Viral Vid: Bathing John Malkovich

There are few people who would argue that the words sponge bath evoke magic. But what if-just hypothetically speaking-a certain John Malkovich were at the business end of the loofah? Interested now? OK, probably not. Fair enough. But the first, uh, Webisode of "Bathing With Bierko" features just that: B-list celeb Craig Bierko ("Cinderella Man," "Scary Movie 4") soaping up and rubbing down the big A-list galoot in a tiny tub. Bierko squishes soapy water all over Malko's bald pate and offers him inanities like "Portugal is one of those words where if I repeat it over and over again it loses its meaning. Have you ever done that?" The result is a weirdly hilarious and discomfiting waterlogged spoof of talk-show culture-and viral video catnip. Bierko, a Tony-nominated Broadway star, promises more awkward fleshy chats to come. We're not convinced that's a good thing. He recently dried off long enough to talk to NEWSWEEK's Brian Braiker about "Bathing," which, to make things even weirder, was shot in Bette Davis's bathtub. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: So mostly I am a little disappointed not to be doing this interview in a tub.
Craig Bierko: [Laughs] Yeah. Well, I'm really good with it.

Why "Bathing With Bierko"?
That's a good question. It sort of takes that fake [talk show] intimacy of two men in makeup telling a fake story—one guy is sitting behind a desk for some reason that's never, ever been explained. What is it? Is it his office? It sort of turns up the fake intimacy to a ridiculous degree. It's never acknowledged, in the same way the desk thing is never acknowledged. This should be inane chatter, but with complete sincerity and never acknowledging the fact that they're in a bathtub.

Is it always going to be two guys?
No, not necessarily. We're trying to figure out a way to do it, because people really want to do this now. We think if the woman is behind me, washing my hair, we might be able to hide everything. And the other thing we really wanted to have is, the conversation really shouldn't be about anything at all.

It's interesting you say people are lining up for it now, because you get the feeling that John Malkovich, who is awesome, is up for anything in a way that other people might not be.
He could not be a nicer, more down-to-earth guy. I told him the idea and said, "Basically we want to do this as though it's Charlie Rose, but we won't be talking about anything. It'll just be silly chatter." And he said "Yeah, I'll do it." I had to refrain myself from asking him, "Why?" He did tell me that one of the reasons he wanted to do this was he thought it would piss off his sons, which I thought was really funny.

Jimmy Kimmel recently hit a nerve with his Ben Affleck video . Are you concerned at all that all this is a little homophobic?
A lot of people who are big now in comedy are sort of the children of Andy Kaufman: Will Ferrell; I think to a degree Stephen Colbert. It has less to do with homophobia than it does with creating a palpable discomfort and then sort of working in that zone. This is what talk shows are. It's a weirdly uncomfortable thing to do, to go out and have a fake conversation in front of people while you're wearing makeup. In a weird way we're forcing the audience to know what it's like to do this. Here are two guys having a completely natural—seeming conversation, and we're making you feel as uncomfortable as we do when we're doing it.

Who are your next guests?
I'm still not allowed to say. People saw it; people are really responding to it. We're really excited about what's coming up.

Whose bathtub is that?
It's Carrie Fisher's bathtub. She's a friend of mine and it never even occurred to me to tell anybody that that's where we're shooting it. But it just so happens that she lives in Bette Davis's old house. And so it's one of these great old bathtubs. The bathroom itself is enormous; it's like the size of a studio apartment. [Fisher] has a piano in it, of course. Naturally. She's Carrie Fisher, she has a piano in her bathroom. It almost looks like this sitcom stage—it's perfect to have cameras in there. It's like a little studio built for our weird little purpose.

Can you picture Bette Davis sitting in that bathtub?
I often do. I have a lot of time on my hands.

You were initially cast as Chandler in "Friends." Do you just kick yourself for rejecting that?
Oh, no. Regret is for suckers. I was 30 years old when that happened. Matthew Perry is a good friend of mine, and when I auditioned for that part I did a Matthew Perry imitation. And I got the part. At the time I got offered two shows. One was "Friends" and the other was called "Best Friends." And I actually preferred the other show. Things happen for a reason. And Matthew has me over to clean his pool, so it's all worked out.