Actor Jiří Mádl – the teenage heartthrob grows up

The Can, photo: Official website of J.Mádl

In 2004, Jiří Mádl, who at the time was all about playing hockey and had little ambitions to become an actor, shot to fame overnight with his lead role in the box-office hit Snowboarďáci, or Snowboarders. While he was mostly cast for teen comedies following his first big success, his more recent films show a shift towards serious roles. In his latest movie, Four Suns or Čtyři Slunce, directed by the acclaimed Bohdan Sláma, Mádl plays bad-boy Jerry. The film also happens to be the Czech Republic’s first submission to the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. I spoke to Mádl, about his work, his love for foreign languages and asked him if he still has a passion for ice-hockey.

Jiří Mádl in Snowboarders,  photo: Official website of J.Mádl
“Of course I do, I miss it a lot and every time I see hockey on the TV, I feel like crying. It was my childhood and my youth and I actually miss it a lot. But I am happy that it became only a hobby for me, because once you start doing something every day, you don’t like it as much and you have to take a break to start appreciating it again. Now, hockey is a hobby for me and I play once or twice a week and it is something I do to relax, so that is great.”

Were you already planning to become an actor when you participated in the casting for Snowboarďáci, Snowboarders, or was it more of a happy-go-lucky thing?

“I was not stressed about it at all. I had broken my elbow and knew that I wouldn’t be able to play hockey for a year. I didn’t know what to do, I had a year off, and so I thought ‘Let’s try acting’. And I always felt that I would like it or could be good at it, but I really didn’t expect such a success. When I came to the casting and they picked me and I ended up on set, I thought it couldn’t possibly become a hit movie if they chose a hockey player for the lead role. But it did, and I have been acting ever since, so I am happy about that.”

In 2010, you participated in a political initiative aimed at getting older citizens to vote. It caused quite the controversy or public debate. What was your take on it?

“Actually, I was happy that there was some debate, because that is what we are missing here in the Czech Republic. The only thing was to encourage people to speak up, say their opinion but it still remained quite passive. People are used to listening, to obeying orders. Of course, you can disagree with us or say that it was tasteless. But we wanted a debate, and it ended up being cut short. But I hope ahead of the next elections, someone else will start a new discourse on this.”

You have been filming a lot – at the moment, there are two different kinds of posters with you on them all over Prague, promoting two films that you are in. Do you ever feel that it is getting too much, or that you are too busy?

“I really feel overexposed, but that was a coincidence, I didn’t plan it. The movies simply premiered around the same time. I can’t do anything about it, but thankfully, they are very different and have a different audience. So it is not a big problem for me. I am happy to show both poles of my abilities and the wide range of my acting.”

Night Owls,  photo: Official website of J.Mádl
In the past, you were often cast for comedies. Did you ever feel pigeonholed and is there maybe a role that you would really like to play?

“Maybe initially I felt limited by that, because my first movies were so popular that people recognized me on the street. Then alter, I got an offer to play in Gympl, The Can, directed by Tomáš Vorel, and then later I played in Děti Noci, or Night Owls, by Michaela Pavlátová, and I think those two films helped me out of the pigeonhole.”

And your latest film, Čtyři Slunce or Four Suns, was directed by Bohdan Sláma, one of the country’s best-known directors. What was it like to work with him?

Four Suns
“It was good. I was warned that he is really strict with actors, doesn’t give them much space and isn’t interested in their opinions at all. But actually, he gave me a lot of space and only asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him what I wanted to do with the character, and eh said: Just do it. And I did. It was great to work with him and I would love to work with him again. But he was kind of disappointed when I last spoke to him, because he was hoping it would draw a larger audience. But I think we already had a great success, because this film was the first Czech movie to make it into Sundance, and we all know that he is the best we have here.”

Four Suns was well received critically. But how do you deal with bad reviews?

“They don’t bother me but I don’t agree with them, either. I belong to those actors who read them quite a lot. It’s fine. It’s about opinions and very subjective. Once you are aware of that, you are not so disappointed. I am interested in other people’s opinion but I am not afraid of them. And it has never been so bad that I felt like committing suicide.”

Do you follow Czech film at all; are you up-to-date with your colleagues’ work?

“I am doing my best. I try to see as many Czech movies as I can. But I don’t have a lot of time and I also want to watch foreign films. And I work a lot. But if friends are involved, I always make an effort to see it. But it is impossible to follow it all.”

Your private life is the topic of gossip magazine reports and you are often featured in tabloids. Has this kind of coverage ever interfered with your life and do you ever get tired of answering the same questions over and over?

Jiří Mádl
“I am tired, because I keep getting the same questions. But when it comes to my private life, of course it has changed. But I have been in this business for eight years, and I kind of got used to it. I know what to do and how to handle it. Of course, sometimes they make something up that is not at all the truth. It is not that big of a problem for me as much as it can be fro my friends and relatives. One time a reporter wrote that I had died, and that was really bad. Because my grandmother read that, and that was very dangerous for her. So it is harder for my loved ones than for me.”

You also spent some time in New York. I believe you took a screen-writing course there. What was that like, and how did you perceive the city?

“I love the city, and I would like to live there. I am going there in April for a week, I love the city, I loved the course, and I liked the people. I best liked the Upper West Side but also the East Village. I am just addicted to it, every time I land, my heart beats faster and whenever I leave, I feel like crying. This time I am taking my grandfather, and I am sure he’ll be amazed, because he has never been.”

The Can,  photo: Official website of J.Mádl
I believe you also have the ambition to learn more foreign languages, why is that important to you?

“I don’t think I am going to expand the amount of foreign languages I speak. But I would like to perfect those that I do speak. My grandfather spoke seven languages fluently. I always liked languages. It is great to read books in foreign languages. You don’t feel limited at all – I can travel around the world and won’t have problems having a conversation. I don’t want to feel limited, so speaking foreign languages is one of the basic things for me.”

You also have been working on two screenplays. Is there anything you can reveal or is it still secret?

“It is secret. Not that I don’t want to reveal what it is about, but I am superstitious and I don’t want to present anything before it is finished. What I learned in New York is that screenwriting is not an individual work but cooperation and that screenwriters need patience. I told myself not to show it to anyone until two years after the first draft. Because I want to work on it and do some rewrites and not move to fast.”

Lastly, what are your plans for the rest of the year?

“I established a scooter company called Hugo Bike, with my brother and two of my friends from České Budějovice. It is just a hobby, not business yet, and maybe it will never be, but it is great fun. And of course, I am writing. And I am preparing a movie titled Šance, The Chance, and it is set on a deserted island and it’s about two people stuck there trying to make their way home. I think it is an interesting story, it’s not so much like Castaway with Tom Hanks, but more of a philosophical take on this scenario.”