'Being John Malkovich' at 21: How bizarre comedy changed Charlie Kaufman's life 'in a moment'

Kevin Polowy
·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment
·2 min read

It’s still a rarity, but every so often a screenplay arrives in Hollywood that is so astonishingly original that it makes its writer — the most underappreciated of all the industry’s ranks — and immediate sensation.

That was the case with Charlie Kaufman’s sublimely weird stroke of genius Being John Malkovich, a story about a struggling puppeteer (John Cusack) who finds a portal into the mind of the eccentric title actor in a film directed by Spike Jonze and costarring Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener and, of course, Mr. John Malkovich himself.

As the film turns 21 today, Kaufman admits he’s still surprised Malkovich got made in the first place.

“Every step of the way with Being John Malkovich, that somebody was interested in making it, that it did what it did in terms of the response from the audience,” Kaufman tells us during a recent interview promoting his latest film, Netflix’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things (watch above).

“It was completely anticipated. I wasn’t expecting anything like that.”

John Malkovich and John Malkovich in 'Being John Malkovich' (Gramercy Pictures)
John Malkovich and John Malkovich in Being John Malkovich. (Gramercy Pictures)

Though he had previously written on television programs like The Edge and The Dana Carvey Show, the instant success of Malkovich, hoopla around its gonzo script and three Oscar nominations (including one for Best Original Screenplay) opened the door for Kaufman to crank out other inspired and reliably odd tales like Human Nature (2001), Adaptation (2002) and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). He began directing his scripts as well with 2008’s Syndecdoche, New York followed by Anomalisa (2015) and this year’s Ending Things.

“Obviously it changed my life, professionally, completely, in a moment. I feel a great debt to Spike, and to John Malkovich, for agreeing to be in it. Because I certainly wouldn’t be having this conversation with you now, I don’t imagine, if it weren’t for that.”

Being John Malkovich is currently streaming on Amazon.

Watch Charlie Kaufman talk about I’m Thinking of Ending Things:

— Videos produced by Jon San and edited by John Santo

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