Malcolm McDowell: How we made A Clockwork Orange

2261
‘Playing Alex, I always had the idea of Laurence Olivier doing Richard III’ … Malcolm McDowell as Alex in Stanley Kubrick’s film. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Features

02 April 2019 | | The Guardian

Malcolm McDowell, actor

Stanley Kubrick had put aside his adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel because he couldn’t find the right actor to play Alex, the violent thug. Then he saw Lindsay Anderson’s If …, in which I played another victim of institutionalisation. He turned to his wife and said: “We’ve found our Alex.”

I spent nine months with Stanley before we started shooting, watching violent movies every day. They were the most horrendous films: concentration camps, bodies stacked up. He was thinking of using them in the treatment sequence, where Alex is given aversion therapy.

One day, I asked Stanley what my friends the “droogs” were going to look like. He said: “What have you got?” I said: “The only thing in my car is my cricket bag.” So I put my whites on. He asked what the groin protector was, and when I told him, he said: “Wear it on the outside!” That became the look. In my mind, playing Alex, I always had the idea of Laurence Olivier doing Richard III – and the Nadsat slang the droogs spoke was very Shakespearean.

New trailer for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange 

“I don’t know what I want,” Stanley would say, “but I do know what I don’t want.” The shoot took six months – his quickest ever. After the budget had spiralled out of control on 2001: A Space Odyssey, he wanted to show the industry he could make a small-budget film. It cost $2.2m, which is still high for a British film. A lot was shot on location around London, including at the Thamesmead estate.

In the scene where I’m being worked over by the police, the probation officer, played by Aubrey Morris, was supposed to spit on me. Poor old Aubrey ran out of saliva and so Steven Berkoff, who was playing a cop, said: “Don’t worry, I’ve got some.” He brought up the most hideous lurgies. Stanley asked: “Can you get it on his nose?” Berkoff says: “Yeah!” We did so many takes, what with Stanley not accepting anything less than 100%. He wanted it to dribble down just right, to be totally humiliating. Obviously, I was a bit pissed off.

During our preparation, Stanley showed me a picture of an eye-operation patient with lid-locks on and asked me if I could have that done to me: “Hell, no!” I said. So he brought in a doctor to anaesthetise my eyes.

But most eye operations are done with the patient lying on their back, not sitting up watching videos. When we shot it, the lid-locks kept sliding off my eyelids and scratching my cornea. When the anaesthetic wore off, I was in such pain I was banging my head against a wall. But Stanley was mainly concerned about when he would be able to get his next shot.

We had shot the ending, which takes place in hospital, but we were stuck on the very important sequence with the beating up of the writer and the gang-rape of his wife. We changed the furniture, changed the actress a couple of times, then after five days, Stanley asked me: “Can you dance?” Because I was bored stiff, I jumped and went straight into the ad lib of Singin’ in the Rain, and on the beats whacking her and kicking the writer.

Stanley was laughing so hard that tears were coming down his cheeks. We drove straight back to his house, where he called someone and bought the rights to use the song.

I was exhausted afterwards. I drove to Cornwall and spent a couple of weeks travelling around and walking on moors. The film was a huge hit. The intelligent newspapers would write editorials about it, not only reviews.

It was bigger than just a movie, because everyone latched on to the issue of gangs and violence in society. After a year or so, Stanley and his family got some death-threat letters, and the police advised him to withdraw the film – which he did, but only in the UK. Everyone who’d wanted to see it had seen it by then.

I’d asked for $100,000 and 2.5% of the box office, which is what I’d got paid on my previous film. Stanley told me Warner had refused the 2.5%. But when I was invited to meet the studio heads, they said: “You’re going to be a very rich young man on the 2.5% we gave Stanley for you.” I knew he would never pay me. It was a terrible way to treat me after I’d given so much of myself, but I got over it. Doing this film has put me in movie history. Every new generation rediscovers it – not because of the violence, which is old hat compared to today, but the psychological violence. That debate, about a man’s freedom of choice, is still current.

Philip Castle, poster designer

I went to Stanley’s house and he showed me a rough cut of the film. I was impressed – with such a violent subject, you didn’t expect to see such terrific photography. There was so much pictorial gold to choose from. I sketched a few images from the film and then came up with the big capital “A”. After experimenting with a few concepts, I realised the key feature should be Alex with the knife.

I picked up my Aerograph 95 airbrush and got to work. They sent me Alex’s bowler hat, because Stanley thought I’d got its curve wrong. Apart from that, they thought everything was great and they paid me £650, about £9,500 today.

The poster was plastered everywhere: in the press, on the underground, on billboards. It was often next to another poster of mine, for Ken Russell’s The Boy Friend, which was a turnaround in my career. I didn’t think the poster was as great as people made out, but it’s certainly had a good run.

Original Link: How we made A Clockwork Orange – by Malcolm McDowell

join the Hawkins Bay Revolution
before it is too late
Read

by

James Porteous

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s