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You were here in 2006 when Morgan Freeman received the King Vidor Career Achievement Award.
Malcolm McDowell: I was the one who presented it to him, which I was thrilled to do because I love him and admire him so much. He’s just a wonderful example to any young actor and he’s a very wonderful man. So that was a no-brainer for me to come up to do that. And also, I love San Luis Obispo. It’s a beautiful town. I’m thrilled to be coming back.
What’s it like to be receiving the award yourself?
I think the older you get, you tend to forget how much work you’ve actually done over the years. Because I’m focused only on the next thing, never looking back. This is a time when one can look back and not worry about it too much, and ponder it and say, “Well, it’s been a long and wonderful career, really, and I’ve been very, very lucky and fortunate.” There are many talented people around, and a lot of them haven’t had the career I’ve had. Also, I’ll get a chance to show my movie “Never Apologize,” which is a one-man show about my relationship with a brilliant director who started me off in the film business. It is my tribute to him.
You’re speaking of Lindsay Anderson.
I loved him. He was as near I’ve ever met to a genius, an extraordinary person for me to have met so early in my career, and such an incredible influence. A difficult man, some may say, but not with me. I absolutely was a very great friend of his until the day he died. Thank God I was around him in that period and was able to work with him on these great projects. I’ve never forgotten it, of course. The die was cast for the rest of my life and my career.
When did you first realize your love of acting?
The first play that I did was actually a musical that I did when I was 11 years old. I was very nervous before I went on. As soon as I got on (stage), I felt like I’d come home. I knew that I could be an actor. I just knew it. And in fact I had all the arrogance to think, “If all else fails, I can become an actor.”
Did you dream of being on the screen?
I was hoping that I would get a chance to do a movie - even a small part, anything. And the one that I managed to get was in fact one of the greatest films made in England ever. So, how lucky was I?
Here in America, you’re best known as Alex from “A Clockwork Orange.” Do you ever wonder what your career would have been like if you hadn’t done that film?
Listen, you never regret making a masterpiece. Believe me, you may get a little irritated that people only talk about that. But let me tell you, honestly, to make a film that has gone into the pantheon of films. The only way that you can really tell that it’s a classic or not is whether people still watch it, and they do. It’s an amazing film, and I don’t regret it. Of course not. I embrace it. I love it. Kubrick was an extraordinary man, one of the greatest directors who were working (at that time). I think with “Clockwork Orange” he was absolutely at the top of his game.
How did you get involved with that project?
Kubrick saw if.... and cast me. Kubrick used to watch films every night on a projector. He had a projectionist on call 24-7. He’d heard about it. It was an incredibly big hit in London. It was a big cause célèbre because it attacks the British establishment right at the heart of its educational system.… My entrance into the film is a wonderful entrance. He was watching and he pushed the intercom and said, “Can you relace that? I want to start again.” And he did that five times. After the fifth time, he looked at (his wife) Christiane and said, “We’ve found our Alex.” That was it.
You talk about playing characters with questionable morals. Alex is extremely twisted.
Yes, but he’s a great character. He’s everything that’s reprehensible, of course. He’s immoral. He’s a drug user, a rapist, and he’s a murderer. So how do you make that an interesting character and the lead in every frame of the film? That was my dilemma. And I guess that I decided to play him as a person who loves life. And that’s infectious. It's also funny. It’s a black comedy but comedy nonetheless. I think people when it first opened were so shocked by the look of it. They had never seen anything like it. Of course, the liberal element in the audience felt that they’d been duped a bit, I think, because they were manipulated to like a character who was an immoral man.
A great example is the “Singin’ in the Rain” scene.
It wasn’t meant to be realistic. You don’t commit a rape (while singing) “Singin’ in the Rain.” That was a great device, actually. It showed this wonderful love of life and this euphoria from this character. It was very stylized and done beautifully because you didn’t have to see anything. Your imagination was far worse.
You’ve played a lot of villains throughout your career.
The villain’s usually the best part in the piece. Somebody said that a film is only as good as its villain. I tend to believe that, actually. I mean look at “Jaws.” The villain in “Jaws” is so amazing — that wonderful shark. I know it’s only a dummy but, boy, (they) shocked everyone with that. Without that, there wouldn’t be a movie at all! In “2001,” HAL is this incredible character. Of course, it’s the only ‘human’ character in the whole piece.
Do you ever wish you could have played heroes? Leading men?
No, because if I had, you wouldn’t be talking to me now. The career is much shorter. I’m very happy being a character actor … I was never sort of a traditional leading man. I have a weird-looking face and a big nose and the whole deal. I look like a punk. I’m happy for that, because I love my career, and it means I can go on until the day I just drop.
Malcolm was chosen as King Vidor recipient for 2009 San Luis International Film Festival. This spring, the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival will honor of one of cinema’s most sinister villains. Golden Globe nominee Malcolm McDowell will receive the festival’s King Vidor Career Achievement Award, which honors excellence in filmmaking, executive director Wendy Eidson announced today. Festival organizers plan to honor McDowell, best known for his role in “A Clockwork Orange,” on March 6, the opening night of the San Luis Obispo film festival. The San Luis Obispo International Film Festival runs March 6 through 15. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 546-3456 (546-FILM) or visit www.slofilmfest.org
An Intimate Evening with Malcolm McDowell
6 pm Friday; SLO International Film Festival runs through March 15
Corbett Vineyards, 2195 Corbett Canyon Road, Arroyo Grande
$40 to $45, includes food and wine
Malcolm talking on stage
Named after the prolific director of “War and Peace,” the award - presented Friday by actor Robert Carradine - honors excellence in filmmaking. Past recipients include Morgan Freeman and Peter Fonda. Malcolm McDowell, talked on stage with Bob Whiteford, and Jim Dee at Corbett Vineyards on Friday. McDowell said: “I’m not an artist. I’m an actor. At the very best, I’m just a craftsman, and way overpaid.”
Archived 2009 Alex D. Thrawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net