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Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to sit down for an extensive interview with the veteran actor Malcolm McDowell to commemorate two major milestones in his career: the 40th anniversary of A Clockwork Orange (1971), the Stanley Kubrick counter-culture classic that made him famous and earned a best picture Oscar nomination; and The Artist (2001), Michel Hazanavicius‘s black-and-white silent film (and 2012 best-picture contender) in which he makes a brief appearance. I hope that you’ll check out the video of our conversation above.
Among the topics that the 68-year-old and I discussed:
- His fondness for James Cagney (“I was fascinated by his delivery, by just the speed with which he zipped everything out and the way he moved”) and Albert Finney (“The actor that influenced me the most and made me feel like I have to do this”).
- His name-change from Malcolm Taylor to Malcolm McDowell (“My father never forgave me”).
- The three “Mick Travis” films that he made with the British director Lindsay Anderson, the first of which — If… (1968) — brought him to the attention of Kubrick (“We won the grand prize at Cannes, and it was a fantastic film, and a great success, so I said to Lindsay… ‘Let’s make another movie.'”)
- Why Clockwork has such an enduring appeal (“It’s about the freedom to choose… how we behave, whether we go down this road or that road, and also, of course, whether the government have the right — however bad somebody is — to alter their chemistry and their makeup.”)
- How his character and “the Droogs” wound up with their unusual costumes (“The white costume was my cricket outfit that I had in the back of my car… and then the sort of codpiece was the cricket protector. Stanley went, ‘Wear it on the outside.’ And then I just chose a bowler because, of course, it symbolizes everything which is establishment.”)
- His love-hate relationship with Kubrick (He used to drive me nuts. I’d scream at him. He never shouted back… And we laughed”).
- The origins of Clockwork‘s infamous “Singin’ in the Rain” number (“He walked up to me and I was just sitting there and he went, he said, ‘Can you dance?’ And I literally — of course I can’t dance — but I jumped up and I went, ‘Can I dance?!’ And I went straight into ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ I mean, it wasn’t even a thought… Instinct”).
- On the one time he met Gene Kelly (“He looked and he went [looks him up and down], turned, and walked”)
- The iconic eye-opening scene (“I scratched my corneas!”)
- The popularity of his character, despite his atrocious behavior (“I think Stanley was absolutely baffled. He couldn’t figure it out”)
- Why people have subsequently tended to cast him as a bad guy (“I think I’ve got a smashed-in face or something sinister”)
- On the 1976 film Voyage of the Damned (“This was a chance to work with Orson Welles, Faye Dunaway, Oskar Werner, Max von Sydow, and on and on and on”)
- On the 1979 film Caligula (“I said, ‘Isn’t he a pornographer?’ And Gore [Vidal] said, ‘Think of him as one of the Warner brothers’)
- On the 1979 film Time After Time (“I met Mary Steenburgen, who was wonderful and had the part of the love interest, and we married and had two children, and now one of them’s had a child herself!”)
- On the 2003 film The Company (“I love that film. I loved Bob [Robert Altman]. He was a great friend of mine before I worked with him. I said to him once as a joke, ‘What? You become friends with you and you never get to work with you?’ But he saved a little gem for me in one of his last films, God bless him”)
- On The Artist (“It’s an amazing film. I’m really sort of a little abashed because I’m not really part of it very much. But, you know, I couldn’t do it. They wanted me to do something else in it and I couldn’t because of work. But I was so fascinated and so in awe of Michel and [Hazanavicius’ wife and leading lady] Berenice [Bejo]”)
- On Bejo (“Jean Dujardin‘s absolutely magnificent in this film, but, you know, so is Berenice… She, to me, is our Joan Crawford, you know? She is Joan Crawford. She’s so stunning… In a weird way nobody really talks about Berenice, and it’s like, ‘Excuse me?’… I had met Audrey Hepburn, and she had the same affect as Audrey Hepburn had on me when I met her years ago… I was so taken with her. It was just so amazing. And it was just a nice little vignette”)
- On how he’d like to be remembered (“Of course, everyone will remember the one movie [Clockwork]. The truth is, I’m proudest probably of the Lindsay Anderson trilogy because he was a genius and he was a friend… And so, to me, that’s what I would hope, but it won’t happen. It won’t happen because it will be Malcolm in A Clockwork Orange. But you know what? I’m happy with that”)
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