Malcolm McDowell has opened up about working on A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 dystopian horror film that possesses so much violent imagery it was ultimately banned in the UK.
McDowell has long spoken of his admiration for Kubrick and the impact that the film had on his career, and even during his recent discussion with The Guardian he admits, “Doing this film has put me in movie history.”
But McDowell has never been so candid about the mental trauma, physical pain and anguish he had to endure before, during and after its production.
“I spent nine months with Stanley before we started shooting, watching violent movies every day,” recalled McDowell. “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.”
Things were just as bad once production began. In fact, in the scene where McDowell is spat on by a probation officer, Kubrick demanded so many takes that the actor Aubrey Morris actually ran out of saliva. However, another officer in the scene, played by Steven Berkoff, was ready and willing to step up.
“He brought up the most hideous lurgies,” says McDowell. “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 p***ed off.”
But the worst treatment McDowell had to endure was during the iconic eye-operation scene. After being shown pictures of the procedure by Kubrick McDowell told the director he wouldn’t do it.
“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.”
McDowell expected to be very well recompensed for his work on “A Clockwork Orange,” as he had requested a payment of $100,000 and 2.5% of the box office. Kubrick told McDowell that Warner Bros had refused to give him the percentage points, though.
“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.”
A Clockwork Orange recently returned to UK cinemas.