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Of his four decades on screen, Malcolm McDowell's most notorious performance was inarguably that of the twisted, disturbingly jubilant sociopath at the center of Stanley Kubrick's surreal satire, "A Clockwork Orange" (1971). When the popularity of pointed, edgy British filmmaking faded, the young spokesman of a generation was unconcerned with parlaying his acclaim into mainstream movie stardom. McDowell's habit of fielding offers both good and bad led him to rival only countryman Michael Caine in sheer amount of screen time. His "Clockwork" breakout led to career-long castings as bad guys in many lesser artistic achievements, ranging from John Badham's actioner "Blue Thunder" (1983) to a high profile role as "the man who killed Captain Kirk" in "Star Trek: Generations" (1994). With his low voice and early head of snow white hair, McDowell was cast as professors, military men, doctors, and megalomaniacs, generally favoring offbeat projects like Paul Schrader's unsettling "Cat People" (1982) and the post-apocalyptic "Tank Girl" (1995). With the exception of his leading role in the rock-n-roll comedy "Get Crazy" (1983) and a hilarious run on the short-lived CBS sitcom "Pearl" (1996-97), McDowell was...
Of his four decades on screen, Malcolm McDowell's most notorious performance was inarguably that of the twisted, disturbingly jubilant sociopath at the center of Stanley Kubrick's surreal satire, "A Clockwork Orange" (1971). When the popularity of pointed, edgy British filmmaking faded, the young spokesman of a generation was unconcerned with parlaying his acclaim into mainstream movie stardom. McDowell's habit of fielding offers both good and bad led him to rival only countryman Michael Caine in sheer amount of screen time. His "Clockwork" breakout led to career-long castings as bad guys in many lesser artistic achievements, ranging from John Badham's actioner "Blue Thunder" (1983) to a high profile role as "the man who killed Captain Kirk" in "Star Trek: Generations" (1994). With his low voice and early head of snow white hair, McDowell was cast as professors, military men, doctors, and megalomaniacs, generally favoring offbeat projects like Paul Schrader's unsettling "Cat People" (1982) and the post-apocalyptic "Tank Girl" (1995). With the exception of his leading role in the rock-n-roll comedy "Get Crazy" (1983) and a hilarious run on the short-lived CBS sitcom "Pearl" (1996-97), McDowell was underappreciated for his sharp comic skills, and into his senior years the actor's high profile roles in Rob Zombie's "Halloween" films (2007, 2009) and a stint as a manipulative Hollywood player on the HBO drama "Entourage" (HBO, 2004- ) ensured that a new generation of audiences also came also to associate him with the villainous and sinister.
Born Malcolm Taylor on June 13, 1943, in the Northern England industrial city of Leeds, McDowell was raised in Yorkshire where his family owned a pub. By age 11, he was living in a London boarding school where he appeared in productions of comedies and Shakespearean tragedies alike. Following school, however, he secured a job as a traveling coffee salesman and never gave acting any serious thought until a girlfriend invited him to come to a weekly acting class with her. McDowell was transfixed and promptly found his own acting coach, joining a regional theater on the Isle of Wight a year later. From 1965 to 1966, McDowell was a supporting cast member with the Royal Shakespeare Company, an experience he loathed and left after 18 months. McDowell began to go on screen auditions and eventually landed the role of Mick Travis in Lindsay Anderson's fantasy-tinged satire "If..." (1968). The film, about a youthful rebellion in a rigid British private boarding school, introduced McDowell to audiences as blithely amoral and anti-authoritarian; it also showcased Anderson as one of the more dynamic filmmakers on the burgeoning British film scene. Boyish and charismatic, McDowell delivered an electrifying performance as an anarchistic upperclassman who foments armed revolt after being beaten for an indiscretion.
The newcomer went on to headline a few minor films in quick succession but it was his performance as Travis that caught the eye of up-and-coming filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who deemed McDowell the only man who could possibly star in his upcoming film adaptation of the novel "A Clockwork Orange" (1971) by Anthony Burgess. Kubrick likened coolly brutal gang leader Alex to the role of Richard III, with his ability to win people over "despite his wickedness, because of his intelligence and wit and total honesty." McDowell's charismatic cruelty, balletic grace and general exuberance suggested a young James Cagney, and his charming, despicable and deliciously over-the-top characterization traveled the twisted arc from hedonist to beaten zombie, following an experimental form of aversion therapy. McDowell earned a Golden Globe nomination for his ability to elicit audience empathy and sympathy, helping make the director's argument for respecting man's free will, even to do wrong, in a timeless film which stayed potent through the decades.
He reprised Mick Travis and co-wrote the sequel to Anderson's film series attacking corrupt British institutions, "O Lucky Man!" (1973), then tried his best to temper his villainous image, impersonating a Prussian nobleman in Richard Lester's comic swashbuckler, "Royal Flash" (1975), and essaying a World War I pilot in the drama "Aces High" (1975). McDowell gave an excellent performance opposite Laurence Olivier in a television production of Harold Pinter's "The Collection" (1976) and joined an impressive ensemble cast including Faye Dunaway and Max von Sydow in "Voyage of the Damned" (1976), a Golden Globe nominee for Best Picture that was based on the true story of European Jews seeking asylum in Cuba in the late 1930s. In one of his most engaging good-guy roles, McDowell portrayed a time-traveling H. G. Wells hot on the trail of Jack the Ripper (David Warner) in modern-day San Francisco in "Time After Time" (1979), a film which also cast him as a rare romantic lead opposite future wife Mary Steenburgen. While McDowell was nominated for a Saturn Award for that film, the baddies proliferated. He did his best to humanize the title character in the regrettable "Caligula" (1980), a lavish porn film masquerading as historical epic, noting "I loved [that film] and I had a good time. I don't think it did my career any good, but that's another story."
McDowell reteamed with director Anderson in a highly acclaimed 1980 Off-Broadway revival of John Osborne's "Look Back in Anger," and again portrayed his calling card revolutionary Travis in the third of Anderson's film trilogy, "Britannia Hospital" (1982). He went on to give a simply demented (and effective) performance in Paul Schrader's gory remake of "Cat People" (1982), essaying a sinister cat man who spends the entire movie putting the make on his sister (Nastassja Kinski). After a rare lead comic performance as an aging rock star (based on Mick Jagger) in the charming rock-n-roll send-up "Get Crazy" (1983), McDowell's sharpened features lent a palpable cruelty to his sadistic Colonel Cochrane in John Badham's "Blue Thunder" (1983). He also re-teamed with wife Steenburgen in both Martin Ritt's "Cross Creek" (1983) and in Showtime's "Faerie Tale Theatre" presentation of "Little Red Riding Hood" (1983). Throughout the decade McDowell worked steadily, if unspectacularly, including a titular turn as "Arthur the King" (CBS, 1985); perhaps the worst adaptation of the "Camelot" story and an embarrassment to all involved. The Blake Edwards' misfire "Sunset" (1988) followed, which cast McDowell as a Charlie Chaplin-like studio head, showcasing his superb acrobatic skill as a mime. When McDowell's career hit a lull, he did four straight-to-video pics in 1990 but always he worked, whether contributing a cameo as himself to Robert Altman's 1992 Hollywood satire "The Player" or starring in that year's often unbearably bad, low-budget American indie, "Chain of Desire."
In France, McDowell starred in "Vent d'est" (1993), and from there he traveled to Africa to play a supporting role as a ruthless captain of the South African government's Special Branch in Morgan Freeman's little-seen "Bopha" (1993). After an Off-Broadway stint in the contemporary drama, "Another Time," McDowell gained his widest exposure in years when he was cast as the nemesis of two Enterprise captains in "Star Trek: Generations" (1994). For knocking off Captain Kirk, he received actual real-life death threats from angered Trekkies, but his wicked portrayal of Dr. Soran also revitalized his career, leading to a role as a post-apocalyptic mad doctor seeking control of the earth's water supply in "Tank Girl" (1995). The white-haired thespian portrayed Admiral Sir Geoffrey Tolwyn in several "Wing Commander" video games, as well as voicing the character for the USA Network's animated series, "Wing Commander Academy" (1996-97). He also reprised Dr. Soran for the "Star Trek: Generations" video game in 1997. McDowell made his American TV series debut as a regular on the CBS sitcom, "Pearl" (1996-97), where his demanding and demeaning college professor (modeled after friend and mentor Lindsay Anderson) to a recently returned to college widow (Rhea Perlman) gave the actor a chance to overtly display his comic chops for those who considered him merely a villain. He then returned to series work as the new Roarke in ABC's remake of "Fantasy Island" (1998-99), bringing a delicious darkness to the role once inhabited by the campy Ricardo Montalban.
When that series was unceremoniously cancelled within its first season the actor soldiered on, with a supporting role in the surprisingly sweet period drama, "My Life So Far" (1999) from British director Hugh Hudson. More typically, however, McDowell returned to villains in films of varying quality, notably "Gangster No. 1" (2000) and "Hidalgo" (2004). He had an especially effective turn in director Robert Altman's "The Company" (2003), as the demanding, brilliant and autocratic artistic director of a ballet company (said to be based not just on Gerald Arpino, the Joffrey Ballet's legendary director and choreographer, but also on Altman himself). The incredibly prolific period also included a rather chilling supporting role in "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" (2004), a crime drama from British director Mike Hodges; half a dozen voice roles in animated children's series and video games; and an appearance in the golf biopic "Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius" (2004). In 2005, McDowell was well cast in a gleefully malicious role as Terrence, the powerful and ruthless boss of Hollywood agent Ari Gross (Jeremy Piven) on the hit HBO series "Entourage" (2004- ). McDowell lent his recognizable baritone to the animated landmark "Star Wars" episode of "Robot Chicken" (Cartoon Network, 2005- ), and maintained a high profile as a child psychologist treating young psychopath Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) in "Halloween" (2007), a successful remake helmed by rocker-turned-director Rob Zombie. McDowell was first-billed in the 2008 British family drama "Red Roses and Petrol," a favorite on the film festival circuit, finding further success overseas in the dark sci-fi film "Doomsday" (2008). Over 65 and still working tirelessly, McDowell was continuously courted to voice video games and animated projects, including the Walt Disney family hit "Bolt" (2008), as well as to return in front of the camera with his reprised role in "Halloween II" (2009).
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CAST: (feature film)
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Most sources designate Ken Loach's "Poor Cow" (1967) as McDowell's film debut. These include Quigley's 1993 edition of the "Motion Picture Almanac", "The International Directory of Films and Filmmakers: Volume III--Actors and Actresses", Leonard Maltin's 1993 "Movie and Video Guide" and Ephraim Katz's "Film Encyclopedia". However, the usually reliable "Film Dope" (No. 37) claims that McDowell's supporting role as Billy was cut before release.
"'If...' is probably the best film I made and after it Lindsay [Anderson] said, 'Well, Malcolm, it's downhill from here.' I told him I was young and would do much better work. 'I doubt it,' he said. Maybe he was right. Who knows? I didn't have time to be disappointed. When you're living through those things you think it's all going to continue, but very soon afterwards the British film industry collpased. Lindsay Anderson was too good.
"Perhaps 'A Clockwork Orange' was too good, too. For years I resented the impact it had on my life, but I don't anymore. Baddies are usually interesting. Who wants those boring parts that Kevin Costner does? He's brilliant at them, but I'd be bored stiff playing upright, walking cliches. I don't think I've ever done anything where I tried to be liked by the audience. You've got to have the courage to be hated. I'm just a working actor and if I want to do something interesting and litereate I return to the stage. I'm not disillusioned. How many great films can you do in a lifetime? Even Paul Newman hasn't done that many. I had three great ones that will live forever. I'd have preferred them to be made every 15 years, rather than one after the other, but I went off and did other stuff. Loads of it is crap, but some is nearly great, like 'Assassin of the Tsar', a Russian film I made two years ago that hasn't even been seen." --Malcolm McDowell, quoted in RADIO TIMES in a 1996 interview
About "A Clockwork Orange": "Stanley Kubrick gave me a copy of the book. I called him and said, and I must have been absolutely nuts, but I said, 'Are you offering me this?' And there was a long pause and he said, 'Yes.' Having got that out of the way, I said, 'Well, look, I'd like to meet with you further and talk about it. Would you like to come to my house?' Another long pause: 'Where is it?' And he came in a sort of a convoy . . . I didn't realize that it was such a big deal for Stanley Kubrick to leave his home. He 'doesn't travel well,' as they say . . .
"Well, I was totally seduced by him [his character Alex). I thought he was a hoot. I honestly thought I was making a black comedy and played it for humor. I learned early on in life that you must not worry about being disliked. It's great fun--suicidal parts . . ." --McDowell, quoted in PREMIERE, April 1995
"Monty Python influences everything I do. I'm much more influenced by comedians than by other actors. There was an English comic, Eric Morecambe. In my own way, I was inspired by him to be physical in a way that I had seen him do. Or Benny Hill or John Cleese." --McDowell, to Ilene Rosensweig in THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 9, 1996
"At bottom, he's a kid from Liverpool, with the same humor you saw in the Beatles--that sardonic northern humor, very quick." --ex-wife Mary Steenburgen, quoted in THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 9, 1996
On Stanley Kubrick: "Making 'A Clockwork Orange' was the most intense learning experience of my life, though his way of working threw me at first. I'd be waiting for suggestions, and he'd say, 'Gee, Malcolm, I'm not RADA--I hired you to do the acting.' I was a young man  and said nothing at first. Later, I'd say, 'Look at that chair. What does it say on the back. Director, no?' But it was such a pleasure when you did something he liked: he would stuff his handkerchief into his mouth to try to stop himself laughing. . . .
"I was shocked when I first heard about his death. He was only 70, and still seemed so plugged in. I've felt lots of disgust since his death. People talking about Stanley Kubrick who are not even qualified to talk about a black pudding. I heard Michael Winner analysing Kubrick. Please!" --McDowell to THE OBSERVER, March 14, 1999
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