Exclusive: Malcolm McDowell Talks Silent Night, A Clockwork Orange and More
Just in time for Christmas comes Steven C. Miller's supremely fun Silent Night (review), which is more of an homage than a straight remake of the 1984 cult classic Silent Night, Deadly Night. Get ready to deck those halls because we've got an exclusive interview with star Malcolm McDowell.
McDowell, a true cinematic legend with well over 200 credits to his name, tackles a new holiday menace in Miller's latest as the small-town sheriff who must rise to the occasion when a murderer dressed like St. Nick terrorizes his community on Christmas Eve. Silent Night also stars genre badass Jaime King, Donal Logue, Ellen Wong and Lisa Marie.
During our chat with McDowell we heard more from the acclaimed actor about his experiences working on Silent Night; he also discussed his approach to the role of Sheriff Cooper and what costume item he just had to keep after he wrapped shooting. We also briefly spoke to McDowell about his iconic role in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and much more.
Check out our exclusive interview with McDowell below, and be sure to pick up your own copy of Silent Night available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Anchor Bay.
Dread Central: So you've now tackled two holiday horror movies- are you hoping someone comes along with an Easter horror movie soon?
Malcolm McDowell: (Laughs). That would be brilliant!
Dread Central: I really had a lot of fun watching you in Silent Night- it seems like you guys had a lot of fun making this movie, too. What was the initial appeal of this character (Sheriff Cooper) that nabbed your attention before you signed on?
Malcolm McDowell: We did have fun, and I'm glad to hear that it shows. And when I read the script, I just really liked it. I met the director and the producers over breakfast, and I just loved Steven's vision for the film; he really 'gets' it. I'm not a great fan of horror movies myself, but I always love when they work- and Silent Night works. Horror movies should scare you, yes, but they should make you smile, too, and I think Silent Night proves that you don't have to have a huge budget to create great scares and kills but still leave people smiling, too.
Just that very idea - a killer Santa mixed up in a parade of a hundred different Santas - is enough to make me smile. So it really wasn't hard to convince me to do this; it was also a role I've never really played before- the 'good guy.'
Dread Central: He's the good guy, but he's still pretty tough on Jaime's character, even though you can tell he cares about her...
Malcolm McDowell: Yes! That was so important to me- not to be too cartoonish with this character. You have to believe him and care about him; he's a sheriff of a crimeless small town so he used to things running a certain way. When he puts on his uniform, he feels like he has a little bit more power than everyone else so when Jaime's character is figuring things out that he hasn't, he takes that as a real insult; she's always right, and he can't stand that even though he's still fond of her.
Dread Central: I know that the turnaround on Silent Night was remarkably quick; did you guys get any sort of prep time at all before shooting? Did you do anything special to get in Cooper's skin?/b>
Malcolm McDowell: No, no- we had no time for that; I think I only arrived on set just a few hours before I began shooting, but I've been doing this for 50 years now so I know what's required of me as an actor. Of course I'm always willing to take direction, but you have to be prepared, too. And since I worked a lot with Jaime, it was incredibly easy for me because she's such a pro.
And I just had a lot of fun with the character; a lot of Cooper's one-liners were mine, and I just let my instincts take over in those moments. I also loved that silly hat I wore, too; it was just so silly and wonderful that I had to keep it when we were done. A character's costume always comes down to the shoes and the hat I believe. I also thought that a small-town sheriff would have a beard. I think I read somewhere that a lot of law enforcement officers grow facial hair in the winter, and since I had just come off of doing Home Alone, I kept the beard because I thought Cooper would definitely have a beard. The hat and the beard really made that character (laughs).
Dread Central: Last year I had the distinct pleasure of being in the audience while you were speaking at Flashback Weekend in Chicago and just loved all the stories you shared about A Clockwork Orange and Caligula- of all movies (laughs). Is it still remarkable to you that a movie that's now over 40 years old (A Clockwork Orange) resonates with new generations of audiences almost even stronger than perhaps it did when it came out?
Malcolm McDowell: Well, thank you; I just love Chicago so much! And yes, A Clockwork Orange was one of those moments where you have to step back and examine it with some distance. It has an incredible legacy, and it's still a movie I speak about quite regularly like it's a new movie that's just been released.
And it's remained timeless because it had such a great story; when it first was released, nobody could get past the look. This was before MTV, before any of that stuff- it was so revolutionary in that way. But really, it's the film's message that has made Clockwork Orange endure all these years; there's so much that still pertains to society and government.
A lot of it also had to do with Anthony Burgess' novel- I used that book as a bible. Kubrick too. I was really fortunate to get cast in that role, too; when you're young, you just kind of 'expect' things so you don't realize the enormity of it all until some time passes and you can gain some perspective on the experience.
I also think - and I could be wrong but this is something I've done a lot of thinking about over the years - but I think that Alex is the first amoral character in cinema that filmmakers wanted audiences to root for- not against. This was before Hannibal Lecter and many of the modern villains of course so I think that it was incredibly challenging for audiences at the time. How do you make a rapist and murderer redeemable in audiences' eyes? It was a delicate balance, which is why we chose to do some of the more controversial scenes, like the rape scene, in such an unusual way…no one had ever featured an upbeat song like "Singing in the Rain" during such a brutal cinematic moment before so I think maybe people at first were caught off-guard by some of Stanley's choices. Of course they were brilliant choices but very controversial.
And Stanley was a great friend; we became very close, and I think you can see that in my performance- an actor who was very secure with his director. There had to be a certain kind of love and trust between us, especially for that kind of a role. I also had total trust in my instincts, which may have led to a few disagreements with Stanley, but he always listened to me, and we would just talk out what would work best for a scene and come to an agreement after all that. It really was lightning in a bottle.
Dread Central: I believe I'm out of time now, Malcolm, but thank you so much for speaking with me today- it was really an honor.
Malcolm McDowell: Well, thank you. And Happy Holidays to you as well.
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