Malcolm McDowell on...

Acting | America | Being an Alcoholic | Britain | Cagney | Christmas | Coffee | Directing | Each Role | Emotional Manipulation | Getting Old | Having Fun | His Career | His first wife | His third wife | Making Bad Movies | Mediocrity | Movies causing Violence | Playing Villains | Tribute in LA 6/01 | Women | Working in England


"You do as well as you can, but actors have very little say in how it will turn out. I've had my performance completely changed when they swap scenes around, but they don't give a damn. If you have half a brain you know what it is when you start, so I learn my lines, turn up on time, do my best and cash the check at the end of the week, which is what a professional actor should do. Those who say, 'I won't do this,' are very lucky to be in a position not to have to pay child support or a mortgage. I wouldn't like to be in that situation. It's just a business and if you manage to find a film occasionally that is both an artistic and commercial success you've done brilliantly. But the great movies I did in the late sixties and seventies don't exist any more." - Radio Times 2/96

"I can't spend too much time worrying about the outcome. I get a great kick out of working. And I've had the best time sometimes on the worst movies. James Mason once told me, 'Malcolm, there are three reasons to do a movie: the part, the location, the money. If you can get two out of three, take the job.' And he was right. If you can get three out of three, your name is Tom Cruise." - LA Times 6/18/01

"Even when I was in my 20s, I always said, 'I don't want to be a movie star. I want to be like John Gielgud. I want to be working when I'm in my 70s.' And with a bit of luck, I will be." - LA Times 6/18/01


 "Americans are very vocal if things aren't going their way. I don't like to criticize when I'm living abroad and I wasn't in the country for any of Lady Thatcher's years - the riots, drug culture, gangs on housing estates - but I do feel depressed about what has happened. I never thought when I was growing up that our police were corrupt. I believed you could trust the good old British bobby, but that myth has gone with the dreadful miscarriages of justice we've seen over the years. And it shocks me that politicians are corrupt, too. Here in America it's pretty blatant and part of the scene. It's not called 'corruption'. 'Lobbying' is part of everyday business, but I think they're pretty good at rooting out politicians who take obvious bribes." - Radio Times 2/96

Being an Alcoholic

"I'm from a generation of actors that were really great boozers: Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton, and, in his day, Tony Hopkins. If you're an actor, I think (drinking at lunch) is appropriate any day of the week. It's best if you can do it when you're not working." 4/30

"The best thing I did was abuse myself when I was younger - I dabbled in everything, cocaine, booze, women - because now I don't have to do it any more. I don't think alcohol helped me at all. It anesthetized me. When Charlie was born I realized I had to be a responsible human being, so I gave up drink and don't miss it. It would be wonderful to have just one glass of wine, but I was never that type of drinker. I'd have a very good bottle or two. It catches up on you. You think you're fine but your life is out of control. I went to Alcoholics Anonymous until I kept being offered scripts to read. I was there to save my life, not to look for work. I now go occasionally because it's my responsibility to help others and it's good for me as well. I leave every meeting feeling better. I suppose I'm sick. The definition of alcoholism fits every description of a disease. I think it's hereditary, so I have to be careful with my children. My father drank a bottle of whisky a day and was probably an alcoholic, although we didn't use such terms then."  - Radio Times 2/96


"'I'm neither pro nor anti-British. I think the British are taught to be very patriotic, through the Royal Family and the school system….thank God I've dropped all that. I enjoy coming to England but I've got very mixed feelings about it. - 2/20 1/90

James Cagney

"He was just the greatest film actor that ever lived, bar none. You were riveted to the way he moved." - LA Times 6/18/01


"My most memorable Christmas? Oh, I think when I was a child. Of course, Christmas is for children really. Now, it is pretty ghastly. I think I remember it most as a child - opening the presents and being with the family." - Retrovision 1995


"Have what you like. It's your heart. When I first came here I thought they were a lot of poofs, but you get into the whole lifestyle and begin to realize that if you're going to play tennis you can't drink coffee anymore. You may mock me in England...but you also die younger." - Radio Times 2/96


"You know, there was one point, when I thought I may want to do it, but I don't really have a great desire to do it. I think unless you do, you shouldn't do it. I don't want to do it just for the sake of -- but I loved writing O Lucky Man!. I found it extremely trying and very difficult and extremely lonely. But it was a great experience to work with Lindsay on the script and David Sherwin. That whole process was quite amazing." - 9/99

Each Role

"I take it seriously, but not too seriously, and I try to have a really good time when I work. If you don't it doesn't come off on the screen. You've got to have a light on behind the eyes." - NY Daily News 5/19/02

Emotional Manipulation

"It makes me want to throw up. It goes against the grain and I just can't do it." - NY Daily News 5/19/02

Getting Old

"Stars are missing out on the pleasures in life by fretting about their looks. The secret to longevity in show business is to embrace the fact that you are getting older and love it. We're all going to physically decline but as long as your spirit stays pretty much intact, then what you look like has nothing to do with it. As you change as a human being, you had better change as an actor. You can't rely on the same old s**t that you've been doing." - Digital Spy 4/30/08

"I feel like I'm still in my twenties. It's only when I look in the mirror do I get a shock. Maybe I should start addressing that. I've always had a very youthful outlook on life". - Tom Snyder 1998

Having Fun

"I think that if you are having fun, it makes the audience kind of join in with the fun. I always try and relish what I do and have fun with it. Of course, if it's a serious part, then we're serious. It's a different kind of fun." - Tom Snyder 1998

His Career

"I'm enjoying it all right now and I'm not taking any of it too seriously I suppose acting in films is a bigger responsibility than it used to be. But my attitude these days is to do your best work and walk away. I've always tried to enjoy the parts I do, even some of the more ridiculous ones." - Starburst 1995

"I've done over 100 movies. I don't even dare look at the list. I can't remember all of them. I sometimes feel like a gunfighter. You know, I come into town, sort 'em out, and I'm gone in a cloud of dust." - LA Times 6/18/01

His first wife - Margot

"I was 24, too young, and everyone advised me not to marry, but I guess I got tired after a while and said, 'All right, if it will make you happy.' Big mistake. We're no longer in touch." - Radio Times 2/96

His third wife - Kelley

"It's wonderful to be marred to someone younger, although women of my age hate it, of course. The truth is, if it wasn't for the physical thing, you'd swear Kelley is older than me. She is a rather mature person and was I when I met her at 22 - on this very street, at an art gallery opening - there was an immediate connection. Look, I've tried everything, been through the card. It's all a matter of luck. And economics. Some men can't afford to divorce. I'm privileged in that way. It has cost me a lot, which is one reason I have to keep working. But the last six years have been great. I'm still childish in many ways, but that's good for the job. Actors tend to relieve themselves of responsibility for the real world. I let Kelley write all the checks. I'm very trusting." - Radio Times 2/96

Making Bad Movies

"I haven't always made what turned out to be the wisest choices. But that's what happens when you're constantly drawn to things that are somewhat off center. Whether or not the movies have turned out well is the chance one takes. But there was always something interesting in all the projects I've done that has drawn me to them in the first place." - Starburst 7/95


"This seems to be the age of mediocrity, and Madonna is way out in front." attributed to him in the late 80s

Movies causing Violence

"No film could be blamed for that, no. Who knows what it is? Who knows what starts off this kind of violence? Maybe it's a whole slew of things. Maybe it's the whole picture. Maybe it's frustration about the American dream gone sour. I don't know what it is. It is the expectations of something that's never quite fulfilled. There's great anger and frustration around. There's a lot of that. The rest of the world is totally bemused about the lack of gun control in this country. Honestly, I'm right at the head of that, because I feel it's nonsensical to go and license your car and all the rest of it, but not to do that with a gun. You can have an AK-47, which is a killing machine. People want to claim the right to own one, saying it's the amendment right and all that, which is totally nonsensical and ludicrous. Look at how many kids are killed with guns accidentally in homes every year. It's staggering, the amount. I blame that - I blame the Congress for it. I blame the Senate. And I blame the NRA. If it takes a gunman to walk into the Congress and wipe out half of Congress, maybe they'll take notice. I don't know what you do. How many more of these tragedies do you want to go through? How many more times to do we have to go through it? And they're still saying, it's not the gun, it's the person. We have to hear that all the time. It's frustrating, I think." - 9/99

Playing Villains

"Villains are just great. You don't have to be there every damned day. When you're on, it's you and you can take it wherever you want. I don't think you should ever go, what we call in England, OTT (over the top). You have to be very careful not to do that. Villains have to be real people. The audience has to feel, somehow, that they have a real life." - Starlog 4/95

Tribute in LA 6/01

"I think it's only right that I should be here to face the music for my past sins. I'm going to try not to feel old." - LA Times 6/18/01


"Don't forget I've had three wives. I was emotionally stunted at an all-boys English public school, which is why I became an actor I suppose. It's the great English tradition to be stoic and non-emotional, which is incredibly sad. You don't even know how to talk to a woman and it ruins your relationships." I wonder how long it took him to mature. "I don't think I ever made it." - Radio Times 2/96

Working in England

"I've been asked occasionally but when you live in another country it's a long way go. Film-making facilities are second-rate compared to America but the talent is still there, the great writers - I'd go anywhere on earth to be in a piece by Peter Flannery - brilliant artists and technicians. I tend to trust British producers more than Americans and the young actors I worked with were brilliant. I don't think I could live in England, but I love it when I return to visit my mother or sister. I know I've been negative in the past, but I don't hate England. I just want to say, like Lindsay did, 'Wake up. Stand up and fight.' - Radio Times 2/96

Quotes © Their Respective Publications
This format 2001-08 Alex D. Thrawn for