Malcolm McDowell has over 200 screen credits, from classics to blockbusters to a Penthouse-made Roman epic to TV to tiny films he did just to keep working. As expected, he has stories. He tells us one while talking about “Mozart in the Jungle,” his first streaming “TV show” (or whatever you’d call it), which recently debuted, in its entirety, on Amazon Prime. He plays a longtime conductor of a New York City philharmonic, drummed out of his position because times are changing, finances are hurting and the powers-that-be think a new ringleader (Gael Garcia Bernal) will do the trick.
“It’s written by film writers,” he says, noting that the pilot was penned by Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola. “They’re not television people so they’re not completely zombied out. If you’re doing 22 shows a year, by the end of it you are a zombie. They say, ‘Let’s put a dream sequence in!’ You know when those start coming in you’re in real trouble.”
Singing also comes up, because one of his costars is Broadway and screen legend Bernadette Peters and he’s never really sang much onscreen. We bring up “A Clockwork Orange,” in which his young, Beethoven-loving psychopath croons “Singin’ in the Rain.” He bats that away: “That wasn’t really singing.”
But yes, the story. Out of not exactly nowhere McDowell remembers a little, certainly forgotten comedy from 1983, “Get Crazy.” He played a singer — a rock star, charmingly named “Reggie Wanker,” modeled, he thinks, after Mick Jagger.
He was sitting on a beach in Malibu when his agent called, saying he’d send over a script. “It’s this American comedy. Oh good,” McDowell says, rolling his eyes. “I’m reading this script, and I’m thinking, ‘There’s not one smile in this thing. Not one smile.’ So I told my agent, ‘I can’t do this, it’s terrible.’ He said, ‘Look, there’s nothing else on the horizon.’ I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it, but I want full money, not half.’ He comes back and says they won’t do that. I opened the trash bin and there went the American comedy.”
Two week later he was offered it again, full money, because the rock star they hired was fired, and shooting was to begin in three days. “I said, ‘It was Mick Jagger, wasn’t it?’”
When he arrived that Monday morning, McDowell was getting his makeup done next to another actor. “He says, ‘How are you going to play that scene?’ I went, ‘Huh?’ I hadn’t finished the script!” he recalls. “I went to the makeup guy and asked if he had a script. He gives me one. It reads, ‘Reggie comes off the stage, takes a big glug of water from the water bottle and says something about it being spiked with LSD. He goes to the bathroom and is sitting on the low and suddenly a voice says, “Hey, Reggie!”’ He’s talking to his d—! I had never even read that! But they were paying me.”
So that’s how Malcolm McDowell, star of “O Lucky Man!” “Time After Time” and “Caligula,” accidentally wound up making a movie where he converses with his schlong. He did the voice himself.
The other plus? He was sharing the screen with another rock legend. “I got to work with Lou Reed!” he says. “He was strange. But my god, who cares?”