Malcolm, Kelly & Seamus McDowell at the event
Malcolm McDowell finds good in being bad
By Eric Volmers, Calgary Herald April 23, 2010
About the early controversy surrounding A Clockwork Orange. (The Catholic
Church "condemned" the film in America and director Stanley Kubrick
had it withdrawn from British theatres after it was blamed for causing
violence.): "My reaction was 'good God, they are missing the whole point of
the movie.' This is a satirical, funny, black comedy and they just don't get it.
I watched it in New York, it was jammed. It was the most successful movie that
Warner made that year. It was dead silence watching the entire movie. It was
like, 'They just don't get it. Maybe it's an English sensibility, this black
humour thing.' I didn't realize the audience coming to it were overwhelmed by
the visuals and how extraordinary Kubrick made it look."
On 1979's Time After Time, where he was cast against-type as meek scientist H.G. Wells, who travels forward in time to chase Jack the Ripper and ends up falling in love with Mary Steenburgen (McDowell's future and now ex wife): "It was very different than A Clockwork Orange. The film wasn't a huge hit so they never asked me to do that sort of softer character again. It (was marketed) as a Jack the Ripper suspense movie, which it never was. It was a love story about a man who was an Edwardian who gets thrust forward in time to meet the modern-day woman. The great thing about H.G. Wells was that he was a socialist, one of the first. He believed in equality of women. He meets one in reality and doesn't know what the hell to do."
On being cast by longtime friend Robert Altman in 2003's The Company, where he played the artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago: "I loved the film. It's really Altman working with a quintet rather than a full orchestra. It was so much fun to do. He came to see me. I was presenting a film in Lincoln Centre in New York City called Gangster No. 1 and he was there. We went out for dinner afterward and his said 'All right kid, can you dance? We're doing a little dance movie.' I said 'Dance!?!? Good God, no!' And he looked at me and he goes 'Well, you don't have to.'"
On being cast in 1994's Star Trek: Generations, where he kills Captain James T. Kirk: "I wasn't really a huge fan of (Star Trek) to be honest with you. I hadn't really seen any of them before I did it. Of course, I knew Bill Shatner and Leonard, they are the reason the whole thing was such a success. So to be asked to bump him off was sort of fun. I think I turned it down a couple of times until my agent said 'You gotta do it!'"
On Caligula, the notoriously graphic 1979 epic that was assailed by critics. Produced by Penthouse Magazine founder Bob Guccione, it had an early screenplay by Gore Vidal and co-starred John Gielgud, Peter O'Toole and Helen Mirren: "I haven't seen it in 30 years or whatever. I think, to be honest with you, it was a great opportunity missed. With the cast we had it was sad that it never got worked out. Of course, Gore Vidal had a terrible row with Guccione, so he left. We never had rewrites, we had to fend for ourselves. It was not much fun, really. Especially when your reputation was on the line. The guy who brought me into it was Gore, and then he left. And that was it. It was very disappointing."
On In Good Company, the 2004 comedy-drama in which McDowell plays powerful CEO Teddy K in an uncredited appearance: "It was only one scene, but it was an important, key scene. It was quite a long speech and I had to really work quite hard at it. They wouldn't pay me. And I wanted to do it for (director Paul Weitz), so I said, 'OK, well you can't use my name. F-ck. you.' They paid me a pittance, which really pissed me off. Usually they give me six scenes to make everybody hate me and to destroy the world or whatever it is. It's sort of ridiculous. But it can be a lot of fun. I just try and flesh it out and make it a real person and look for either humor or humanity or something, Because it's never black and white. I'm always looking to make it a three-dimensional person, somebody who is more believable."
But for all the time he has spent on the dark side, there has never been any doubt as to how he first earned his stripes as one of modern film's most convincing villains. It was Stanley Kubrick's 1971 stunner A Clockwork Orange, which still stands as one of the most shocking, darkly comic visions of dystopia in the history of film. As "little" Alex, McDowell raped, robbed and murdered his way through the streets of a crumbling England in a bowler hat and fake eyelashes, creating one of the most lethally charming young demons to ever prowl the silver screen. At 28, McDowell was older than the teenage character author Anthony Burgess created in the original novel. Nevertheless, the mercurial Kubrick decided the actor - who the director had seen play a rebellious teen at a strict British school in Lindsay Anderson's classic if.... a few years earlier - was the one and only choice for the role.
"I asked him, actually, why he chose me," McDowell says. "He said 'Well, there's many ways to go with this part, but what really got me about him is his intelligence. I needed an actor who could portray intelligence without having to act it.' "
Thanks to recent roles in cult television shows such as Entourage and Heroes, his turn as child psychologist Dr. Samuel Loomis in Rob Zombie's reimagining of the Halloween horror franchise and his infamous place in Star Trek lore as Kirk-killing madman, Dr. Tolian Soran, McDowell's stock on the fanboy circuit has continued to rise over the years. But he admits when he is at events such as this weekend's Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, he still mostly fields questions about A Clockwork Orange. And while McDowell doesn't seem to mind chatting about the film, he does say it made such an impression on the world that it was initially tough for people to see him as anything else. "I think the movie was so overwhelming that nobody offered me a job," he says. "Nobody offered me anything interesting. I got nothing from Hollywood."
So it's easy to forget that McDowell is a versatile actor, more than capable of stretching into some against-type roles and showing a softer side. After A Clockwork Orange, he again worked with Anderson as a naive young go-getter in the cult classic O Lucky Man! He played a befuddled H.G. Wells, who travels to modern times in 1979's criminally underrated sci-fi romance Time After Time. In 2003, longtime friend Robert Altman cast him as the artistic director of The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago in The Company, a role that was based on famous choreographer Gerald Arpino.
So while McDowell's bulging filmography may include a few duds, it has also allowed him to work with three of modern cinema's most enduring mavericks: Altman, Kubrick and Anderson. "They all work completely differently and it's my job as the actor to be a chameleon," he says. "For whatever style they are working in, you adapt to that. Lindsay was a man of the theatre, so would talk about the psychology of a theme. He wasn't into reality, but he was into real. Reality bored him. Stanley was more interested in the look rather than the actors, and he didn't want to discuss anything to do with the character. Bob Altman was great fun. Actors loved working for Bob. They get to do their thing. It's wonderful to make up stuff and improvise." And while McDowell, who has a new family that includes a 15-month son, may not always get to work with directors of that caliber, he is certainly keeping busy these days. According to the Internet Movie Database, he is attached to 13 projects in the next year. "Well, you know," he says with a laugh, as his young son babbles in the background, "I am busy. But I never believe anything until they put the money in the bank. There's dozens and dozens of (offers). But who knows?"
This page 2010 Alex D. Thrawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net