A Brief Conversation with Malcolm McDowell

By Vanessa Butler

We chat with the legendary actor Malcolm McDowell about NBC's Community, growing up as Alex and what he thinks of Comic Con.

Talking with Malcolm McDowell, you anticipate enduring fear, heinous anecdotes and Shakespearian drawl, only to be deciphered at a later time. In my case, I caught McDowell on the phone early Wednesday morning while he was driving to an appointment in L.A. For a brief moment I imagined this critically acclaimed actor being pulled over for talking to me on his phone as he drove along the lackluster L.A. freeway. What a mischievous devil. He predicted the pause and blurted, “I’m not driving; my wife is, thank god, so I can concentrate.”

The façade was broken.

His wife, 25 years his junior, was quietly driving while he took the four allotted 15-minute phone calls to talk about his attendance at Montreal’s Comiccon; how sickly normal of them. He’s so satisfied and comfortable in his own shoes.

I am happy to report that despite the hilariously monstrous attitude he puts on when talking about Clockwork Orange to a crowd, McDowell is taking his Clockwork fame with a lively grace even after all these years, unlike some other actors who do anything in their power to separate themselves from their most notorious roles. “When kids and teenagers find Clockwork or whatever it is, that’s the most exciting thing of all. They still come up to me to say they’re a fan of it. That blows my mind, really; it’s very satisfying.” Even being pigeonholed as the bad guy doesn’t shake Malcolm: “Beggars can’t be choosers,” he sang.

The 69-year-old actor, known to many for his film roles in the ’70s, has been a man about the small screen lately as well, appearing in hit shows like Heroes, Entourage and as a regular on Franklin & Bash. “I just shot an episode of The Mentalist yesterday,” Malcolm tells me while he eats what sounds like an orange. “I do a recurring role on that show. I love Simon Baker, he’s so damn good.” I wonder if he emphasized “so damn good” because of the quality of the fruit or if he truly felt that passionate about the blue-eyed Australian actor.

He was quite vocal about Community’s notoriously charming star Joel McHale as well. “Joel is amazing. He’s great to work with, and he’s also one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.” McDowell is set to follow in the footsteps of The Wire’s Michael K. Williams and Betty White and teach a class in the upcoming season of NBC’s Community. “I didn’t know Chevy, I never met him, but we kind of go back, you know. We’d passed each other like ships in the night.” What a gorgeous simile for someone who is so notoriously difficult to work with.

McDowell is also taking this new Comiccon thing in stride. Once wary of the idea, he’s come around. “It’s so amazing how people are really that interested. When you’re actually working this stuff, you never even really think anyone is ever going to see it. I’m always vaguely amazed that people know stuff that I’ve even forgotten about. When I’ve finished a thing I instantly forget it. When people quote lines to me I ask, ‘What’s that? It sounds vaguely familiar.’ I know the one that will be quoted to me this weekend, since it is a Star Trek-y thing, will be, ‘Time is the fire in which we burn,’ I’m sure, and that’s fine, it’s a nice quote!” Just hearing him say those words over the phone gave me goose bumps.

Fans were able to meet McDowell last weekend at Montreal’s Comiccon and can catch him in the upcoming season of Community, as well as the film Silent Hill: Revelation, which hits theatres October 26th.


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