Thu, Nov 08, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Malcolm McDowell:gorgeousity made flesh

The British actor talks about pitting directors Stanley Kubrick and Lindsay.Anderson against each other, and how he moved to Hollywood by accident

By John Patterson  /  THE GUARDIAN , LOS ANGELES

Malcolm McDowell has starred in films as diverse as Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange. His newest is a film of a one-man stage show called Never Apologize.


Malcolm McDowell, formerly of Leeds, Liverpool and London, England, now lives in Shangri-La. Almost literally. We meet on the terraced restaurant of a country club near his house in Ojai, up the freeway from Los Angeles and then inland to a spectacular valley overlooked by bluffs and crags that seem vaguely reminiscent of the mountains in Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus. But I'm one Himalayan movie off, it turns out.

"This is where I've lived since 1982," he says, with some pride. "We live over there, on Meditation Mountain. It's where they put the camera for the shot of Shangri-La that they matte-painted into the 1937 version of Lost Horizon. The blue screen of its day, that view is!"

McDowell's face, at 64, has lost the rounded, meat-and-milk contours of his beautiful youth, but has gained sharper, more chiseled planes that echo his still lean and athletic physique. The enormous blue eyes that Stanley Kubrick had wired open for A Clockwork Orange don't shine quite so brightly these days, but only because his splendid shock of white hair provides less contrast than it did when it was brown. It's still a great punk-rock face: tough and seemingly born for villainy and swaggering mayhem (or so an unimaginative casting director might think), but always bisected by that famous sideways grin, the smile that made Caligula, Harry Flashman, even his psychopathic Nazi in the long-forgotten The Passage, seem possessed of infinite charisma.

He moved here with his second wife, the actor Mary Steenburgen. "I came to make a movie in 1979 [the time-travel thriller Time After Time], fell in love, stayed, then we had children. But when we split up in 1990, the die had been cast. Obviously, I wasn't going to move away from our children. I had never thought about moving here, it just sort of happened that way." He admits that he misses England on occasion - or rather the people.

The second act of McDowell's career has been a busy and remunerative life as a Hollywood character actor - there may be more people in the US who remember him as the murderer of Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations than as insurgent schoolboy Mick Travis in If ... .

But we're here to talk about the earlier, British half of his career, and of his association with the director of If ... , O Lucky Man and Britannia Hospital, who discovered McDowell 40 years ago and remained a close friend until his death in 1994: Lindsay Anderson.

A year or two ago, McDowell conceived a one-man stage show as a tribute to Anderson and performed it in a nearby schoolhouse. His lifelong friend Mike Kaplan, who has worked as a publicist for Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman and others, and as a producer for director Mike Hodges, had the show filmed, resulting in Never Apologize, which opened on Friday.

It's an intimate piece of work, with a loose, handmade feel and the sense of an obligation fulfilled, a debt repaid with honor and gratitude. McDowell shares his memories of working with Anderson, and of the tight little community the director built around him, in which moneyed superstars of stage and screen existed on an enforced equal footing with whatever misfits, unemployed actors, mad writers and other broken-winged birds were nesting in Anderson's spare room. He recalls Anderson's (and his own) friendships with Rachel Roberts, Jill Bennett, Alan Price and Ralph Richardson and reads from Anderson's monograph about John Ford, his cinematic idol, and, most memorably, from a lyrically aggressive letter to Alan Bates from Anderson, in which the director sort of apologizes for some ancient drunken insult, even as he dismisses the entire notion of apologizing.

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