play. “And the very first night, I said to the two actors with torches, ‘Listen, if the torches go out, if the sterno goes out, don’t try to light it off the other person.’” The actors agreed.

“The very first couple of minutes of the play they come out, they’re crouched naked like this, one sterno can torch goes out, the other guy immediately dips his can over to light it,” Malkovich paused. “Whole stage on fire. Opening night.”

Malkovich appeared with Dustin Hoffman in the 1984 revival of Death of a Salesman on Broadway, earning a Drama Desk for his performance as Biff and earning an Emmy Award when the play was turned into a made-for-TV movie. Malkovich also starred in the movie versions of plays like The Glass Menagerie and Dangerous Liaisons. He also boasts Broadway directing and design credits, having directed Arms and the Man, The Caretaker, and Burn This.


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