The film “O Lucky Man”, made in 1972, was based on your own original story about “the adventures of a young coffee salesman striving for success…or what he thought was success.” What does ‘success’ mean to you now? ^ Well, of course success, you know, has changed completely for me. When you’re young you are all into your career. Now, of course, I’m much more into my family, and really, the career is very much secondary. My wife (Kelly Kuhr) and I…she just gave birth to a new baby a year ago, so I’m sort of going through that stage again … which is great fun and I’m loving it! But I think, much more now, success for me is just being happy with what you’ve got. We’re very privileged, those of us that work in this business. We’re sort of overpaid, and I’ve been very lucky that I’m still around after forty years. It’s amazing really. Although, honestly, it doesn’t seem like forty years, it just seems like yesterday that I went for my first audition, and met a man who changed my life.
One of the highlights of the Edinburgh Film Festival in Scotland this past year has been your own highly acclaimed One Man Show, a Tribute to Director Lyndsay Anderson, based on your own fond memories of Lindsay, and readings from his diaries and letters. This show … was it moving for you to do this? ^ It was extremely, you know. I sort of glibly, a year or two ago, said “oh yes, well all right. I’ll do an evening … of Lyndsay Anderson.” Six months went by, and I hadn’t really even thought about it. And then I thought, well I better start getting all the letters, and I started to go through all the material. And really, honestly, I couldn’t read a lot of it. I just burst into tears many times, and I could barely finish the stuff, it was, to me, so very moving and very personal. And so I thought: “My God! I better get rid of all this emotion now, because I cannot do that on stage!” Let the audience feel it, but never go ‘that far’ with it, you know … always be in control, in other words. And reading some of the stuff that he wrote … was so extraordinary. He (Lyndsay Anderson) was such a gifted, extraordinary man, of contrast. He was very much a curmudgeon on the one hand, and he really couldn’t bare fools. He had made a lot of enemies, on attack. I think it was David Storey who said that: “He was a genius at making enemies.” But he was also a Genius at making friends. And that was of course his saving grace. I found him one of the most stimulating, extraordinary men I ever met in my life. And talking to Richard Harris about Lyndsay, as he said: “You know Malcolm, we are in a very exclusive club … we ‘starred’ in a Lyndsay Anderson film!.” And that was absolutely true, you know. I think Richard gave one of his great performances in Lyndsay’s “The Sporting Life”, extraordinary performance. I suppose, when I was working with him (Lyndsay Anderson), I took it for granted. I was just sort of growing up in London, working on projects. It was very stimulating, very exciting, looking back on it. Of course, at the time, one took it for granted I suppose. You didn’t really, and you couldn’t quite rightly go : “Oh my God. I’m here … with this Great Man!” It was just: “Oh that’s Lynds, you know! Just my friend.”
Your one man show has also appeared in London. Are there plans afoot to stage this, your personal tribute to Lyndsay Anderson, in other cities globally? ^ I think they’ve asked me to do it in L.A. There’s a lot of people here … but you know, you don’t have to know Lyndsay Anderson really, to sort of get it. Because some of his writings are quite extraordinary, from letters to diary entries. I don’t do much of the diary stuff. What I ‘do’ do is … I read some of the stuff he (Lyndsay) wrote for “Sight and Sound” and “Sequence”, which were the great film magazines of their period. “Sight and Sound” is still going, of course. He started “Sequence” when he was an undergraduate at Oxford. There were three of them that started it. Gavin Lambert, who lives in Hollywood, who’s a great writer, was a great friend of Lyndsay’s. They were at Cheltenham College together. And that was the college where we shot a lot of “IF”. In fact, of course they gave the Head Master a dummy script. There were no shootings at the end of the script that they gave the Head Master. Of course, nothing, nothing risqué at all. And when the Head Master was shown the film before it was released, Lyndsay of course chickened out and wouldn’t go to the screening, and sent the producer Michael Medwin to sort of look after him. And of course when he came out, he was rather red faced. And he wrote Lyndsay a letter. And it was on his mantelpiece … for years, afterwards, unopened! He never opened it! I think he was too scared!
…to find it’s contents? ^ I suppose! He would have thought, quite rightly, it was such a betrayal. But you know, when you’re making a film like that, you do anything to get what you need. And that’s what he needed. He needed that Cheltenham College and all the boys that were free. I think they gave ‘em ten bob or something to appear in the film.
What sort of music do you listen to these days? ^ Van Morrisson. I’ve always listened to Van The Man! He’s got the greatest pipes in the business! I love him, I love him. And I love Mark Knopfler, and I love his album ‘Shangri La’, it’s a great album. You know, I love Eric Clapton. But I tend to listen to really obscure music. My wife found these amazing albums, blues albums, really from the cotton fields. They were in the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and they put out an album and it’s quite an obscure one. And it’s absolutely fantastic! So blues, rhythm and blues, that kind of stuff.
Gore Vidal’s “Caligula”, still considered one of the most controversial films ever made, and in which you played Gaius Caligula Caesar, saw you team up with the late Sir John Guilgud, Peter O’Toole, and Helen Mirren, under the Direction of Tinto Brass. Reflecting on “Caligula” … was it apparent to yourself or any of the cast that you were all involved in the making of such a monumental film? ^ Well unfortunately it was monumental for the wrong reasons, because it should have been a wonderful film really. It is there somewhere … it has just not come out. Bob Guccione, who owned Penthouse Magazine, was in control of it. And as Gore Vidal, who wrote the original script and who cast me, said: “Oh Malcolm, just think of Bob Guccione as one of the Warner Brothers. He just writes the checks.” Well of course, the Warner Brothers weren’t pornographers, you know, and the problem is there’s just too much emphasis on the sort of sex thing. Whereas, honestly, it’s very close to what Rome was like during that period. Gore Vidal got all this information from Suetonius, who’s one of the historians of that period. But I suppose it’s like Shakespeare writing about Richard III, it has a definite slant to it. Shakespeare wrote that so that it would please Elizabeth, you know, the Elizabethans. And I think Suetonius wrote about Caligula to please his new bosses, so they made him out to be an absolute, complete raving nutter! Which he probably was. I mean, he went through the whole exchequer that they had, that they had built up through Tiberius in fourteen years! He went through it in eighteen months, because he loved to give ten gold pieces to all the Roman citizens! They loved him, of course! I suppose it’s just like the exchequer giving you back a little tax break or something. I don’t know how you’d put it today! But there’s a lot of great things in that film, actually. I’m happy with my performance, I couldn’t have done anymore, you know…
Was Caligula an easy film to make? ^ No, it was extremely difficult to make, for many many reasons. They kept running out of money, or … not running out, but … you know money was always in some accounts and nobody could get to it or something, I don’t know. There was always some kind of problem going on. We had to stop because of script, and then re-casting the parts. This actress, who’d been with Brando in “Last Tango In Paris”, Maria Schneider, she was cast as my sister Drusilla and there was a big row about that. She came in and then did one rehearsal, and left! Now, whether she was pushed or whether she went, I have really no idea, it’s difficult to pinpoint. So we had to shut down while they re-cast it.
You were in Rome… ^ We were in Rome. I remember getting a call from Katharine Ross who has been in “The Graduate” and all that, and was an absolutely beautiful wholesome American girl. She called me to say they had offered her the part, what did I think? And I said: “Well, Catherine, to be honest with you, I don’t know whether you’d really want to do it. I mean, it ‘is’ risqué and it’s very physically, sexually graphic!” She said: “Oh, I’m so glad I talked to you.” And of course, promptly turned it down. But she would have hated it, you know. Anyway, they got this girl, who was very sweet, Terese Anne Savoy.
And the late Sir John Guilgud … ^ Ah Bless Him! He was quite adorable. He came over to me in the first few days and said (McDowell, breaking into an uncanny and lifelike impression of Guilgud himself): “I hear you’re staying in a wonderful Villa! Eh, they’re not ‘paying’ me very much, per diem, so, em… perhaps I could stay with you?” I said: “John! My God, I’d be so honored! Please! I’ve got a huge place … I’ve got a whole wing of it! I haven’t even been! It’s yours!” He came for two weeks, stayed with me playing wonderful Noel Coward songs at night. Just seeing him, watching him. I remember coming onto my terrace. I had by bedroom upstairs with a terrace and I looked down, and there was John Guilgud in the garden, with a Fedora hat, doing “The Times” crossword puzzle, and moving around in his deckchair with the sun. So sweet, so amazing. I loved him. Other than Jimmy Cagney who I worshipped, John Guilgud was my favorite actor, I just loved watching him.
John Guilgud wasn’t terribly interested in taking up his role in “Caligula”, at the start … is that true? ^ No. I think he was thrilled, because this was before his film career really took off. He had done “Charge Of The Light Brigade” where he was absolutely brilliant, and I love that Tony Richardson film, it’s fantastic. I think John was very happy to do it. He was thrilled actually, he was quite thrilled. His part in it, of course, he just had to sit in a bath and commit suicide, for those three days. He was quite extraordinary, doing it. It was wonderful working with him, and he was thrilled. I saw John in New York by chance. I was walking down Third Avenue, and he (Guilgud) was there doing “Arthur” with Dudley Moore. And I’m talking to him and he said: “Ooh Malcolm! I’ve seen the film three times. Frightfully good!” And I said “Really?” And he said “Yes, and I paid … twice!” Must have been pretty good for him to have paid, you know!
“Time After Time”, (1979) Directed by Nicholas Meyer, and in which you played H.G. Wells, has been re-released on DVD, as are many of your films. Is it true you didn’t want to wear spectacles for the part of H.G. Wells? ^ I can’t remember, that may be true. It sounds like something I’d probably say! But that’s how I do my acting … through my eyes.
The interview continues in part three of MALCOLM MCDOWELL: BEYOND A CLOCKWORK ORANGE>>>