Con Air: John Malkovich fondly remembers Cyrus “The Virus”

While some might assume John Malkovich would look down his nose at Con Air, the truth is he remembers playing Cyrus the Virus quite fondly.

Con Air John Malkovich

John Malkovich is currently out promoting his new Apple TV series, The New Look (read our review), in which he plays Lucien Lelong, a famous French couturier, opposite Ben Mendelsohn as Christian Dior and Juliette Binoche as Coco Chanel. To mark the occasion, he sat with GQ to reminisce about some of his most prominent roles, including his famous turn as Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom in Con Air, opposite Nicolas Cage.

At the time, Malkovich was working with an English author on a script they wanted to make when the script for Con Air came in. “I get this script; I see that it’s called Con Air. I look at the cast of characters and notice they’re all named after romantic poets. I take the script and fling it about fifteen meters across the kitchen.” He remembers his English novelist colleague looking at him quizzically and telling him that, as a novelist, he’d never actually read a screenplay and wanted to give it a look. “The next morning, he came downstairs and gave this big speech saying, I’m so glad I’m working with someone like you who would have so much integrity that he would never imagine doing a film like this. And I said, whoa, I’m doing the film. And he goes, ‘You didn’t read it,’ and I said, ‘I didn’t have to read it; I get exactly what it is. You better believe I’m doing it!’

He goes on to fondly remember the shoot, with Jerry Bruckheimer’s entourage of tough guys making a significant impression on Malkovich. “All I really remember about it is Jerry Bruckheimer, who I liked very much; he always had this pack, and they were like extras in a way. But, who were fantastically entertaining. Danny Trejo had a role, but there were other ones like Marty McSorley (the pilot), who was a hockey enforcer, and Conrad Goode (Viking), who was an NFL football player—super entertaining, very male energy. When we break into the cockpit to take over, this guy Marty McSorley he’s supposed to put up resistance because he’s one of the pilots. He just grabbed me by the throat and put me like that (mimes holding someone up in the air with one hand) with one arm.”

He also mentioned that using so many pyrotechnics in the desert made for a challenging shoot. “I’d known Steve Buscemi, who was a fireman, and we were having trouble having too little or too much smoke. I was just reminded of this the other day because I was just in LA doing press, and I saw David (Dave) Chapelle, who was in Con Air. We had such trouble regulating the smoke. So, finally grabbed the machine and gave it to Buscemi, who was in the shot.” Remembering that Buscemi was once a fireman, he thought he could do the best job regulating the smoke. He remembers saying, “You were a fireman; just shut up and do the thing – which he did quite well, of course.”

He also fondly remembered some of the dialogue, particularly “Cy-anara” and when he tells Buscemi’s serial killer character, “I love your work.” Interestingly, he reveals Nicolas Cage came up with the “One move and the bunny gets it line.” 

Indeed, he said for years, people remembered him best for that role. “For years, Cyrus The Virus was the calling card.” He also nostalgically looks back at the big “walking away from an explosion” scene. “There’s a big explosion in Con Air. In later years, Andy Samberg did a song, “Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions.” I remember when we did that, we had a big safety meeting, and I think the guy that ran that was called Ken… they explain this whole thing….at 30 yards this… 70 yards that. Kenny asked who wants to count it out?” He said the cast of tough guys playing the cons looked at him, assuming he would be the best in counting. “Everyone’s still alive, so I guess I could count.”

For more Con Air goodness, check out this retrospective video we did recently. 

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.