Malcolm McDowell is one of the busiest actors in Hollywood, though it takes a lot for him to give up his golf game for a movie. The British actor, who first won acclaim four decades ago in the now classic British film, If, has starred in many seminal films including of course A Clockwork Orange and the underrated O Lucky Man.
McDowell epitomised adolescent rebellion at a time when cinema dared to take risks, but the British actor continues to work on film and television, from the Halloween remake, to TV’s Heroes and Entourage. But does the world need another Halloween? Paul Fischer put this question and others to McDowell in this exclusive interview.
Question: Let me just start off by asking you why you were drawn to this movie, and why do you think the world needs another Halloween?
McDowell: Well, I don’t think the world needs another anything, really, but the truth is, they’re going to get it. And I can understand their wanting to do it, but I think they’ve come to the end of the last lot, you know? Of course it’s a true and tried thing, which is what Hollywood is looking for, and if they can find something that sort of guarantees them a good return, it’s a no brainer. But this is tricky, because, you had Halloween, the first one, and such a great, terrific cult movie and of course in my role you had a wonderful actor in Donald Pleasance, who can’t be replaced and then – certainly I didn’t try to replace him. But on the other hand, it’s 2007 and here we are with Rob Zombie who’s this young, hot director, a rock and roll singer and has a whole new take on it. And he loved the film, I guess, and he figured he could write a script that would encompass all the good parts of the original, and yet bring it up to base, make it more relevant today, or whatever.
Question: Did you avoid watching the first movie when you signed on to do this?
McDowell: Yes, I did. I’ve never seen it or any of the Halloween’s.
Question: Are you a fan of horror at all?
McDowell: Obviously if I was I would have seen it, but because that’s one of the absolute watershed films for horror fans. I have been in a couple of horror films myself, but they were slightly different. Cat People, was a rather good horror film. But when I met Rob, he said to me that he wanted to make a classic horror film, so he got me, absolutely, by that. I wanted to work with him, I like him, and I think he’s a terrific director and a great talent. We also got on very well personally.
Question: What do you look for, Malcolm, in a project these days, the older you get? I mean, how selective are you in things you take on?
McDowell: You know, I’m sort of vaguely selective. It’s really instinctive, whether I want to do it or not. I know pretty much in the first ten pages, whether I’ll be interested or not.
Question: Is it tough to find characters that grab you?
McDowell: It is, it is. You know, they think I’m gonna come in and do scenes in a dreary script, that they think that I’m gonna change, because I’m gonna come in and eat a lot of scenery, but It ain’t gonna happen.
Question: You divide yourself between doing film and television. Is television a more exciting medium?
McDowell: Well, obviously I love doing television, because it’s quick. They don’t waste time and don’t have the money to hang around contemplating navels. It’s in there, on there, let’s do it and get it over with fast and I love to work fast, so I’m happy with that. And some of the best writing right now is on television and some of the best comedy writing. I did Entourage, which was way better than any movies I was being offered. I did Heroes, which was a very good, wonderful piece of writing. I mean, these are all – you know, first-rate writers.
Question: Is it hard for you to find a balance between work and pleasure?
McDowell: No, no, it’s not. Listen, if there’s good stuff, you work and if there’s not any good stuff, you don’t and go back to the golf course. It’s family. And I’m so lucky. I’ve got a new family, got these young boys. So I’m so blessed to have these young kids.
Question: It’s amazing to me that If was 40 years ago this year, when you did that movie. When you look back at the kid that you were when you started out, at that time in the British film industry, did you ever imagine that you would be still working today, and doing what you’re doing now?
McDowell: Yeah. I never thought that I would stop, because I always wanted to be like John Gielgud. His agent was my agent in London, for a period and I had lunch with my agent. He said, “Oh, I just got a call from John this morning.” I said, “Oh, what did he say?” He was 93. And he said, “Is there anything for me?” He goes, “John, you’re 93? You know, how many parts do you think are coming across my desk.”?
Question: Can you look back at all of your earlier work, and look at it now with a degree of objectivity? Or is it really like seeing old home movies?
McDowell: Well, I think it’s a sort of a mixture of both. I was very fortunate that I made some absolute masterpieces in the early part of my career. I mean, If was a watershed film in Britain and of course Clockwork Orange, and O Lucky Man!, to a lesser extent, I think, one of the great masterpieces I’ve made. And it’s one of my favourite films, and I love the film, a very subversive film.
Question: That is like a subversive trilogy, the ones that you mentioned. How much were you aware of the impact on popular culture that films like that had at the time?
McDowell: Well, you’re not really aware, because you’re doing them. You’re in the middle of them so you can’t really see the wood for the trees. But the thing is, is that I think I captured the flavour of that period, because there were huge revolts amongst the young. Revolts and marching and protests against Vietnam, against nuclear armament, and it was also the time where gays were coming out. There were protests every other week, and I lived near the park, so I got to see everybody march and joined in half the time. It was the time where America, especially, had enough of Vietnam, and they wanted out and it is almost a few times when a massive population would actually change the course of government action. When they pulled out the troops, and they stopped the war because of the absolute protests from people.
Question: Do you feel that being an actor at that time helped to, in some small way, helped change the world?
McDowell: Oh, I don’t think any piece of art has changed anything, really, in the world. But maybe it’s a cumulative effect that makes people aware and makes them feel something. If you can make somebody think about something, I think that’s remarkable because most everything you see is pap, it washes over, and you don’t think about a thing. But a movie like O Lucky Man! comes out, and I remember having great discussions for hours at dinner about the movies you saw. I mean, some of the great movies of that period were fabulous, like Five Easy Pieces, and Easy Rider, and all these wonderful films that came out in America.
Question: Do you miss that period? Do you think today’s Hollywood is inferior?
McDowell: Oh, there’s nothing to discuss. It’s all aimed at 13 or 15 or whatever, but occasionally, you have some terrific movies. You just have to find them.
Question: Now, I presume that Heroes is at an end for you. I mean, we know what we think happened to that character—-Are you committed to doing any more, or is that pretty much it?
McDowell: I’m not contracted in any way, shape, or form, but when I left, they said to me, “You know, you do realize, Malcolm, nobody really dies forever on this show.” [LAUGHTER] And I went, “Good. Because if you invited me back, I would come.”
Question: Who do you play in Doomsday?
McDowell: I play this sort of medieval king, like a King Lear. His name is Kane, a wonderful character.
Question: Are you still involved in the Vivaldi biopic?
McDowell: Yes, I’m supposed to be. They haven’t raised all the money yet, so I’m still waiting to do it.
Question: What else is happening with you at this point, then? Do you know what else you’re doing?
McDowell: Well, there are lots of things that are very close to happening. I’m going off to do this movie called Secrets of Love next year and then I’m to do a big, big movie about Albert Schweitzer for television, it’s a big miniseries about him, but a real in-depth one, paid for by the Germans. So I think it’ll be good.
Question: You must be still as impassioned about acting today, as you were when you started.
McDowell: Oh, absolutely.
McDowell: I love it. I don’t know. It’s just in the blood. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t.