Despite getting some recognition for the role it should have been no surprise that John Malkovich was not Oscar nominated for the role of playing John Malkovich. After all a common, usually mistaken, criticism of many performances of certian actors is that they are merely playing themselves and deserve no credit. Well Malkovich seems to play himself, except of course for the fact that this movie John Malkovich has a different middle name from the regular Malkovich. Malkovich is suppose simply be Malkovich though in the film, but that does not mean this is a do nothing performance.
Although the film is certianly does not mind deprecating Malkovich in the way no one seems to know who he is, and do not really think much of him as an actor, as well as the scene where we go into his subconscious, Malkovich still plays the part of himself in a rather straight fashion early in the film. It really should be noted that the actually personal life of this Malkovich really is not gotten into, where only see him really reacting to everything else in the film, and being used by the other character. He really is not a particularly active character.
In the first half or so of the film Malkovich actually goes for playing himself in a rather realistic fashion, and there is not anything strange or out of the ordinary about his portrayal, other than of course he is John Malkovich which means this is a least some degree of strangeness anyways. Malkovich though actually is quite good in being how one would imagine a man in his very bizarre situation might be. Malkovich is not boring in anyway though, and through being a more realistic man standing within the oddness he actually able to effortlessly bring a great deal of humor in his performance.
Malkovich honestly shows a confusion at first as the strangeness goes on around, than slowly morphs into some degree of horror and anger over finding about the portal to his mind. Malkovich does well in portraying in a believable fashion while making it quietly funny, although he does this without ever making any jokes with his performance. It is not obvious comedic performance by Malkovich, but it work extremely well, although later on in the film Malkovich gets to do that sort of performance after the puppeteer takes control of Malkovich's body.
Malkovich has a lot of fun in the role embodying Cusack's performance from the film, although with one key by very brilliantly handled by Malkovich. The difference from Cusack's is that he is quite enthusiastic where Cusack was consistently depressed although it fits because the puppeteer has reached his dreams within Malkovich. It is an enjoyable and energetic performance by Malkovich playing a lot with the overly pretentious quality within the puppeteer as well as his amusingly emphasizing the pathetic qualities of the character.
Despite being quite tossed around in the role particularly at the end when he goes through three personalities in a matter of minutes, Malkovich makes all of it work out for the best. Although I do feel aspects of the film do go into self indulgence mostly on the part of Charlie Kaufman, but Malkovich despite the fact that he is in fact portraying John Malkovich falls into these problems with his personality. He seamlessly moves between the personalities that Malkovich must undergo, and makes sure to give an engaging performance no matter who happens to be using Malkovich at one time.