The interview book by Marco Spagnoli
Intro - In a class by himself
By David Grieco
This book is in a class by itself because Malcolm McDowell is in a class by himself. How many protagonists in the history of cinema can be regarded as icons? Three? Four? Five? Greta Garbo certainly is an icon. As is Marilyn Monroe. Or James Dean. And a few, very few others. The star of A Clockwork Orange is among them, no doubt. Not for any other reason, but that Stanley Kubrick's movie is and remains maybe the most unsettling movie in the history of the cinema. No other movie, indeed, maintains the same destabilizing power for thirty-five years. And no other movie is embraced by the each succeeding generation. Malcolm is radically different from the other stars of the cinema who became icons. Malcolm today is still a cheerful boy, a daredevil, frenetic and flippant like the ACO star! Malcolm and Alex De Large look like peas in a pod. Maybe it's for this reason that Malcolm has never drowned himself in alcohol or drugs, like what usually happens to an icon. He knows when someone becomes famous playing Jesus Christ or Anna Karenina, they risk at least a breakdown. In all these years, I've never seen Malcolm get down, not even in the worst moments of his life. I think of the barman of My Darling Clementine by John Ford. When Henry Fonda asks him, "You ever been in love?" he simply answers, "No, I've been a bartender all my life." Malcolm is always the actor. In a lot, a lot of movies. Good and bad, plushy and miserable. And he has embellished them all. He has given them all to the history of the cinema. He has been the hated icon by the Star Trek fans, for killing Captain Kirk (in Generations), he has been the icon of the downtrodden in the colossal porno (Caligula), he has been the icon of Free Cinema (if...), he has been his own icon (O Lucky Man!), he has been the icon of his idol, James Cagney (Gangster No.1), he even has been the icon of the late Soviet cinema (Assassin of the Tsar). And there are many other little movies that are lesser known like The Barber or Tank Girl, about which we can add thousands of fans around the world only for the reason of his magic presence. All of these movies have noticeably created this well versed actor who is able to solve, on the screen, every situation. When we were shooting Evilenko, in one small area of a Ukrainian train where a stand-in was impossible, Malcolm had to watch his image reflected in a mirror, like a large stamp. We shot three of his scenes there. At the end I said to him, "Lucky Malcolm! You're never out of the mirror, not even the tip of your ear." "It's not luck," he answered me, "It's the loupe (the gun sight magnifier of the camera) where you can see my head." I then paid attention to it on other occasions. Malcolm is one of very few actors able to act from behind. You should know it is not easy. Shooting Burn! (Queimada), Gillo Pontecorvo did thirty-four takes on Marlon Brando's shoulders. Even this is the history of the cinema. Another component that saved Malcolm from the destiny of icons is his sense of humor. His wicked sense stands out. His sense of irony helped him to remain with his feet on the ground. Malcolm hates taking himself too seriously and hates those who take themselves too seriously. I saw famous directors deflate like balloons and powerful producers remain in a daze with a cigar hanging between their lips. Generally an icon does not behave this way. An icon can pack a punch to a director or a producer, but he never makes fun of them. This book is in a class by itself, because it speaks. It feels, in every line, the sound of Malcolm's voice. It doesn't read the tablets of Sinai, it doesn't declare importance, it doesn't tell about I, I, I. It travels among a normal and wonderful life, all the more wonderful because it's normal. It has been extraordinarily normal for a boy from Liverpool to spend the afternoon huddled in a fetid watering hole wherein The Beatles played. It has been extraordinarily normal for a boy from Liverpool to suddenly jump on the stage to sell coffee in the land of the tea. It has been extraordinarily normal for a boy from Liverpool, looking at Stanley Kubrick for the first time and seeing only a silly little man with a full beard. Without realizing it, Malcolm has crossed far and wide in the period of POP, with his bold step and childlike eyes open wide. And I guess that also the reader, any reader, will go through all his incredible adventures almost without realizing it. Also the writer of this book is in a class by himself. Marco Spagnoli is a funny little specimen, a fan and a curiosity in the half-hearted generation of the thirty year old. He's not a critic, he's not a gossip monger, he's not a wannabe director. He's a reporter that is able to be feverish and sensitive at the same time. He has an insatiable appetite about the history of the cinema. I think he is like Peter Bogdanovich and I'm not surprised that Malcolm McDowell, an animal with an unerring instinct, has delivered him without resistance the keys of his life and his friendship.
Malcolm McDowell: My Famous Friend
I met Malcolm in 1955 when we both went to a little boarding school in Eltham, in the southeast of the England. We were turbulent children and in the early years we always got into trouble. Anyway, we understood our errors and we began to better our behavior with maturity. Even if Malcolm kept his rebel nature intact, he made good use of his time at school. He was self reliant and excelled in the subjects he loved. He became captain of the rugby and cricket teams, and soon he was in charge of both. Although Malcolm changed, I remember an occasion in which he got into trouble: our friend got him a date with a town girl and Malcolm would have to get permission in order to go out of the school, but he didn't worry about it. When he got back, a teacher saw him and he chastened Malcolm because he was absent without permission. They removed his team captainship for several weeks. When I asked him why he didn't obtain the necessary permission, he answered me, "I'm 17, I'm almost a man, I shouldn't need to ask permission from anyone in order to go out with my friends. It doesn't matter, the date was worth it." Malcolm began to perform on stage because he was in college prep and he had plenty of time. I know at the beginning he was unwilling to accept it and he thought it was something for women. But he decided to try and liked it immediately. I remember being in a play with him and he was very self-reliant. He seemed like he was an actor all his life. It was obvious that for him it was natural. Another time I remember that some boys listened to records and I knew Malcolm loved Buddy Holly. When the boys listened the last Buddy Holly record I called Malcolm. I discovered him in our room learning a Shakespeare play and when I asked him to come over with us, he said that it would be fun, that but that performing a role would be a lot more fun. I understood then that Malcolm started to take acting very seriously. A little time later I heard on the radio that Buddy Holly died in a plane crash and when I told Malcolm, I saw a drop on his face.
When school ended, I lost touch with Malcolm for some time, until we both went to a dinner with ex-classmates. I confess that I was worried with the idea of meeting up again since he had become an international film star, but my fear was unfounded and I soon learned that Malcolm had not changed and he was still the same person I knew at school. After dinner, I went with him to his house in London where we talked about the past for hours and he didn't even talk about his professional success, instead he wanted to know all about me. From that day on we have remained in contact and recently I have been his guest at the Bradford Film Festival, at which he made me feel comfortable. I was shocked when I heard him talking with a friend wherein he remembered that it was me who told him about Buddy Holly's death. This is Malcolm: he remembers the most minute details of life despite his success. To my eyes he hasn't changed and he's always been the same Malcolm Taylor that I met more than 50 years ago. He's always been a phenomenal guy!
English translation by Manuela D, American translation ©2007-08 Alex D. Thrawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net