DISCourse: Exclusive Interview with A Clockwork Orange Mad Man Malcolm McDowell

DISCourse: Exclusive Interview with A Clockwork Orange Mad Man Malcolm McDowell

May 18, 2011

English actor Malcolm McDowell has turned in unforgettable performances in controversial films—Caligula, If…, O Lucky Man! and Rob Zombie's Halloween and Halloween II—over the past four decades, but his role as Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange is the most iconic. Stanley Kubrick's 1971 satirical sci-fi masterpiece based on Anthony Burgess's novel of the same name depicts a dystopian society in which street gangs terrorize the populace. Alex is a charismatic delinquent whose principal interests are "rape, ultra-violence and Beethoven" and who dresses in all white with a codpiece worn outside his pants, a black derby on his head and one eye done up with fake eyelashes.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of A Clockwork Orange, Warner Bros. is releasing a new edition of the film on Blu-ray packaged in a 40-page book filled with rare photos and production notes. In addition to two feature-length documentaries—Stanley Kubrick: Life in Pictures and O Lucky Malcolm!—the two-disc release includes two newly produced features: "Turning Like Clockwork," a 25-minute documentary about the film's cultural impact, and a short documentary in which McDowell reminisces about working closely with Kubrick.

We sat down for a short chat with McDowell and had a bloody good time as he waxed philosophical about green pubic hair, Alex's iconic look, Kubrick's unique directorial style and the movie's chilling prescience about today's society.

Movies.com: When A Clockwork Orange ends, Alex is laid up in the hospital and shows signs of reverting to his old ways. What do you think happens to Alex after the end credits?
McDowell: He goes home and cashes the check. I really don't know or care, to be honest with you. He just says, "I was cured, alright," and then you cut to this sequence with this girl that he is imagining. There is a funny story attached to that because, when we came to shoot this fantasy bit with the girl, we had a crowd in the room dressed in ascots, top hats and gloves. They were lined up and I had to run down after this beautiful woman who I knew—she was a friend of mine's wife—so it was like, Ooh, hello. I'm going to be naked; she's going to be naked. It was kind of a strange thing. Stanley said to me, "Would you like to come see her?" We went to the makeup trailer and she's there in a robe, and Stanley said, "Would you mind…can we…?" She said, "Oh yeah!" She stood up and, boom, the robe came off and Stanley said, "Oh gee, I thought you were a real blonde." So they had to get this makeup lady with these concoctions and she was spraying the pubic area and the hair turned green. You won't see it on Blu-ray because it cuts to when we're both down on the ground. I'm giving you the dirt!

Movies.com: Alex has a look that has become iconic. How much did you contribute to his appearance?
McDowell: I had the cricket gear in the back of my car. Stanley said, "Well, what's this?" And I said, "That's the protector." And he said, "Why don't you wear that on the outside of your pants? The codpiece has got a medieval look." Then I found an eyelash and I put it on and he took stills. He called me the next day and said, "One eyelash is great. It's sinister and there is something weird when you don't quite know what it is." Everything was kind of accidental on purpose.

Movies.com: Which do you think is scarier—the dystopian, ultra-violent future depicted in the movie or the world as it is today?
McDowell: Wow, that's a good one. I'm sure there's nothing scarier than the world today, is there? I mean, look what's happening. It's so shocking. I've got young children that I'm bringing into the world right now, and when you see this domino effect in the Middle East—it's just extraordinary. That's worse than anything in the movie, but things in the movie were very prophetic and Burgess got it right: There is tremendous violence, gangs, drugs and all that. Also, there is the sort of heavy-handed Big Brother government that is doing things for "our own good"—it's a good warning.

Movies.com: Is there anything specific that Stanley Kubrick said or did during filming that resonates with you today?
McDowell: You know, he didn't really say much. That is the beauty about the man, actually. It was mostly, "Do it. You show me." He just expected it. I'd sit in the back of the car on the way to work, I'd read the scene or the piece in the book that we were doing that day, and I'd just close my eyes and try to figure out stuff that I could bring to it for him. One thing that does resonate is when I asked him how he directed. He said, "Look, Malcolm, I never know what I want, but I do know what I don't want."

Movies.com: When you were filming this movie, did you know Alex would be a character that you would be talking about 40 years later?
McDowell: Yes, I knew exactly. In fact, I'm surprised there aren't more things about it. I'm teasing! How could I know that something would live for 40 years? Most movies are forgotten in 10 minutes, and we're still talking about this old film. It's incredible. I must say they do keep reinventing it. This Blu-ray is crisp and amazing.

Movies.com: When you saw A Clockwork Orange in high definition for the first time, did you notice anything that you hadn't seen before or perhaps had forgotten for a long time?
McDowell: Absolutely! I didn't believe that you could see the pimples I had in certain scenes, which really pissed me off. I mean, look, it's just amazing how the technology is so extraordinary. Kubrick would be very pleased I think because, let's face it, it's his look. He did most of the lighting in the movie and a lot of the operating, so he was like a one-man band. The only sad thing, as far as he was concerned, is that he had to work with bloody actors who could screw it all up because they sometimes forgot their lines and it drove him nuts!

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