Malcolm McDowell: Lindsay Anderson and me

'He was the most extraordinary person in my life.' Malcolm McDowell explains how one director has shaped his career

Welcome to cyberspace. Malcolm McDowell, the 63-year-old star of If... and A Clockwork Orange, is currently to be seen on a computer near you, giving an illustrated, interactive lecture about Free Cinema - "One of Britain's most important and influential film movements, even if you've never heard of it," he can be heard saying.

When he is not haranguing viewers, McDowell is an excellent lecturer: informative, humorous and impassioned. He shows us a photograph of a huge queue outside London's National Film Theatre in 1956, when the first Free Cinema documentaries were shown in public. These were films that looked at everyday life: honest explorations of such subjects as funfairs, dance halls or youth clubs. In the context of the emotional repression of so much British cinema of the era, they seemed ground-breaking. The initial programme included Lindsay Anderson's acerbic 12-minute short O Dreamland, exploring the joys of a day out in Margate.

Ask him why he agreed to take on the unlikely role of cyber-professor for the British Film Institute and McDowell replies loftily that he wants "to put something back into the business that has been so good to me". The real reason, it soon becomes clear, is his devotion to Anderson.

Since Anderson's death in 1994, McDowell has proselytised tirelessly on behalf of his old mentor (who directed him in If..., O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital). He appeared in a one-man show about Anderson and even volunteered to play him in a planned Michael Winterbottom movie that never got off the ground.

Anderson and McDowell first met in the late 1960s at the audition for If.... They made an unlikely couple. The former was a sharp-tongued, fogeyish figure with the air of an Oxbridge don. The latter was a freewheeling jack-the-lad trying to make his way as an actor after a brief career as a coffee salesman.

The Yorkshire-born son of a publican, McDowell was Anderson's kind of actor. That's to say, he wasn't an effete, Home Counties type. He had an anarchic quality and a physicality that immediately appealed to the director. "Lindsay loathed the Establishment-type Englishman and the rather dispassionate, cold and disapproving air that they give off. I always played up my roots from the North and I think Lindsay liked that."

The novelist, screenwriter and critic Gavin Lambert (who died last summer) was a close friend of both McDowell and Anderson. Nonetheless, some of Anderson's circle were outraged by Lambert's memoir, Mainly About Lindsay Anderson, in which he posited the idea that the film-maker was a repressed homosexual who fetishised the male body on camera.

Lambert had "come out" very early. Anderson, the son of a major-general, was from a background where - as McDowell puts it - "you don't come out... I think he [Anderson] was what you call now a celibate homosexual. I remember having a great discussion with Gavin and saying that he [Anderson] would never have made If... like it was, with this repressed homosexuality throughout, if he had been out like you. He would not have made these films with this angst, this edge and this poetic side.

"I know that he was in love with Richard Harris [the star of Anderson's first feature, This Sporting Life]. I am sure that it was the same with me and Albert [Finney] and the rest. It wasn't a physical thing. But I suppose he always fell in love with his leading men. He would always pick someone who was unattainable because he was heterosexual."

Anderson was a self-reliant and opinionated figure, a Daily Telegraph-reading polemicist who wouldn't back down in an argument and whose motto was never to apologise. To McDowell, he had always been a mentor - someone who gave him a crash course in world cinema (taking him to Kurosawa and Preston Sturges movies and Humphrey Jennings documentaries on the South Bank), and even employed him as a painter when McDowell was between acting jobs.

Reading Anderson's diaries after the director's death, McDowell belatedly realised that his saturnine friend was a far more vulnerable figure than he had seemed. "I really felt for his loneliness. I had never realised quite how utterly lonely he was. Of course, If I had thought about it for a moment, I would have realised. But he was such an imposing figure. You always thought that he was a tower and a pillar of strength."

McDowell tells stories of blazing rows that he had with Anderson. "We had tremendous fights and make-ups. It was like any great friendship that lasts for most of your life. It was up and down, but mostly up. He was the most extraordinary person in my life. He changed the course of my life."

Through Anderson, McDowell met the playwright David Storey as well as all the key film-makers of the British New Wave, directors such as Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz and John Schlesinger. Anderson never attacked McDowell for his career choices. Nor did he question his protégé's decision to pursue a career in the US. "He knew that one is a working actor. You have to take what work is on the table. He knew that - although Lindsay was rather luckier than most of us. He had a small trust fund, so he could afford not to do commercial crap."

Depending on your point of view, it is either McDowell's great good fortune that he was able to work with film-makers of the calibre of Anderson and Stanley Kubrick (on A Clockwork Orange), or his bad luck that he has since done so many movies with lesser talents. Busy as ever, he doesn't seem to be in the slightest embittered about a recent career that has taken him from playing child killers (Evilenko) to roles in Mr Magoo and Star Trek: Generations.

There are a couple of plum parts coming up. He is shortly off to Russia to play Prince Bolkonsky in a mini-series version of War And Peace; he is playing a professor who sets up an escort agency in Pound Of Flesh; and he is also due to star in Every Time We Say Goodbye, a new film written and directed by Bo Goldman (who scripted One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest), about an old man dying of Alzheimer's.

In the meantime, he is only a click away, lecturing on Free Cinema. Ask him about his flashes of temper during the interactive presentation and he says it is all make-believe. "That's Lindsay. It's all Lindsay Anderson. Just click it off if you don't like it."

Malcolm McDowell's presentation on Free Cinema is available via

Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss