Jason Isaacs on Auditioning for John Malkovich’s Con Air Role

Jason Isaacs has played an awful lot of fascinating villains over the course of his career, from Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter films to Col. William Tavington in The Patriot. But as he told me in an upcoming installment of our Collider Connected video interview series, there was one iconic part he at one point auditioned for but didn’t get: the part of Cyrus the Virus in 1997’s Con Air, ultimately played by John Malkovich.

Isaacs plays a key role in Con Air director Simon West‘s most recent film, the disaster epic Skyfire, but the story of his involvement begins with an ill-fated long-ago audition, as he describes below:

I auditioned for Simon West, the master of action set pieces, 30 years ago, whatever it was when he made Con Air. He very oddly made the decision to give the part to John Malkovich instead. But I remember, at this audition, I went in. There’s a guy who’s operating a camera. He’s pointing at you. You go to read the scene, and the scene was the character holding somebody up with a gun. So, I grabbed a pencil and I said, “I’ll use a pencil as a gun.” The camera assistant, operating the camera, went, “Hold on. Hold on a second. Here, grab that,” and held out a gun to me.I shat myself, obviously. He went, “Look, you’re cool. The safety’s on.” My voice shot up three octaves. I went all Jerry Lewis, and I went, “Oh, my God! It’s a real gun!” I remember Simon being as wide eyed as I was. He’d been working with this guy for however long and didn’t know he had a gun tucked in his belt.

Concluded Isaacs, “Didn’t get the part; I’m not sure that was the reason why.”

In Skyfire, Isaacs plays Jack Harris, the entrepreneur behind a luxurious resort that just so happens to be built on an active volcano. In the grand tradition of disaster movies (known in China as “rescue movies,” Isaacs says) things go quite badly for everyone involved — something Isaacs was quite game for.

Image via Screen Media Films

West, he said, reached out decades later to discuss first one project, then another that would ultimately become Skyfire. “He called a year later and went, ‘Listen, it’s me again. I’m making a Chinese disaster movie about an exploding volcano, and you’ve built a resort in it. Do you fancy it?’ I went, ‘Oh, you kidding me? When do we start?'”

The experience of making Skyfire, Isaacs says, was a very different one for him because it was a Chinese production. “Being surrounded by Chinese people making a film, when you don’t speak any Mandarin or Cantonese, where everybody apart from Simon and the director of photography is speaking a different language all day, was like being deaf or something. I couldn’t connect to anybody, apart from in the scenes when I’m meant to connect,” he said. But, that said, no one at any point unexpectedly handed him a gun.

We’ll have more stories from Isaacs over the next few days before Skyfire premieres on VOD Tuesday, January 12. For more, revisit the 27 best action films of the 1990s.

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