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Craig Bierko on Taking a Bath With John Malkovich

Photo: Getty Images

Some may know strapping actor Craig Bierko from the 2000 Broadway production of The Music Man, flicks like Scary Movie 4 and Cinderella Man, or the newish Fox sitcom Unhitched, on which he was apparently sodomized by an ape. Now he has a new gig on the funny-vid Website Superdeluxe: In “Bathing with Bierko,” he sits in a tub sudsing up John Malkovich while the two talk thoughtfully about the strangeness of the word “Portugal” when said over and over, before enacting a McDonald’s drive-up–window scenario, with Malk as the docile cashier. Bierko, who says stars are clamoring to be in the next installments but wouldn’t name names, talked to Vulture about the process in detail…but remained elusive on one key point.

So it looks like you guys were both naked in the tub. Were you?
I have no comment on that.

You can’t say? What’s the big deal?
I can, but I won’t. I guess I want to preserve a bit of mystery. We’re bathing.

Are your legs wrapped around him or are you cross-legged behind him?
I think they were around his legs. The tub is too small for me, and he’s about my height.

So this woman on, Sara Benincasa, who has long interviewed people in their tubs on a thing called “Tub Talk,” is claiming you stole her idea. True?
I don’t really have a response to that. My idea behind this whole thing was, I wanted to take the false intimacy of a talk show, of two guys wearing makeup, and turn the intimacy up as much as I could. I thought of people sitting in the bathtub yammering at each other, and I could see how other people could have come up…I’d never seen her show before.

She suggests you could set things aright by having her on your tub show. Will you?
Probably not. Not to insult her, but we’ve set the bar pretty high with John [Malkovich].

Who else is on your wish list?
Gore Vidal, Jimmy Carter. To get Jimmy and Rosalynn together would be fantastic. Hillary. The people that you would tune in to watch on Larry King.

Okay. Back to John. What did you do before the shoot? Drink?
I said that we’d start at 3 p.m., and he showed up at 2:45. I don’t think in the history of show business that’s ever happened. All he asked for was a cup of black coffee. Carrie [Fisher, his friend, whose house they shot it at] was out of town. We made a pot, and that was it. We were stoned out of our minds on the bean. We have about an hour’s worth of tape.

Was there water in the tub? You can’t see it.
Yes. Next time we’ll make sure you can see a little bit more water and hear the ambient splashing. We kept replenishing it to make sure it was warm. That was John’s job.

You wash his head for a long time. What did it feel like?
Suspiciously human, which was a shock. He’s not naturally completely bald, so there was a hint of stubble. It felt like a hard skull encased in an envelope of flesh.

It almost seems that by the time you get to the McDonald’s part he is virtually hypnotized from the massage.
To be perfectly honest, and I know that given the project we’re discussing it seems ludicrous, but this is one of the best actors in the world, I believe. He asked me in all humbleness, “What are you looking for?,” and I said you should be as relaxed as you were doing Charlie Rose, which I’d seen him do. I could’ve been prodding him with a white-hot poker and he would’ve maintained that kind of composure.

Did you hang out after?
No, he put on his clothes, as I did. We gave him a gift of appreciation — a bunch of soap. On the way there, I’d realized I had to get loofahs and brushes, so I bought some extras for a gift pack for him. You know those giant soaps the size of a human forearm? We gave him a bunch of those things.

Did you pay him?
No, we just gave him the soap. —Tim Murphy

Craig Bierko on Taking a Bath With John Malkovich