LESSON 6: USE YOUR HANDS
Calling the plumber isn't cool. You should know how to do your own manual labor, like the kind Madsen does on his ranch in Montana. And if you're going to work on something, it might as well be cars. "I had a big thing for MOPARSs. I had the Roadrunner, the Super B, and the Challenger," he says, referring to the cars he bought with the $225 a week he made working at Joe Jacob's Chevrolet back in Chicago. "The quarter-mile drag was my big thing - I was never one of those slalom guys," he adds. Since then, his only racing experience has been four laps at 165 mph around the Phoenix International Raceway in a Citgo Dirt Devil when he was shooting The Getaway, the remake of the super cool Steve McQueen movie. "It was more exciting to me to do those four laps than any motion picture I've ever done," he says, leaning on his porch rail and looking down into the nighttime ocean. "I might be a happier man if I had embraced racing instead of acting." Considering that he didn't wear a harness during those four laps, he'd probably be a man in many tiny pieces, too.LESSON 7: IMPLY VIOLENCE
Even Christmas with Mom isn't a time to let down your guard. My grandma made this cake," says Madsen's son Christian, "and my dad kept threatening to mess it up and spit on it." And that's his playful, holiday-spirit Madsen. The less playful version has done jail time, gotten into a fight at the Viper Room, and broken a casting director's chair against a wall when asked to show more anger at an audition. And he has two pet snakes. "My father used to tell me, 'Son, don't ever start a fight, but if someone starts one with you, make sure that you finish it,"' Madsen says, laughing in a way that suggests you'd better laugh with him. "I really don't think you should mess with me." I stop laughing.LESSON 8: GET A HOT WIFE
You don't get a hot wife in order to impress others or stroke your ego. You get a hot wife so you can have sex with her. Madsen's second wife, DeAnna, was once married to Brian Setzer, but other than that she seems perfect. Her long blond hair, slim waist, ankle tattoo, and big breasts are wonderfully L.A. Madsen met her shortly after she became a neighbor of his friend the actor Elias Koteas. If you're going to bother having friends, make sure they're useful ones.
"He called me to tell me about this girl washing her car across the street, so I came over," Madsen recalls. "It was like that scene in Cool Hand Luke when all the prisoners are looking at the girl washing the car." There's just one flaw in this story: Instead of scrubbing down a muscle car, DeAnna was soaping up a Chevy Suburban. But at least it takes a long time to clean a Suburban.
As DeAnna yells at Madsen to quit talking to me so she can serve dinner, I take the opportunity to ask her what makes her husband so cool. She boils the whole thing down to a simple phrase: "Patience with tension." When you're that hot, you don't have to talk a lot. LESSON 9: BE SENSITIVE
That Fonzie crap of putting on a front in public while hopping on the therapy couch with Mr. and Mrs. C isn't cool. It only leads to episodes about appreciating classical music and being sensitive to the needs of deaf people.
Madsen doesn't hide what he feels. He cries at the end of Shane. And he has written two books of poetry, the first with a foreword by Dennis Hopper and the second with one by Quentin Tarantino. If that doesn't strike like you as cool, remember: Bruce Springsteen writes in verse, as does Lemmy from MotÃƒÂ¶rhead. So feel free to emote; just don't go on and on about it like you're Oscar Wilde. "I've been writing things for a long time on scraps of paper or matchbooks or hotel stationery," Madsen says. "I can't sit down and write endlessly, because I don't have the discipline for it."
It's best to write about manly stuff. Madsen has written poems about getting caught going through his grandfather's drawer of pocketknives, and a place in L.A. where they massacre ducks. I'm going to start with a poem about how I want to have sex with Madsen's wifeLESSON 10: DON'T CARE
Rebelling is for punks, and punks don't age well, as VH-1 has gone out of its way to prove by giving Johnny Rotten airtime. Not caring is much cooler - it implies an acceptance of the immutable forces that surround you.
When Madsen's TV series, Vengeance Unlimited, was canceled by ABC, Madsen gave his disappointed crew a T-shirt with a photograph of himself giving the finger to the network. During that photo shoot, even though fans were flanking him with video cameras, he took a leak on a rock 15 feet away. And in The Getaway, Madsen calculated that he'd get a McQueen-style reaction out of Alec Baldwin by exposing himself in the middle of the shot, which worked perfectly for the director but angered Baldwin. Even bad career decisions, like turning down the lead in Natural Born Killers and Pulp Fiction, don't cause Madsen any regret, although they no doubt keep his agent up at night. When I ask if he has any new projects he'd like to plug as long as I'm doing this article, he knocks back another tequila. "Nope," he says. "I'm unemployed and going broke." COMMENCEMENT
So what are you going to do with this knowledge? If you're smart, you will immediately forget it. Because the life of a cool guy isn't happy, and it requires a fair amount of physical labor. Still, there's something about being cool that's very tempting, that reaches you on a visceral level and won't let you rest until you have fully mastered all of these lessons. It's probably the hot wife.
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