With some 2oo movie and TV acting credits to his name, and a litany of experience on stage in various productions, Malcolm McDowell has had a storied career. So what was it like to work with Stanley Kubrick? “Oh shut the f**k up,” McDowell told the moderator at the top of his Q&A at Fan Expo. He was kidding of course, but the jocularity was just the beginning of a highly comical hour of the actor’s time as he shared personal tales, insights in some the films he’s worked on, and wild tales about the various personalities he’s encountered. But first, let’s reminisce about Liverpool.
McDowell grew up in the hometown of the Beatles and said that while he’d never live there again, “I think if you’ve lived in Liverpool in your formative years its forever in your head and your heart,” he says of growing up there in the 50s. “It was a magical time, to be there as a teenager, it was an amazing thing to be part of music history. It’s like meeting Beethoven or something. [The Beatles] didn’t just chance music, they changed the whole social scene. It was a really big moment actually.
“Anyway, who gives a f**k about the Beatles?” he added.
This was McDowell’s third appearance at Fan Expo, and I have been there for every one of them. There’s always a fair amount of humour, but McDowell seemed particularly punchy today. Perhaps it was because his Q&A was one of the last of the Friday’s events. Whatever the reason, the session started without preamble and went right into questions from the fans, and those queries crossed a grand cross-section of McDowell’s work from the movies he did, the people he worked with, and crazy conspiracy theories about whether or not Oh Lucky Man! is thematically the adaptation of the final chapter in the original novel A Clockwork Orange.
“Anthony Burgess himself told me that [the publisher] wouldn’t put the book out unless there was a happier ending. He said ‘don’t even read it,'” explained McDowell before jokingly telling the questioner to go “back online.”
“I’m really scared,” said the next fan before asking her question, which was about McDowell’s proclivity for playing bad people. “I don’t take the parts home with me,” he said, “I try not to because I’ve played by fair share of psychos. Nobody’s all bad, so I try to make it a three-dimensional thing regardless, and if I play someone ridiculously bad then he’s not all that bad, it’s just his behaviour.”
The topic of Oh Lucky Man! came up again when someone asked if he was interested in experimenting with post-modernism when he came up with the idea of the film. McDowell confessed that his interest in the project was much more basic. “The reason I did it was because I wanted to work with the great Lindsay Anderson again and he doesn’t accept scripts off the shelf,” he explained. “I knew by doing a very loose outline about a salesman, and an innocent in the land of corruption that he would take a bite out of it.”
McDowell was then asked if he’s every done anything outlandish like his character Stanton Infeld from Franklin & Bash. “Wouldn’t you like to know. Do you seriously think I’m going to tell you?” he said coyly. ” I have done my fair share and we’ll leave it at that. If were to drop off the perch tomorrow I’d be a happy man.”
Other tales from McDowell’s Q&A included surprising a man dressed as Michael Myers last Halloween (the holiday not the movie), getting an invitation to accompany one young woman to her prom next year, calling his latest TV work on Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle the best work he’s done in the medium, and why with his accomplished career he’d take a role in Home Alone: Holiday Heist.
“It’s called a f**king mortgage, okay.” he said to big laughs. “Listen, I have done so much s**t in my life, but here and there are odd little pearls and that’s what you’re looking for.”
Mostly though, people still wanted to talk about A Clockwork Orange, which will celebrate its 45th anniversary next year. Many of the fans in the crowd were dressed as Alex, including McDowell’s future prom date, and the actor was impressed that his signature film still resonates. “It’s amazing to me that I am here 45 years later still talking about this movie now,” he said seriously. “I knew it was a good movie and that things were magical on set, but to think that it could go on and have a new generations of kids finding this movie and making it their own, and they find something else in it.”
McDowell recalled watching the film with a New York audience in 1971 thinking that he had made this great black comedy, but not one laugh was had in the theater that night. McDowell thought he’d missed the mark, but 45 years later, McDowell said, newer audiences seem to be seeing things his way. “Audiences are laughing at this movie I made, just forty years too late,” he said.”In retrospect, one thinks about it and the character of Alex, and it was the first time in a movie where the hero was an immoral man. There would have been no Hannibal Lector without Alex because he made it okay.”
Being remembered for A Clockwork Orange is great, but does McDowell ever wonder if another one of his movies should be considered his best. Actually… “I often wish it was Cyborg 3” he said to laughs. “Unfortunately no one saw it then, and no one’s going to see it now.”