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My Life So Far
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McDowell on My Life So Far
The story according to Malcolm
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McDowell on A Clockwork Orange
"It was so overpowering"
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McDowell on Gangster No 1
"It's going to destroy all your good feelings about me"
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Friday, 12 May, 2000, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
McDowell's new lease of Life

McDowell goes against type In My Life So Far
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

As the star of A Clockwork Orange and If, Malcolm McDowell is best known for subversive screen behaviour.

So it will come as no small surprise to see him donning brogues and lording it on a Scottish Highland estate for his latest cinema outing, My Life So Far.

Once I was waiting for the script I was really dreading it, thinking 'What on earth have I done?' - It's so different from what I am used to

Malcolm McDowell

In reality, McDowell - now aged 56 and sporting a shock of silver hair - looks every inch the respectable rich industrialist he plays in the film.

But, he admits, the departure from his usual anarchic roles comes as much as a shock to him as it will undoubtedly to his fans.

"I accepted the part when the director Hugh Hudson, who is a friend, asked me to take it on. But once I had and was waiting for the script I was really dreading it, thinking 'What on earth have I done?' - it's so different from what I am used to.

"But the script turned out to be charming - as I believe the film has."

Subtle shift

Set in the 1920s, My Life So Far is told through the eyes of 10-year-old Fraser Pettigrew and recounts a tumultuous year in the normally idyllic life of his family on their ancestral Scottish estate.

Firth and Mastrantonio
Firth as zany genius Edward Pettigrew and screen wife Elizabeth Mastrantonio

Fraser's life with his madcap inventor father, played by Colin Firth, doting mother, numerous siblings and indomitable grandmother is like a fairy tale.

But everything changes when McDowell's character, wealthy Uncle Morris, upsets the applecart by bringing his alluring French fiancee Heloise to the estate.

Without giving too much away, McDowell says it was the mischievous side to Uncle Morris's part that won him over.

"I thought I could have some fun with it and there was a subtle shift to the way you feel about Uncle Morris as the film goes on that made it very interesting."

Orange zest

Followers of McDowell's career - which also includes a memorable performance as the infamous Roman emperor Caligula - will doubtless be relieved he has not lost his lust for danger.

As the actor at the centre of the storm, I was shocked when people started making a fuss about the violence

Malcolm McDowell on A Clockwork Orange

After all, many are still drunk with excitement over the recent re-release of A Clockwork Orange, probably McDowell's most notorious credit to date.

He was an upcoming actor when, in 1973, its late director Stanley Kubrick had it withdrawn. Now, the actor says he can share the elation over its return.

"I was thrilled that A Clockwork Orange was re-released because a whole generation would at last get to see it and judge for themselves," says McDowell.

"As the actor at the centre of the storm, I was shocked when people started making a fuss about the violence. When it came out it was overpowering in terms of the look and so 'out there'.

McDowell as the psychotic teenager Alex DeLarge
McDowell as the psychotic teenager Alex DeLarge

"But the violence is really in the mind and it was always meant to be funny because it was so very black. It's only now that people are beginning to see that - and it's not half as violent as some of the things one would see now."

McDowell, who was born in Leeds, now lives in California with his wife and children. In his domestic bliss, he declares himself a "mellowing" man.

Warped humour

But a leopard does not change his spots so easily and later this summer McDowell will burst onto cinema screens in Gangster No 1 - described as his most horrific part yet.

"Gangster No 1 will destroy all the good feelings people have about me in My Life So Far," growls McDowell. "I play a psychotic monster."

McDowell in Gangster No 1
McDowell takes on his most vicious role in Gangster No 1

Set in London in 1968 and the present day, the movie charts the rise and fall of a sadistic East End gangland leader - played by McDowell.

The film's violence is, once again, likely to cause shockwaves but, says McDowell, the futility of the aggression is intended to have a positive meaning.

"It is very violent and very profane but the profanity begins to sound like Shakespeare or a Greek tragedy.

"The foul language washes over you, becomes a style in itself and at the end it's really the most anti-violent film you could ever see."

McDowell insists that off-screen he is a just a run-of-the-mill chap. So what exactly it is about these deranged parts he enjoys?

"I love every minute of it," he enthuses. "It's so freeing to be able to behave like that - but I do have a very warped sense of humour as well."

My Life So Far is now showing at selected cinemas. Gangster No 1 is released across the UK on 9 June.

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See also:

06 Dec 99 | Entertainment
Clockwork Orange returns uncut
09 Mar 99 | UK
Kubrick: A film odyssey
27 Sep 99 | Entertainment
TV outing for restored Caligula
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