As the film turns 50, take a look back at the cast and filmmaker behind the sci-fi sensation.
The landmark film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is credited with predicting everything from iPads to Skype to personal TVs. Director Stanley Kubrick tried to envision the future in all of its nuance, and what he foretold still resonates even 17 years after the year 2001. The film, which follows a mysterious mission to Jupiter guided by an erratic computer named HAL 9000, is especially notable for its innovative cinematography and its minimalist dialogue. Despite middling early reactions, it became a major box office success, brought in four Oscar nominations, and nearly two decades later spawned a sequel.
On April 3, as 2001: A Space Odyssey turns 50, take a look back at the cast and filmmaker behind the classic sci-fi movie.
Douglas Rain has never held a role as an onscreen character in a movie. In both 2001: A Space Odyssey and its followup, 2010 (1984), he lent his voice to HAL 9000, a supercomputer who appears to begin developing human characteristics. His other film credits include Sleeper (1973) and The Man Who Skied Down Everest (1974) — for both, only his voice was featured.
Yet the films represented a rare break for Rain, who before and after the release of 2001 appeared mostly in theatrical productions. In 1972, after a long career performing Shakespeare and Molière at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival, he won a Tony Award for his best supporting or featured actor for playing William Cecil in the play Vivat! Vivat Regina!, which chronicles the rivalry between Scotland’s Queen Mary and England’s Queen Elizabeth I. Now 89, Rain’s appearances have long been limited, with his last major acting credit coming more than three decades ago.
According to co-star Keir Dullea, no one on the set of 2001 actually knew what HAL 9000’s voice would be until after the film was shot. Rain “turned to his assistant direct and said, ‘Derek, you do the voice off-camera for the boys. I’ll worry about it in postproduction.’”
Gary Lockwood got his acting break as a stuntman, often for onscreen cowboys. Following a string of film roles, including acting as a Russian basketball player alongside Jane Fonda in There Was a Little Girl, Lockwood took on the career-making role of 2001’s Frank Poole, a crew member left in the dark about the real mission of the Discovery 1 expedition.
Lockwood’s acting credits include a role in the first ever Star Trek episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (1966). He later appeared in the TV versions of other beloved franchises, including Mission Impossible (1973) and Murder, She Wrote (1985-94). His last acting credit was A Bedfull of Foreigners in 1998. He is now 81 and lives in Los Angeles. He notes on his website, “I enjoy speaking with audiences of all ages about my adventures as a ‘cowboy surfer dude’ in Hollywood.”
In an IGN interview about the film, Lockwood reflected on receiving the part: “Back when my agent called me about the job, he said, ‘Stanley Kubrick and the movie is called 2001: A Space Odyssey.’ and I said to my agent, ‘how much do I have to pay him to be there?’”
As David Bowman, the commander of the Jupiter-bound Discovery 1, Keir Dullea delivered one of the most iconic lines in film history: “Open the pod bay doors please, HAL.” The American Film Institute now ranks as the No. 78 top 100 movie quotes of all time.
But like Lockwood, Dullea struggled to find major film roles following his appearance on 2001: A Space Odyssey, instead turning to theater for his biggest successes. After making his stage debut in 1967 in Ira Levin’s Dr. Cook’s Garden, he appeared in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and in the Tony-winning Butterflies Are Free. In his final two stage productions, a reprisal of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 2013 and On Golden Pond in 2015, he acted opposite his wife, Mia Dillon. Now 81, he splits his time between Manhattan and Connecticut.
To IGN, Dullea reflected fondly on 2001 and its legacy: “It made some great guesses in terms of what the future was going to look like,” he said. “For example, iPads are depicted in the film, Skyping among other things."
Tyzack’s role as Dr. Floyd’s friend Elena in 2001: A Space Odyssey was minor, but she is notable for being one of only two women with speaking roles in the film (the other is Dr. Floyd’s daughter). But the part marked the beginning of a vaunted career for Tyzack, at first with roles in Kubrick’s movies (she also worked on 1972’s A Clockwork Orange) and then pulsating out.
Her role as Anne on The First Churchills earned her a BAFTA for best actress in 1970, and her portrayal of Antonia — Emperor Claudius’ mother — in I, Claudius (1976) cemented her status as a critical darling. Like many of her peers on 2001, Tyzack also found immense success in theater, winning the 1990 Tony for best featured actress for Lettice and Lovage, a satire about the confrontations between a tour guide at an old English home who plays loose with facts and a by-the-book official who calls her out for it. In 1982, Tyzack also revived Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the stage, taking on the part of Martha. Toward the end of her life, she became a passionate advocate for older actresses and a critic of the lack of parts written for them. She died in 2011 at age 79.
Sylvester served in the U.S. Navy in World War II before moving to Britain, where he began acting in a number of little-known films. His first major role was as a suspected murderer in House of Blackmail (1953). In 2001: A Space Odyssey, he played Heywood Floyd, the former chairman for the National Council of Astronautics who authorized the Discovery 1 mission to Jupiter. But despite his prominence in 2001, Sylvester’s future movie roles were mostly minor, including in films like police thriller Busting (1974) and the dramatization of the Hindenburg explosion, The Hindenburg (1975). After retiring from acting in the early 1980s, he moved to Sacramento, where he died in 1995 at age 72.
The life of Kubrick, who died in 1999 (less than two years before he could witness the real 2001), probably doesn’t require much explanation. The legendary director went on to create beloved films like The Shining (1980), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Full Metal Jacket (1987). Still, Kubrick has been criticized for at times deliberately creating miserable conditions for some of his actors. The Shining’s Shelley Duvall, for instance, described suffering numerous breakdowns because of how Kubrick treated her: "Going through day after day of excruciating work was almost unbearable. ... I had to cry 12 hours a day, all day long, the last nine months straight, five or six days a week.”