Malcolm McDowell

Active - 1968 - 2021  |   Born - Jun 13, 1943 in Leeds, Yorkshire, England  |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Thriller, Science Fiction, Action

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Biography by Andrea LeVasseur

Blue-eyed British actor Malcolm McDowell has a history of playing angry, cruel characters that still managed to be charming. Born in working-class Leeds, England, he sold coffee around Yorkshire before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company in the late '60s. By 1967, he had made his big-screen debut in Poor Cow, the first feature-length film from director Ken Loach. Moving to New York, McDowell met director Lindsay Anderson and appeared in his off-Broadway production of Look Back in Anger. (He would reprise his role of angry young man Jimmy Porter in the 1980 film version.) He then played Mick Travis, the rebellious boarding school student in If.... (1968), a role he would continue in Anderson's next two films, O Lucky Man! (which he co-wrote) and Britannia Hospital (1982). Director Stanley Kubrick took notice of his work with Anderson and gave McDowell his international breakthrough with A Clockwork Orange, based upon the novel by Anthony Burgess. His portrayal of the sadistic Alex earned him two Best Actor nominations, but also cemented a dark image that would persist throughout his career. He would occasionally get breaks with characters such as Captain Flashman, the hero in the adventure satire Royal Flash or the naïve fighter in the WWI drama Aces High. But his unscrupulous reputation was reinforced in 1979, when he starred in the title role as the Roman emperor in Bob Guccione's notorious production of Caligula. He made his first American film the same year, playing H.G. Wells in Time After Time alongside young actress Mary Steenburgen (they were married from 1980-1990). McDowell went on to star in the horror remake Cat People, the action-adventure Blue Thunder, and the rock musical-comedy Get Crazy. McDowell made several TV movies toward the late '80s, including Gulag, Arthur the King, and Monte Carlo. After a serious bout with a persistent drug problem, his hair turned white and he started playing regular villains in largely forgettable U.S. releases. He had better casting luck abroad, such as the leading role in the Russian film Assassin of the Tsar. After a cameo in The Player in 1992, the actor started lending his voice talent to cartoons, including Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Superman, Spider-Man, Batman: The Animated Series, Biker Mice From Mars, and the features The Fist of the North Star and Happily Ever After. He also provided the voice of Commodore Geoffrey Tolwyn for the Wing Commander video game series and subsequent cartoon. His villainous roles started to gravitate toward science fiction with Tank Girl, Cyborg 3: The Recycler, and, most notably, Dr. Soran in Star Trek: Generations. On television, he played the evil Benny Barrett on the BBC series Our Friends in the North and the sinister Mr. Roarke on the ABC revival series Fantasy Island. In the late '90s, he appeared in a lot of direct-to-video and made-for-cable movies before making a return to U.K. theatrical features with the family drama My Life So Far in 1999 and Gangster No. 1 in 2000. In 2003, he appeared in the horseracing film Hidalgo, Robert Altman's The Company, and the Russian film Evilenko as serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. For better or worse, McDowell's most recognizable role of the decade would likely be that of Dr. Samuel Loomis in Rob Zombie's Halloween (2008) and its 2009 sequel -- thouigh a recurring role on the NBC hit Heroes certainly didn't hurt in boosting his exposure among viewers too young to remember his dramatic defining roles. Occasional voice work in The Disney Channel's Phineas and Ferb continued that trend - albiet in a less conspicuous manner -- then in 2011 the screen veteran turned in a brief but memorable performance in Michel Hazanavicius' Oscar favorite The Artist, proving that even without so much as a line of dialogue, McDowell still had the charisma to command the screen.

Movie Highlights

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  • Studied at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1964 with Patrick Stewart (his co-star in 1994's Star Trek: Generations) and David Warner (his co-star in 1979's Time After Time).
  • Made his TV debut in the first season of long-running British drama Crossroads.
  • His portrayal of Alex in Stanley Kubrick's 1971 classic A Clockwork Orange was ranked No. 100 in Premiere magazine's 100 Greatest Film Performances of All Time.
  • Played a character named Mick Travis in three films directed by Lindsay Anderson: If... (1968), O Lucky Man! (1973) and Britannia Hospital (1982).
  • Performed a one-man show in 2004 called Lindsay Anderson: A Personal Remembrance in honor of the director, who died in 1994.
  • Played the recurring role of Daniel Linderman during the first season of Heroes.