From: The Observer - 14 March 1999

Malcolm McDowell starred in Kubrick's AClockwork Orange (1971), adapted from Anthony Burgess's novel. Kubrick was fascinated by the book, especially by the central character, the brutal gang leader Alex. 'The power of the story is in the character of Alex who wins you over somehow - like Richard III - despite his wickedness, because of his intelligence and wit and total honesty,' Kubrick remarked. '[Alex] represented the id, the savage repressed side of our nature that guiltlessly enjoys the same pleasures of rape.' He thought McDowell was the only man for the job, and the two became intensely close during the filming. But as other actors would later find out, McDowell found himself less welcome chez Kubrick once the work was done. He spoke to The Observer earlier this week.

Making A Clockwork Orange was the most intense learning experience of my life, though his way of working threw me at first. I'd be waiting for some suggestions, and he'd say, 'Gee, Malcolm, I'm not Rada - I hired you to do the acting.' I was a young man [27] and said nothing at first. Later, I'd say, 'Look at that chair. What does it say on the back. Director, no?' But it was such a pleasure when you did something he liked: he would stuff his handkerchief into his mouth to try to stop himself laughing.

He was so driven in the project, a teacher and tormentor, and there would be real human connection when something came off. Other times, I thought he had come in from space, dropped with no mould left, and there were very few emotions. Some argue there aren't any emotions in his films but he looked to me, to his actors for that.

He had his very odd moments. He liked to play with his computers, and all sorts of machines. I remember once walking into his office, and he had his headphones on and seemed lost in what he was listening to. Eventually he noticed me. 'Have you been listening to a little Ludwig Van?' I asked. 'No, Malc, I was listening to the air-traffic control at Heathrow. And you know what, Malc, there was just a near-miss.'

One thing people get wrong is this idea that he was removed from the world - he'd keep in touch all the time, always checking things out in Hollywood, around the world. It was just that he knew it was easier to control that world from a distance. And the idea that he was this artist with no idea of commerce is silly. We had this conversation about the language in A Clockwork Orange [Nasdat, Burgess's hybrid, formed from Russian and English slang]. He loved it, he said, but thought that we could have too much of it. It might make the film less accessible.

He was very good with the studio. I remember coming back from a day's work and four LA bigwigs were waiting for him, had probably been waiting there for days. 'Hey guys, can you help yourself to some takeaway food?' he said and then moved on. It was not always a conscious thing, though there was a part of him that knew he was winding these guys up, and enjoyed it.

After the film was over I was dropped like a hot brick. It was hard to take. I had hoped for the relationship I had had with Lindsay Anderson [with whom McDowell had made If]. We were like father and son. But, for a while, he acted like I didn't exist. He had needed me for every frame, then didn't need me any more. Later we resumed contact.

He was obsessed by safety, probably the real reason he settled in England. I remember taking him for a ride in my car and nearly frightening him to death. He would get in a New York cab and the first thing he'd say to the driver is 'Go slow, my back is out.' He made up this back condition as insurance.

I was shocked when I heard about his death. He was only 70, and still seemed so plugged in. I've felt lots of disgust since his death. People talking about Stanley Kubrick who are not even qualified to talk about a black pudding. I heard Michael Winner analysing Kubrick. Please!

Kubrick's problem, I suppose, is that he was an obsessive working in the great collaborative medium. When you are making a film, you are often only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. You depend upon so many people. That's why he wanted to do everything himself and took so long.

In the final count, it's a human problem: if you want to be a complete human being you'd better not be an obsessive.

(In 1974, Kubrick, anxious about real-life violence attributed to viewings of A Clockwork Orange, asked Warners to stop distributing the film in Britain, a self-imposed ban that lasts to this day.)