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Malcolm McDowell | Oh What A Lucky Man
an emily blunt interview



Malcolm McDowell is one helluva actor. His career volleys between intense villains and laughable chaps. Since his breakthrough role as Alex the maniacal ultraviolet gang member in Stanley Kubrick's cult classic A Clockwork Orange (1971), Malcom has worked nonstop. The equally popular British hit, Oh Lucky Man (1973) , which he helped produce as well as star in, is still a multiple watch favorite and created legions more of loyal McDowellettes. In recent years McDowell has become a Trekkie of sorts, as nemisis Dr.Tolian Soran. We won't mention has "busy" projects like "Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys" or "Moon 44;" tis best to pass those quickly without disturbing the sleeping beasts....

To date Mal has done over 100 films and specials. That's pretty damn impressive huh? He's a remarkable actor and an extremely charming blunt character off screen as well. Gotta love that.

He was in town recently to promote Gangster #1 and I was thrilled to sit and chat with him….

EMILY: Some have said this is your most violent film since A Clockwork Orange. Do
you agree?

MALCOLM: It's a fairly violent film, isn't it? I can't remember all of the films
that I've done. I'm nearing 100 films somebody told me. I can't believe
that. I suppose it is fairly violent but it's very different from A
Clockwork Orange because the violence in A Clockwork Orange is much more
sort of a mental thing. There's no real gore in A Clockwork Orange, believe
it or not. People think there is, but it's much more psychological violence
in that film. The core root of that film is really the right to choose.
That's what that whole film is about, if you narrow it down to one
sentence. The right to choose whether one is evil or good. Everybody should
have that right. That's what Anthony Burgess was saying. In this film, it
has nothing to do with that. It doesn't have any political overtones or
anything. It is basically, it's very Shakespearean to me. It's not like a
genre gangster picture in that sense. It's about friendship, love, betrayal
and all that which is like a great Shakespearean tragedy. You take a
character like Lear or MacBeth that have all these gaping faults in their
character and of course. So here's a man who's a total psychopath. Let's face it.
You wouldn't want to meet this character in a dark alley or in any alley.
Having said that, it's a great part for an actor. It's so much fun to play
these nutsos. I suppose because I'm very unlike this character myself.
You'd have to ask my wife that. [laughter and giggles]

EMILY: Won't people go to the film expecting a gangster movie?

MALCOLM: Yeah. And they'll sort of see it. It is in a way. It's not Lock, Stock [&
Two Smoking Barrels]. It's not a fun caper romp. This is the real deal. It
is violent and it is profane. If those two things offend, give it a miss. I
remember saying in New York, in introducing the film, if anyone's offended
by the word 'cunt,' walk now because you're going to be offended. In
England, you can say, You silly cunt. That's actually a term of affection.
In America, it's horrendous. That's why I got it on the table right now.

EMILY: Yes, the "C" word is not exactly endearing here! Let me ask you how did you perfect that menacing gangster walk in the film?

MALCOLM: [laughter] Oh dear. Do I have one? It may be my walk. I don't work like that. I didn't
do any research into this thing. I spoke with Bruce Reynolds, he was one of the great train robbers [from a notorious British robbery]. He's a very intelligent man. I just wanted to know if my Cockney accent stood up because I'm not even from London, I'm from Liverpool. It's a whole different thing. These yarbows from London. They behave in a despicable way and they talk in a funny accent. The way I approach most of the work I do, it has to be intuitive. I'm playing a complete psychopath and I have to go into areas of my psyche, my mind, where I've never been before. It's something you tap. When I started to do the scenes with David Thewlis for
instance at the end, I'm going on a journey I've never gone on before and I
don't know how its going to go. I don't know if it's going to be explosive
or quiet. I knew the basics. I felt like the character was on a spring that
was fully wound and was ready to explode. He's always ready to pounce. Why
he's like that, God knows. You'd have get a psychiatrist to fill that out.
That doesn't interest me. I'm just there to serve the script. I have to
play a charismatic gangster. He has to be charismatic otherwise why would
all these people follow him. He has to be more than just Jack the lad.

EMILY: Your all over the place again…what's going on?

MALCOLM: I like the money [laughter] No…no… I wasn't paid anything for this. I've always
worked a lot. I'm a working actor. I've done a lot of crap. Some of the
stuff I see I think, My God, I must have been desperate. But it's not that.
The fact is this. I think it was Robert Ryan who said, I work all the time because it hones my craft. Honestly, it does. You do become a better actor. It's easy to be great in a Stanley Kubrick film or a Lindsey Anderson film but when you get Joe Bloggs it's not
quite so easy. I've always been one just to do the work and not worry about
whether I'm making a masterpiece because I know if you get one in a
lifetime, you should get down on your knees and say thank you.

EMILY: You are doing a film with the great and beautiful Sophia Loren…was it a super thrill?

MALCOLM: She was adorable. I'd do anything with her just to look in those beautiful
eyes. That was called Between Strangers, I believe. I'm supposed to go to
Toronto for the opening, then it goes to Venice. It's Eduardo Ponti, who's
Sophia's son. Who is adorable and damned talented. No nepotism. I'd do
anything with this kid. He's so talented. Then I've got I Spy with Eddie
Murphy, who's an extraordinary talent and Owen Wilson, who I thought was

EMILY: What do you play?

An industrialist. Two or three things just to scare people then I
disappear. I go, where does he go, to Betty Thomas who I loved her. She
said I don't know. That's a good question. Do I come back to be killed.
Just to work with her, that's why I did that. I must say I did try to get
out of it because it was just after 9/11 and I didn't want to fly to
Budapest. I said to my agent please get me out of this film. I'm not
getting on a plane for anything. It was just that week. They said, we want
you to do the part, we'll send you a private plane. So I got on this
private plane. I couldn't get my wife to go with me. She wouldn't even get
on a private plane. So I'm sitting there and I noticed all these boxes in
the back of Cheerios for Eddie Murphy. The plane was for me. It was
actually full of Cheerios and I just got a ride on the Cheerios plane. Yes,
I brought the Cheerios.

EMILY: [laughter] So he's a big cereal fan?

M; [laughter] I guess so.

EMILY: Did he bring anything else to the set?

MALCOLM: He brought his enormous talent. Eddie is extraordinary. I loved working
with him. My name was Gundose or something like that. He'd take the name
and pronounce it different ways. Just hysterical. Hopefully, it will be good. Who knows?

EMILY: Who would you like to work with?

MALCOLM: To work with Robert Altman again. I'd worked with him in a play. One line. I
played myself. I've been a friend of his for 30-odd years and they had a
retrospective of my work at the Lincoln Center and they played Gangster No.
1 and he came along to see it. He said, come by the office. He had a new
editing room in New York. I went down the next day and he said I have this
part. And I said, why don't you get Alan Bates? He said I don't think so.
He said don't be disappointed if it doesn't happen. Next thing I know he
calls to say, he taken a Paul Newman film but apparently that didn't work
out for various reasons. So he's back doing this. Neve Campbell's in it.
It's about a ballet company like the Joffrey and I'm the artistic director
so I've got to get in shape.

EMILY: Are gangster films big in England?

MALCOLM: We have our own gangsters and we're very proud of them. They spend most of
their time in Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight, which is a maximum security
prison. We had the Crays, the Richardsons. It's all that. They were, as you
see in this film, vicious, horrendous. They make Jimmy Cagney look like a
Disney cartoon really. Even they were probably copying Al Capone because
the world's standard in mobsters is Al Capone in Chicago in the 1930s.
Jimmy Cagney, George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, all those great (actors who
portrayed gangsters) are who I think of when I think of gangsters. In a
weird way, there's a shot (in the movie) that's an homage to Jimmy Cagney
who is my favorite actor of all time. I just threw it in but it's very
transparent, apparently. I love Jimmy Cagney. He could read the phone book
to me, and I think it would be great. I love the energy, the explosiveness,
the watchability of this actor. It's just phenomenal. Even doing
Shakespeare, he did Midsummer Night's Dream. He played Bottomweaver,
directed by Max Rheinhart in 1939.

EMILY: How much did you work with Paul Bettany on this character? Did you get
together with him beforehand and discuss how he would walk and talk?

MALCOLM: No. That wasn't up to me. That was up to him. I sort of set the standardbecause I'm the older guy. I said all of the work on this is up to you. I'moff. Bye-bye. He was force-fed a lot of my early films so that he saw a lot of my films. Then he was on the set. I did the first week up. The scene at the end with David Thewles, all of that stuff in the flat we did first. So that Paul observed it. He was on the set. I never discussed the thing. The only thing I said to him besides don't fuck it up was [laughs] and he didn't fuck it up, be very, very still. It's the kind of character where everybody has to come to him, he never puts out. Everybody comes to him. The stiller you are the better you are. That's the only note I have about the character. Other than that, I have no idea how it's going to play
because you learn the lines, then you go on a ride, then suddenly looking
at David Thewles with a lot of makeup on looking like an old guy. And
suddenly you go into the farthest recesses of the mind. Honestly, I have no
idea what comes out. Sometimes, it doesn't even look or sound like me.

EMILY: What did you know of Paul before making the movie. He was back when this film was made, practically unknown.

MALCOLM: Yeah, two or three years ago. I didn't know him from a hole in the wall to
be honest with you. I'm thrilled for him because this was his real big
thing. Everybody saw this film in the business even though it hadn't
opened. I know that Paramount had seen it. All the casting people there. I
know they liked it and liked him a lot. He's extremely good in it. Being a
first film, it's great for him. It's a really wonderful part. He only has
like six lines but it doesn't matter because that look
is so great and he does it really well. He was wonderful in A Knight's
Tale but the one I really liked him in was Ron Howard's film (A Beautiful
Mind). I thought he was really good in that. He was up with the likes of Ed
Harris and it's really Paul that you remember, for me, anyway. He was
really fabulous in that film.

EMILY: Why didn't they make him the older gangster by applying make up etc?

MALCOLM: I don't know. It wouldn't have worked. It's impossible to play younger than
you are. But to play older for any length of time and to do the voice-over,
because the voice-over is the play, there's pages of it. It's a whole
different performance. That's the soul of the film. That's the play

EMILY: How many times did you have to redo the "voice over" for your character? It was so eerie and precise.

MALCOLM: [laughter] I did so many. When I first went to London, I was there on another picture.
Paul McGuigan who we haven't talked about, he's the glue that makes this
all work, his work is absolutely great. He's a wonderful new director. He's
going to be a force to be reckoned with. When I went to London, Paul said
would you do a temp track. I said yeah. My cockney accent was all over the
place but that's what they worked with until we shot the film. I came to
London again and zipped in and did another track. But by this time, I'd
already played the part, so it was totally different. That was a given, we
knew it.

EMILY: There's a great scene, reminscant of a Cagney film (I wont spoil it) but unlike the ranting Cagney your guy takes off his clothes to go mad. Why?

MALCOLMALCOLM: I always thought of it as a cleansing thing for him. There's no real
reason. In the original ending, it was on a London bus and he's sitting on
the top of the bus and he starts talking to the other passengers. We shot
this actually. He starts mouthing off. He's gone over the edge. That's a
carryon from that scene. He was sitting there in his underwear on a bus.
They moved it up to the rooftop, which I'm glad about. It's better up
there. It's good that he's obviously snapped. He didn't find morality. It
is a morality tale. You can say it's violent and all the first of it but at
the end of the day it's actually a very conventional good guy thing. What
it's saying is that to progress as a human being you have to have a moral
core. And Freddie Mays finds that in prison. It's rather simplistic. The
Gangster is obsessed by being No. 1. It's meaningless. It's not what life
is about, is it?

EMILY: You've done tons of TV too any plans to head back to the "tube"?

MALCOL: I doubt it. I enjoyed it. I had too much to learn and too short of a time.
They were giving me huge speeches to do every week then changing them every
two minutes. I couldn't learn it. I'd spend six hours a night learning this
stuff then suddenly hear the fax machine and go, those bastards. They'd
change the whole thing. I'm from the stage, I don't like that kind of
stuff. I know some actors who won't take line changes without 24 hours
notice in writing. I'm not like that but that was oh? They would change my
speech as I'd be doing it. It ages you.

EMILY: This Gangster is really a bad ass. You know America's current "it" bad guy is Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). So lemme ask you who's tougher your guy or Tony?

MALCOLM: [laughing] I think I could eat old Tony for breakfast. He's seeing a psychiatrist. For Gangster No. 1, I'd love to be a fly on the wall in their first session
with a psychiatrist. Are you calling me a cunt? Fuck you. [jokes] That
would be a lot of fun. I think the Sopranos is fantastic. I'm looking
forward to a new one. Six Feet Under too, I love that.

With that we chatted a bit about the cold tea served in the suite until he was scurried off to an event. Malcom's a nice guy. Full of witty bits and sparkling retorts. I am looking forward to his next film I Spy with Eddie Murphy - loooks like a hoot.

Blunt Aside: If you noticed the height difference between Paul Bettany and Malcolm as older and younger versions of the same man, fear not, I think I can explained it. I think this ego maniac Gangster thought he looked like that as a yung man. You know guy's who think they're swell and they're grotesque. But what ever the reason the two actors work in the film. Gangster #1 is fantastic!


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