Michael Soren Madsen is an American actor, poet, and photographer with Irish and Danish roots. He has starred in central roles in such films as Free Willy, Reservoir Dogs, Donnie Brasco and Kill Bill, in addition to a supporting role in Sin City.
Madsen was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Elaine (ne Melson), an Emmy-winning poet, television producer and playwright who often works for PBS, and Calvin Madsen, a firefighter. Madsen's mother left a career in corporate business to pursue a writing career. Madsen's paternal grandparents were Danish and his mother has Irish and Native American ancestry. His sister is actress Virginia Madsen, and he also has an older sister, Cheri.
Madsen was nineteen when his parents separated and he frequently had to change schools because of his age. As a youth he began to steal cars and participate in other felonies before he was sent to prison for a short time. Madsen's acting career began at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, where he served as an apprentice under actor John Malkovich.
In 1982 Madsen was cast by Edward McDougal for the lead in a small independent film Against All Hope, his first movie. He then played a small role in the studio picture WarGames in 1983. That same year, he appeared in a small cameo bit part in the 1983 television movie Special Bulletin. Soon after, Madsen was cast as a psychopathic gunman who took Mary Beth hostage in the Cagney and Lacey episode "Heat", which aired October 22, 1984. He moved to Los Angeles and appeared in other films, including as arrogant baseball player Bump Bailey in The Natural (1984), a deranged killer in Kill Me Again (1989) and as the tough but touching boyfriend of Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise (1991).
Then came a memorable role as the razor-wielding, sadistic ex-con and jewel thief "Mr. Blonde" in the bloody Quentin Tarantino crime story Reservoir Dogs. The film brought Madsen attention among critics and fans. During a scene in which Madsen's psychopathic character Mr. Blonde tortures a police officer, actor Kirk Baltz ad-libbed a line about being a father to a young child. Madsen, who himself had just become a father, was so upset that he found it very difficult to finish the scene. On some copies of the film's DVD, as Baltz completes the line, a voice can be heard off-screen saying "Oh, no, no ..." The ad-lib exacerbated Madsen's original reluctance to do the scene, due to his real-life aversion to violence.
Subsequently, Madsen was cast in a variety of major studio films, including Free Willy, Mulholland Falls, Wyatt Earp, Species and with Johnny Depp and Al Pacino in the critically acclaimed Donnie Brasco.
Since the mid 1990s, Madsen has appeared more often in lower-budget films released directly to video or television. Notable exceptions include his featured role in Tarantino's Kill Bill, in the James Bond adventure Die Another Day and in the film version of the Frank Miller graphic novel Sin City. He appeared in Scary Movie 4 in 2006 parodying Tim Robbins's character from War of the Worlds. He was also in the film 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out in 2003.
Madsen has been in a few television series, including the short-lived Vengeance Unlimited and as "Don Everest" in the poker-themed ESPN series Tilt. He was in Michael Jackson's 2001 music video "You Rock My World" and has provided voice work for several video games, including Grand Theft Auto III, True Crime: Streets of L.A. and Driver 3. He provided voice work for the movie version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as Maugrim the wolf, captain of the White Witch's secret police.
He also provides narration for Animal Planet and is heard in the Playstation 2 game Yakuza, where he voices the role of Futo Shimano, the violent and unforgiving leader of a Yakuza family. Madsen played Sam Spade in Yuri Rasovsky's Grammy nominated sonic dramatization of The Maltese Falcon, which also features Sandra Oh and Edward Herrmann.
In August of 2008, Madsen co-starred in Coma, a web series on Crackle.
Madsen went to Mexico City to co-star in boxing film Chamaco with Martin Sheen and Kirk Harris for director Miguel Necoechea in 2009. He is also starring alongside Vinnie Jones and Jamelia in the Robert Koltai film "Magic Boys."
Madsen is also expected to reprise his role as Bob in Sin City 2, which is in pre-production and has a release date of 2010. Fellow cast members include Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, and Clive Owen.
The actor appeared in Every Time I Die's music video "Kill The Music" and recorded a public service announcement for Deejay Ra's 'Hip-Hop Literacy' campaign, encouraging reading of screenplays by Tarantino.
In September 2009, he was filming the Magic Boys in Szeged, Hungary, which also stars Vinnie Jones.
Madsen will also be in a guest starring of the final season of 24 in April 2010. He will play Jim Ricker, an old friend of main character Jack Bauer.
Currently awaiting the release for the film Let The Game Begin for May 5, 2010, who he filmed with Adam Rodriguez and Stephen Baldwin.