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John Malkovich revisits 'Dangerous Liaisons' in Paris

February 2, 2012 | 10:23 am


John Malkovich has directed an unconventional stage production of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" in Paris

John Malkovich put his idiosyncratic stamp on the role Vicomte de Valmont in the 1988 movie "Dangerous Liaisons," playing the nefarious aristocrat with a combination of alluring wit and reptilian chill. More than 20 years later, the American actor has revisited the drama by directing a new French-language revival of the original play.

But don't expect anything conventional from this most unconventional of actors. This production brings together the old and the avant-garde in strange ways.

"Les Liaisons Dangereuses," at the Théâtre de l'Atelier in Paris, features an ensemble of young, ethnically diverse unknowns cast from acting schools around France. Instead of composing letters to each other in the style of the pre-revolution era, the dissolute characters use their thumbs to send text messages and other forms of electronic missives.

"We're doing a kind of mix between the 18th century and now," Malkovich told Agence France-Presse.

For the stage design, Malkovich chose a mostly bare setting in which characters who are not in the scene can linger in the background to observe the action.

The original play, written by Christopher Hampton and adapted from the epistolary Choderlos de Laclos novel, debuted in Britain in 1985 before transferring to Broadway and eventually becoming the Oscar-winning movie. The French text directed by Malkovich has been translated by Fanette Barraya.

Malkovich looked at more than 300 student auditions before choosing his cast. He told reporters he wanted actors who are close in age to the characters in the original novel, which is to say, in their mid-teens to their late 20s.

Malkovich was 34 when he played Valmont. He told AFP he hasn't seen the movie in more than 20 years.

Rehearsals for "Liaisons" began in November for the Paris opening in January. The young cast features Yannik Landrein as Valmont, Julie Moulier as the Marquise de Merteuil (the role played by Glenn Close in the movie) and Jina Djemba as Madame de Tourvel, the object of their mutual manipulation.

"I loved watching them work, and I loved watching them watch others working," Malkovich, 58, told reporters. "It's during this process that I realized that I could stage the play by relying solely on the text and on the emotions the actors brought to it."

No stranger to the world of French theater, Malkovich won a Molière Award (the French equivalent of a Tony) for a Paris production of Zach Helm's "Good Canary" in 2008.

His involvement with "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" came about when Laura Pels, the head of the Théâtre de l'Atelier, invited him to direct something for the company. Malkovich told reporters that he had wanted to direct Hampton's play since first encountering it in the mid-'80s.

Here's a recent French-language video report on Malkovich and  "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," featuring footage from the production ...


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Photo: John Malkovich, third from left, with members of the cast of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" at the Théâtre de l'Atelier in Paris. Credit: Francois Guillot / AFP/Getty Images