Michael Madsen is a American actor, producer, director, writer, poet, and photographer. He is perhaps best known for his collaborations with director Quentin Tarantino, appearing in Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, and The Hateful Eight. He has appeared in over 150 films and is also known for his roles in Thelma & Louise, Wyatt Earp, Free Willy, Donnie Brasco, Sin City, Species, and it's sequel Species II. Madsen has guest starred in numerous TV series and is also credited with voice work in several video games, including Grand Theft Auto III, True Crime: Streets of L.A., Dishonored, Dishonored 2, DRIV3R, The Walking Dead: Season Two, and Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
Madsen was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Elaine Madsen (née Melson), a filmmaker and author, and Calvin Madsen, a firefighter. His parents divorced in the 1960s, and his mother left a career in finance to pursue a career in the arts, encouraged by film critic Roger Ebert. His siblings are Cheryl Madsen, an entrepreneur, and Academy Award-nominated actress Virginia Madsen. Madsen's father was Danish, while his mother is of English, German, Irish, Native American, and Scottish ancestry.
Madsen's acting career began at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, where he served as an apprentice under actor John Malkovich. In 1982, Madsen was cast by Edward McDougal for the lead in an independent film, Against All Hope, his first movie. He then played a small role in the studio picture WarGames in 1983. That same year, he appeared in a bit part in Edward Zwick's 1983 television movie Special Bulletin. Soon after, Madsen was cast as a psychopathic gunman who took Mary Beth hostage in the Cagney and Lacey episode "Heat", which aired October 22, 1984. He moved to Los Angeles and appeared in other films, including as arrogant baseball player Bump Bailey in The Natural (1984), a deranged killer in Kill Me Again (1989), and as the tough but touching boyfriend of Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise (1991).
Then came a memorable role as the razor-wielding, sadistic ex-con and jewel thief "Mr. Blonde" in the bloody Quentin Tarantino crime story Reservoir Dogs. The film brought Madsen attention among critics and fans. Madsen was then cast in a variety of major studio films, including Free Willy, Mulholland Falls, Wyatt Earp, Species and with Johnny Depp and Al Pacino in the critically acclaimed Donnie Brasco. He was unable to play the role of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction as he couldn't get out of rehearsals for Wyatt Earp, which he had just decided to do. The role instead went to John Travolta, relaunching his career.
Since the mid-1990s, Madsen has appeared in lower-budget films released directly to video or television. Notable exceptions include his featured role in Tarantino's Kill Bill, in the James Bond adventure Die Another Day and in the film version of the Frank Miller graphic novel Sin City. He appeared in Scary Movie 4 in 2006 parodying Tim Robbins's character from War of the Worlds. He was also in the film 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out in 2003.
In 2004, Tarantino discussed an idea for a movie starring Madsen and John Travolta as the The Vega Brothers. The film would have seen Madsen and Travolta reprising their roles as Vic (Mr. Blonde) from Reservoir Dogs and Vincent from Pulp Fiction. However, in 2007, because of the age of the actors and the onscreen deaths of both characters, Tarantino said the project (which he intended to call Double V Vega) was "kind of unlikely now".
In 2008, Madsen had a starring role as "The Gent" in Hell Ride, written and directed by Larry Bishop and executive produced by Tarantino. Madsen has been in television series, including the short-lived Vengeance Unlimited and as "Don Everest" in the poker-themed ESPN series Tilt. He was in Michael Jackson's 2001 music video "You Rock My World" and has provided voice work for several video games, including Grand Theft Auto III, True Crime: Streets of L.A. and DRIV3R. He provided voice work for the movie version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as Maugrim the wolf, captain of the White Witch's secret police.
He also provides narration for Animal Planet and is heard in the PlayStation 2 game Yakuza, where he voices the role of Futo Shimano, the violent and unforgiving leader of a Yakuza family. Madsen played Sam Spade in Yuri Rasovsky's Grammy-nominated sonic dramatization of The Maltese Falcon, which also features Sandra Oh and Edward Herrmann. In August 2008, Madsen co-starred in Coma, a Web series on Crackle. Madsen went to Mexico City to co-star in the 2009 boxing film The Kid: Chamaco with Martin Sheen and Kirk Harris for director Miguel Necoechea. In September 2009, he filmed the comedy feature Magic Boys in England and Hungary, co-starring with Vinnie Jones, directed by Robert Koltai and written by screenwriter Ivo Marloh. The film was scheduled for general release in late 2012.
Madsen guest-starred in the final season of 24 in April 2010. He played Jim Ricker, an old friend of main character Jack Bauer. Let the Game Begin, opened in May 2010. The film also features Adam Rodriguez and Stephen Baldwin. Madsen played the lead role in the independent horror film Infected. He is one of the stars in the western thriller The Sorrow with Kirk Harris, John Savage, newcomer Ryan Ballance and Yvonne Delarosa.
On 5 January 2012, Madsen entered the Celebrity Big Brother house. He finished in 4th place in the final of Celebrity Big Brother. In February 2014, filming in Las Vegas was completed for the movie Death in the Desert, directed by Josh Evans and starring Madsen as casino mogul Ted Binion (named Ray in the film), Shayla Beesley as Sandra Murphy (played as Kim), Binion's live-in girlfriend, and Paz de la Huerta as Kim's friend Margo. The screenplay was written by John Steppling, based on the book Death in the Desert by crime writer Cathy Scott.The film premiered at the Tucson Film Festival on October 9, 2015. Distribution was scheduled for 2016 by Osiris Entertainment.
In August 2014, he starred in the Kill Bill-themed music video by Iggy Azalea for the song "Black Widow," featuring Rita Ora. In late 2015, Madsen collaborated once more with Quentin Tarantino in his mystery western The Hateful Eight.
Madsen has five sons. One of them, Christian Madsen, is also an actor.
In 2002, Madsen was presented an award for his work with the Shriners Hospital for Children, and he gave his casting director friend Bruno Rosato a Porsche 928. In September 2009, Madsen announced his participation in the Love Ride 26to help raise money for local charities and those less fortunate. Love Ride began in 1981 and has included celebrities Malcolm Forbes, Peter Fonda, and Larry Hagman with musical entertainment from Billy Idol, Bruce Springsteen, and others. The event was to have taken place on October 25, 2009 but was canceled two weeks before the event due to poor ticket sales and a decline in sponsorship and vendor support.
Madsen has done several films with Daryl Hannah. They include Kill Bill, The Last Days of Frankie the Fly, Shannon's Rainbow, Vice, Eldorado, as well as the film Garbage, in which they play friends called Daryl and Michael. Hannah took part in the 2007 fictional documentary Being Michael Madsen.
Madsen also has a line of hot sauces.
Madsen has been writing poetry since the early 1990s. Madsen began his writing on match books, napkins and hotel stationery in between his time working on movie sets and traveling around the world. In 2005, 13 Hands Publications compiled all of his poetry and released The Complete Poetic Works of Michael Madsen, Vol I: 1995–2005. The original books released were Beer, Blood and Ashes (1995), Eat the Worm (1995), Burning in Paradise (1998), and the now out-of-print A Blessing of the Hounds (2002), 46 Down; A Book of Dreams and Other Ramblings (2004) and When Pets Kill (2005).
Madsen's friend and fellow actor Dennis Hopper described his poetry as a throwback to the Beat Generation: "I like him better than Kerouac: raunchier, more poignant, he's got street language, images I can relate to, blows my mind with his drifts of gut-wrenching riffs; this actor is a poet and he is cool, of course, he is Michael Madsen." Madsen has noted influences for his style of poetry as being Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski.
In 2008, Madsen was invited and appeared in Norway for the Norwegian translation and release of Burning In Paradise. In November 2010, he was the guest of honor for his poetry at the Crossing Border Festival at The Hague.
Another book of poetry, American Badass, was released on September 25, 2009. Madsen dedicated the book to the memory of his friend and Kill Bill co-star David Carradine.
His latest book, Expecting Rain, was released in October 2013 with an introduction by Jerry Hopkins.
Madsen is also an accomplished photographer. In 2006, he released his first book of photography entitled Signs of Life, published by 13 Hands Publications, which also contains new selections of his poetry. He dedicated the book to the memory of his friend and fellow actor Chris Penn, who starred with Madsen in Reservoir Dogs and Mulholland Falls.