That penetrating ray-gun gaze that sets the tone in the first few seconds of Kubrick’s masterpiece is still there in all its vitality. Meeting Malcolm McDowell’s eyes is like adjusting to the sun. I started out attempting to wrangle the rebel bull that is Mick Travis and Alex DeLarge, and ended up looking into the eyes of a British pub owner’s son who only humbly accepts that which is offered, still believes it presumptuous – that he hasn’t the right! – to ever dream.
And yet the only difference between McDowell and his knighted contemporaries, phenomenal thespians like Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Ben Kingsley, is that McKellen and Kingsley are constantly seeking the next challenge, have no fear of dreaming. McDowell, on the other hand, waits passively, humbly, for projects to drop into his lap while pointedly dismissing my suggestion that the filmmaking ground is fertile in Europe, citing “nuggets” like “The Lives of Others” an anomaly and not a sign of renaissance. Hearing that, I couldn’t help but think of his fellow Brits, filmmakers like Shane Meadows, the young and hungry director of the thrilling “This Is England,” who just as easily could have cast McDowell in lieu of Bob Hoskins in “TwentyFourSeven,” or of Mike Leigh still going strong and employing actors of every age, never ceasing to grow. McDowell need only look in the mirror, open his eyes to that which lies beyond Hollywood, and allow the possibility of, yes, both disappointment and success into his life by proudly picking up the phone.
McDowell’s disdain for Method acting as rubbish is, well, rubbish (he even contradicts his own viewpoint by bringing up Brando). The problem with Method acting technique isn’t the Method – it’s with the unimaginative actors who (mis)use it, treat it as the Holy Grail. The Method is a wrench, one tool in a vastly varied toolbox, not a leather-man nor pocketknife. His beef should be with the actor using the wrong tool for the job, not with the tool itself.
There was a brief power struggle at the beginning of the interview set off by McDowell’s comment that he’d only ever played “one realistic character.” He paused, expecting me to ask which character that was, feeding me my next question. For better or worse my S&M instinct kicked in and I thought, no this is my interview and you’re not going to top me. I fully anticipated that as a man skilled in manipulating the media for close to half a century, he’d only be answering the questions he wanted to answer, not necessarily those that I’d asked. However, there was no way I was going to let him also gain control over the actual questions! Perhaps it was childish on my part but I felt it better to sacrifice one tantalizing nugget of information in order to make a small statement of standing my ground.