Michael Madsen isn't afraid to touch a stranger's hair or get emotional while wearing a pair of red snakeskin boots.
And if Hollywood folks had any sense, the gruff-talking actor says he would've given Christian Bale a run for his money by now.
"Let's face it, man, I am (expletive) Batman," Madsen told the Daily Herald in a wide-ranging sit-down interview. "Come on. Can you imagine? Even saying it now is funny to me. I feel it up my back, the hair stands up when I think about it. I know what Batman is, and I know what he represents. Christian Bale? Good for him. He did a good job. Fine. But, uh, I'm Batman."
Madsen, a Chicago native who studied under the acclaimed John Malkovich at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, is in the area this weekend to screen three of his films -- "Reservoir Dogs," "Vice" and "Strength and Honour" -- at the Hollywood Blvd. and Hollywood Palms theaters in Woodridge and Naperville, respectively. He's also throwing the first pitch at Thursday's Cubs game and collecting an award Saturday at the Naperville Independent Film Festival. On Tuesday afternoon, the actor was in a spirited mood as he sipped coffee in his hotel room, cracked jokes, and teared up while discussing everything from family life to chucking around a football with his former neighbor, Steve McQueen. At one point, he stuck his fingers into a reporter's hair and commented how the untamed mass reminded him of his own.
Then he bummed a smoke.
"You know what Burt Lancaster once said? He said, 'I act with my hair,'" Madsen said with a chuckle. "It's funny 'cause, when you look at pictures of him in his movies, he has this big grin and that crazy hair standing up and you realize he was making a joke, but it was kind of true. I guess it worked for him."
Here are some other highlights from the interview:
• With more than 170 films under his belt, Madsen is best known for playing psychopathic killers such as the ultraviolent "Mr. Blonde" in Quentin Tarantino's 1992 landmark, "Reservoir Dogs." But he openly laments that his lighter fare is often overlooked.
"Nobody ever stops to remember I was the dad in 'Free Willy,'" he said. "I remember reading that script and thinking, is there, like, a scene in here I missed where I'm going to de-fin the whale or do something really bad? It wasn't there, and I was so confused."
• Before he went into acting, Madsen worked as a hospital orderly, a gas station clerk and a car wash attendant. He got into movies because of idols such as Humphrey Bogart, Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum, among others. "Being a celebrity, it's a hatchet," he said. "I didn't set out for that."
• Madsen is most excited about being back in the area because he'll be able to watch his 2007 film "Strength and Honour" with his elderly father. It's the story of a retired Irish-American boxer forced back into the ring to raise money so his son can have surgery. Madsen nearly broke down explaining.
"The fact that my dad will be sitting there with me watching that damn thing in the theater is ... it's just more the reality and the truth of father and son -- and the truth of being able to do something with yourself," he said.
• Madsen's eighth book of poetry, "Expecting Rain," is due out in December. But his writing career almost didn't happen after he tossed most everything he'd written into the fireplace at his home in Durango, N.M., in the early 1990s.
"I went outside, and I was trying to saw off some tree limbs to burn in the fireplace and they wouldn't light because they were frozen. I'd written a lot of things on paper bags and match books and napkins and just pieces of paper. So for whatever reason, I kept them and had them in a box. I was putting them into the fireplace to light them, and a girl I was with, she goes, 'Oh my God, what are you doing?' I said, 'I'm trying to make a fire.' She said, 'Don't you realize, Michael, you should publish these?' So I stopped, and that's where the first book came from."
• Madsen has fond memories of living in the former Malibu home of Keith Moon, the legendary wild-man drummer for The Who. By the time Madsen moved in, movie star Steve McQueen was living next door.
"It was a great house, a beautiful spot right on the sand," he said. "It was kind of sacred ground, you know."
Madsen again teared up talking about his experiences with McQueen. "You know, Steve, he'd come out on the beach and throw a football around. The funny thing is, I'd asked him about (the film) 'Bullit,' and he says, 'Oh, that cop thing?' That's how he referred to it."
• While prepping for the "Kill Bill" franchise, Tarantino and Madsen argued 'round and 'round about whether Madsen was going to wear a hat in t he movie that he'd picked up in Durango and had been wearing to the set. Eventually Tarantino told him, "You know, now I can't picture you without the hat because I've seen you so many times in the hat. Now you've got to wear the hat."
The director later wrote a scene where Madsen's character is told to take off the hat. "He wrote it into the damn script, so I couldn't argue about it," Madsen said with a laugh.
• The last time Madsen saw fellow actor and longtime friend David Carradine, who died in 2009, was at LAX. Madsen was headed for Ireland for "Strength and Honour" and Carradine was coming back from Istanbul. "He came up to me and hugged me. I said, 'David, I gotta go to Ireland to make this picture about a fighter.' I said, 'I don't know if I should do it or not.' He had that (expletive) grin he had. He said, 'Michael, listen, don't ever buy anything from someone who's out of breath.' It was such a funny thing to say, right? And it just echoes in my mind all the time, and I miss him so very much."