From Alex in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange to Father Murder in Rob Zombie's 31, Malcolm McDowell has played a wide range of intriguing roles over his illustrious career, including his recent scene-stealing performance as the Chairman in Roger Corman's Death Race 2050.
With the new Death Race movie now out on home media from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, Daily Dead had the great pleasure of speaking with the prolific actor to talk about collaborating with Corman, acting in A Clockwork Orange, working with Rob Zombie on 31 and his Halloween films, and if he would ever consider being a part of the new Halloween movie.
You’ve always taken on a diverse range of roles in your career, and Death Race 2050 is certainly no exception. What attracted you to the role of the Chairman of the United Corporations of America?
Malcolm McDowell: It’s a really good “chew the scenery” kind of role, not chewing it too much. I took it mainly because of Roger Corman, because I’ve always been a great admirer of Roger Corman. Anyone who can work outside the system, you have to support and admire. He was making tiny little gems and giving people like Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper—and I could mention another 25—a chance to do what they do. When they first started, no studio would hire these people. So Roger hired them and it was a very important development in their careers. That’s one of the reasons I went, “Oh, of course I’ll do it.”
That’s really the main reason, and then I went, “And what sort of part do you want me to do?” So it was Roger Corman first, but the part was fun, too, and I could see I could have a little fun with it, and that’s important, too.
As much as Death Race 2050 is a fun action movie, it has a lot on its mind about virtual reality and being plugged into technology and class divisiveness, which all really ring true in today’s society. Did that subtext of the screenplay appeal to you when you first read the script?
Malcolm McDowell: Totally, because it’s not just an action movie, per se, it’s more than that, and the character I play is topical in a way, even though it wasn’t based on person living or dead as far as I know, but somebody in the makeup department came up with this funny wig piece, which was fun, and I actually shot all my stuff in Peru.
Roger Corman gets the money wherever he can and then that’s it, so he figured it [Peru] was a good place to make movies. And actually, there’s a scene in it where I’m at the dinner table, and that was in a private car museum in Lima, Peru. And so we actually got to do it [the dinner scene] in the museum and look at these incredible cars, so that was kind of wild. It being a Death Race film, it was the perfect place to do it.
Yeah, that’s very fitting, and you never know where you’re going to end up shooting in a Roger Corman movie. That’s part of the adventure.
Malcolm McDowell: No, you don’t. It is part of it. And he’s a very nice guy. He’s getting up there, but he’s still as sharp as a tack. He has this adorable wife and they’re such a great couple. I met him in person at a convention in Vegas, and we spent a little time together and we got on very well, and so when this came about, I went, “Oh, I’ve got to do a Roger Corman movie.” It wasn’t even a question.
With Death Race 2050 and your role as Father Murder in Rob Zombie’s 31, we’ve recently gotten to see you play two eccentric leader roles that are fascinating to watch due to your performances and those characters’ wardrobes.
Malcolm McDowell: Well, that was Rob. He wanted me to wear this high-camp Amadeus kind of thing with a big beauty spot, which was great fun. I did that because Rob and I go back—he’s a friend and I really like him. He’s a great guy and I was happy to do it for him.
Your role in that movie was really well done.
Malcolm McDowell: Yeah, well, now I think they want him to do a sequel. It would be interesting to find out what’s behind this character. It was the ringmaster [role]—they’re fun to play.
Would you be willing to return to that role of Father Murder if the opportunity ever arose?
Malcolm McDowell: Maybe, we’ll see. Sure, if Rob’s going to do it, I’m sure I would listen because I’ve done quite a few movies with him. I love the Halloween movies I did with him, I love the part of Dr. Loomis. I enjoyed that a lot, and Rob’s terrific, he’s a terrifically nice guy. We always manage to have fun and laugh and not take it too seriously. We take it seriously, but not too seriously, and I think that’s important. So yeah, of course I would do anything with him. I even did a CSI: Miami thing for him.
Alamo Drafthouse recently announced that they are going to kick off a yearlong celebration of Stanley Kubrick beginning in February with nationwide screenings of A Clockwork Orange. Are you planning on taking part in that celebration?
Malcolm McDowell: I didn’t even know about it, so thank you for telling me. Well, if somebody asked me to go along, I’d try to do it if I can. It’s a film that of course is very near and dear to me. It’s an extraordinary piece. Thank God I did it. That was a long time in my life, it was well over a year, I think seven months’ preparation alone, and then I think another seven months of shooting. It’s when they really did things carefully.
Especially with Kubrick’s method of filming.
Malcolm McDowell: He didn’t do that many takes with me, though. I don’t remember hardly ever going past ten. Ever. He wasn’t doing that so much. I think it was on the next one that he really ramped up, on Barry Lyndon.
Is there anything on deck that you can tease? Also, a new Halloween movie is in the works—would you be open to being involved with that in any capacity?
Malcolm McDowell: I guess if they asked me, I’d take a look at it, but it’s not Rob. They’ll find a really terrific young director that needs a break and it’ll be good for them to do it. It’s always a fascinating subject—a serial killer let loose on a small community. It always holds, it’s always scary, but maybe they should cast a younger doctor this time. But if they asked me, sure, I would be happy to read it.
I’ve got lots of things on at the moment, though. I start a movie next week, so I’m trying to learn the damn thing now. And of course, we’re going into our fourth season of Mozart in the Jungle, and that will be in June and we’ll start in New York. It’s so much fun when we come back to work and it’s like you’re let out for the school holidays and then you all come back to start the term. That’s what it’s like. And you see everybody that you have missed and you haven’t seen for a while and don’t know what they’ve been doing. Gael [García Bernal]’s always doing some movie or other, Lola Kirke, and Bernadette [Peters], god, she never stops working. So I’m very happy because we’re all very busy. We all keep in touch and then it’s only three or six months before we’re back to work. And we do love the show—all of us that are doing it love it.
In case you missed it, check out Heather's Death Race 2050 interview with Roger Corman.