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Malcolm McDowell Shares What It Was Like Getting His First Big Break - Exclusive

Looper recently talked with Malcolm McDowell about his new film The Big Ugly. He had a lot to say about the movie and his love for co-star Vinnie Jones. We also spoke briefly about his career as a whole — one spanning over half a century.

Malcolm McDowell has had, without exaggeration, hundreds of roles in film, TV, and even video games. His resume is so extensive that he'll occasionally forget what projects he was in until someone shows him the box with his name on it. Even with that resume, the public at large only remembers him for a few roles. He'll always be Alex from A Clockwork Orange to most. Sci-fi fans remember him as The Man Who Killed Captain Kirk, while nasty freak film buffs associate him with Caligula.

He's largely okay with this. "Most actors," he notes, "will be known for just one or two roles that are so impressionable. There's nothing you can do about that." That is, "unless you're Meryl Streep, who literally is a phenomena."

Co-star Ron Perlman told Looper that McDowell "loves movies" and "loves to talk about old things that happened to him on Stanley Kubrick sets." During an interview about their shared experience on The Big Ugly, we talked with McDowell about his early career — and while we didn't hear much about Kubrick, he did share some memories of his first big break.

Of course, there was a career before Clockwork — one McDowell was happy to discuss with us.

The movie that changed Malcolm McDowell's life

More than anyone, McDowell credits the direction of his career and life to one director: Lindsay Anderson.

Like all young British actors of the era, McDowell spent much time in theater. He spent time at the National, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Royal Court Theater. He also did television spots occasionally. Then, as he tells it, "I was cast in the lead in this movie with a genius director."

McDowell's first movie was if..., which is "about a revolution in a boys boarding school." The movie kicked up controversy in its day and "really stuck a dagger into the heart of the establishment in England." if... won the Palme d'Or at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival, a nice honor indeed, and it's still highly regarded in England to this day. He personally still calls it a great movie, and he's grateful that his career started in such a notable way. "I would have been happy to have been in a Hammer horror movie."

But more important than his role in the movie was his relationship with Anderson, whom McDowell fondly remembers as a genius. "He was an extraordinary man, and he became a great friend," said McDowell of Anderson. "And I loved him dearly, and he had more influence on my career than anyone. And on my life, by the way, not just my career, my life." McDowell did a stage show in the mid-2000s about his relationship with Anderson called Never Apologize, which was shot and released for home viewing.

"It was an amazing life," says McDowell, "an amazing time."

Catch Malcolm McDowell in The Big Ugly, now at selected theaters, drive-ins, and VOD.