Malcolm MacDowell interview

Discussion in 'Movies, TV, Shows etc. etc.' started by hollyh, May 19, 2008.

  1. hollyh

    hollyh Founder Member

    From the Times, 17 May 2008:

    O Lucky Man! Malcolm McDowell's journey from coffee salesman to movie star

    When Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man! appeared in 1973, no star of British film burnt brighter than Malcolm McDowell

    By Ed Potton

    Before he was anointed as the defiant, anti-Establishment poster boy of If ... and A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell was a rather promising coffee salesman, flogging the brown stuff to hotels and businesses across Yorkshire in the early 1960s. He had a blast. “It was an incredible adventure for a lad from Liverpool to be given a company car and sent off into the big wide world,” he drawls in an accent that has been softened by his adopted home of California.

    “It was my drama school,” McDowell says of the time, which eventually fed into David Sherwin's script for O Lucky Man! (1973), released in a spruced-up DVD edition this week. A bonkers three-hour treatise on capitalism and self-discovery, the film follows his If ... character, Mick Travis, now out of school and attempting to make his way in the world as, you guessed it, a coffee salesman.

    During his lurid odyssey, Travis tours the factories, bars and boardrooms of Britain, is tortured (a McDowell staple) and imprisoned, but still manages to shin up the career ladder, aided by a gallery of oddballs - several of them played by Ralph Richardson and Arthur Lowe, who even blacks up as an African dictator.

    The torture and imprisonment were artistic licence, McDowell concedes, although some of the people he met on his rounds had a definite prison-camp air about them. And the string of women who throw themselves at Travis? “Yeah, there are certain little bits of truth in all this!” he laughs. After he had finished his rounds, he would “go to clubs and pick up girls and God knows what else”. His conquests are “probably all deceased now, but I certainly had my share of fun”.

    The film marked McDowell's reunion with Lindsay Anderson. The urbane, spiky director of This Sporting Life and If ... had not made a feature film for five years, and hardly exploded with enthusiasm for the project. “He said, ‘Oh Malcolm, it's not very good is it?'” McDowell recalls. “I said, ‘Yes it is f***ng good, so f***ing good it's going to be your next film.' ”

    The relationship between the two had changed since If ... “I had been a completely naive young actor who had never been in front of a camera. By the time we did O Lucky Man! I'd had a huge international hit with A Clockwork Orange, so I was much more on a par with Linds.”

    McDowell became adept at getting under the skin of his prickly mentor: “I used to tease him like crazy about Stanley Kubrick being such a genius. He would say, ‘Yeah, but his films aren't very personal, are they?' I'd say, ‘But they're hits Lindsay, huge commercial hits, something that you wouldn't understand.'”

    But for all his perfectionist success, Kubrick was never an actors' director: “He would say, ‘I'm not RADA, I'm not here to teach you how to act. I'm expecting you to come up with it.'” It was Anderson, in fact, who gave McDowell his most important piece of advice when he was preparing for A Clockwork Orange. Anderson told him to model the arch-droog Alex on the look Mick Travis gives his prefect tormentor towards the end of If ... : “I open the gymnasium doors and give him that great smile,” McDowell explains. “Lindsay said, ‘That's how you play the part,' and that's how I played it.”

    The young tyro was a constant source of fascination for Anderson, who devoted generous portions of O Lucky Man! to shots of Travis lolling about in his Y-fronts. “Well luckily I've got my pants on, I was naked in most films,” McDowell chuckles. Did he ever feel lusted after? “Well, Lindsay fell in love with all his leading men. It was always unrequited. I never got the feeling that he was making a pass at me. I knew he loved me like I loved him, not in a physical way. He had an extraordinary mind - anyone would love that.”

    Nevertheless, the domestic reaction to O Lucky Man! was “very disapppointing”, McDowell admits. “It was pathetic that the best the English critics could come up with was that it was all rather incestuous: Lindsay using the same actor, the same writer. All the best film-makers use the same people! The English never cease to surprise me in their absolute crass stupidity. But it's been reappraised and is now considered a classic. I think it is. It's a piece of England that you will never see: big steelworks, factories.”

    The damage had been done, however. Britannia Hospital (1982), the third film in the Mick Travis trilogy, made even less of an impact. A confessed alcoholic and cocaine addict in the early 1980s, McDowell made do with pantomime villain roles for much of that decade and the next. But, even in such forgotten moments as Cyborg 3: the Recycler, the twinkle remained in those blue eyes, and the cherubic cheeks of yore were replaced by a striking, California-tanned visage that was almost as beguiling.

    Like Travis, McDowell has proved a resilient soul, and his fortunes have revived in recent years. It is now more than 20 years since he last smoked a cigarette, drank alcohol or did drugs. He recently began work on an adaptation of the Thomas Mann novella Mario and the Magician by the Get Carter director Mike Hodges. He plays opposite Jonathan Rhys Meyers, with whom he worked on I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (2003): “I had to bugger him, poor blighter. He'll get his own back with this one, big time.”

    Much of his resurgent Stateside profile is owing to his appearance in the hit television series Heroes. His character, the Machiavellian Mr Linderman, was killed off in the first season but has been reinstated for the third following a deluge of complaints from fans. McDowell himself is not a fan: “I don't watch it - I don't understand a bloody word of it! I do know I'm playing a delicious part, a proper monster. Mr Linderman - he's very famous here. I get called that every time I go into a restaurant or fill up with petrol.”

    It took him ten years to feel at home in America. He has lived since 1982 in Ojai, outside Los Angeles on the craggy flanks of the cosmic-sounding Meditation Mountain. There's no hippyish omming for this Merseyside lad, however: “You think I meditate? No. I'm looking at Sky Sports, trying to figure out who's going to play in the Liverpool team this week. It's my one thing that I can't let go of. I feel very English. I can never forget my roots, growing up in Liverpool, great city of humour.”

    He moved to America only because he fell in love with the actor Mary Steenbergen, his second wife, and, after their divorce, stayed on so that he could be with their children (he now has two more with his third wife, Kelley Kuhr). Perhaps surprisingly, Anderson approved of the move: “He said, ‘Malcolm, you got out just in time.'”

    When the director died of a heart attack after going swimming in 1994, McDowell and the designer Jocelyn Herbert, another If ... veteran, made a pilgrimage to the Dordogne lake where he died. “It was beautiful, with wonderful silver birch trees that shimmered in the water like a piece of Chekhov,” he recalls. “Jocelyn said, ‘Come on, let's say goodbye' so we flung our clothes off and dived in.”

    Anderson's scabrous, spirited life inspired McDowell to perform and record a one-man stage show about him, Never Apologise, last year. He recalls him fondly, reciting a line from Alan Price's theme to O Lucky Man!, a song that he admits he would like played at his own funeral. “If you can have a friend on whom you think you can rely/You are a lucky man. Lindsay Anderson was my friend and I was a lucky man ... And am,” he adds. “And am.”

    O Lucky Man! is out to buy on DVD on Monday
  2. Rebekka

    Rebekka Administrator Staff Member

    That's a great and interesting report Holly
    Thanks for posting.

  3. Concatelli

    Concatelli New Member

    I've recently run across a video posted on YouTube that may be of interest to APFF members. It's a movie trailer (preview) of Malcolm McDowell's "Never Apologize: A Personal Visit with Lindsay Anderson."

    The link for that video is:

    The link for my Alan Price playlist on YouTube is:
  4. hollyh

    hollyh Founder Member

    Cool -- thanks, Tony!
  5. Jean

    Jean Webmaster Staff Member

    How did I miss this info.[​IMG]
    Thanks for posting Tony
  6. Daria

    Daria New Member

    I've watched Never Apologize several times. Malcolm McDowell is an amazing actor. Since the first moments you forget that it's a one-man show. His manner of imitating other accents is overwhelming :) A great movie to see. And very funny too.

    Sorry for flooding all the time, I just like it in here :)

    Good morning
  7. hollyh

    hollyh Founder Member

    I'm glad you've been flooding in here. It makes me feel less guilty for flooding too. ;)

    I think Malcolm is amazing too. It's too bad that he has been typecast as a villain for the past several years. (But he plays a villain so well!) I think once he moved to L.A. he tended to take whatever jobs were offered to him, and once he outgrew the "young rebel" roles, the movie makers didn't know what to do with him. What a waste! But I guess he wanted to stay in Hollywood to be near his kids. You can't blame him.
  8. Daria

    Daria New Member

    No one would blame him I'm sure. After making such wonderful roles as he did while young he can now just retire without remorse :) But that is just amazing that he continues acting.

    He plays not only villains I may say (though mostly he does). I saw him in the South Park British episode :) He's very talented.

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