I Always Wondered: Malcolm McDowell on Silent Night

The Silent Night star explains why he was always suspicious of Santa Claus and tells stories about Tank Girl, Fallout 3, Killzone 3, Caligula and more.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Two nights ago I got to sit near Malcolm McDowell at a screening of his latest feature, Silent Night, a remake of the 1984 slasher classic Silent Night, Deadly Night. The star of A Clockwork Orange, Time After Time and Caligula looked like he was having a blast, on-screen and off, with Stephen C. Miller's new horror flick. McDowell plays Sheriff Cooper, whose town is under attack by a homicidal Kris Kringle and who insists on solving the case entirely by himself, like he's the star of his own badass cop drama. It's a hilarious performance, one of McDowell's best in a while, and so it was a particular treat to talk to the actor about this new film, especially with the extra time I was given to discuss some of his earlier genre appearances, like Halloween 2Tank Girl, "Captain Planet," "South Park," the video games Fallout 3 and Killzone 3 and, of course, his cult classic Caligula. Malcolm McDowell is a very funny man, honest and thoughtful about every one of his films and voice-over performances, and I think you're really going to enjoy this.

Silent Night opens is in select theaters now, and hits DVD and Blu-ray on December 4, 2012.

CraveOnline: I was at the premiere of Silent Night last night…

Malcolm McDowell: Oh, you were! Good!

I sat a couple of rows behind you, and it looked like you were really enjoying yourself.

Well, I really enjoyed it because I was so surprised at how well it turned out! And that’s all credit to Steven [Miller], our director, who did a wonderful job.

Is this your kind of movie?

Well, not really, but I think it must be now. I mean, I did enjoy it. Not because I’m in it, but because I really enjoyed the whole thing. I thought it was absolutely hilarious, hysterical, frightening and yet funny. It just found the right balance somehow. I think he did a wonderful job.

I think your character is a big part of that. He’s a fun guy who’s just full of false bravado.

Yeah. I know, it is a lovely character to do actually. You know, I’ve never played a sheriff so it was fun for me to do that. You know what, uniforms in small towns, they tend to be a certain type, don’t they? It’s a power trip. There’s a little bit of that, but not too much, so I tried to play him as a real cop. Someone who’s a proud man who thinks he can handle it, which is hilarious! Because “this is where the training kicks in.” She’s got it all worked out, and he still thinks he’s got the guy in jail. I mean, it’s hilarious really.

Had you ever been in a room with that many Santa Clauses before?

No, it’s scary. Very scary.

A lot of people are kind of scared of Santa Claus. Are you one of those guys?

I was always rather suspicious of him, yeah.

Why is that?

I don’t know. There was always something weird about having to go and sit on Santa’s knee, and I always wondered… I never heard them on the roof. But I suppose the other kids, they don’t think about it too much as long as the presents are there under the tree. That was important, but our Christmases were very different from what they are now. My mother used to put the presents in a pillow sack, and there’d be parcels, and at the bottom there’d be nuts and tangerines because, post-war Britain, these were sort of luxury items. [Laughs] It sounds so… And now I live in the middle of an orange orchard! I just can’t get enough of them.

Did you have any thoughts on the controversy that surrounded the original Silent Night, Deadly Night?

Well, that was of a different time. Of course, as a parent I wouldn’t want my kids watching this until they’re in their teens and they could understand that this is a genre movie that’s made to make you scream and laugh at the same time. I wouldn’t want to give my children nightmares about Santa Claus. God knows he’s a very creepy Santa, wasn’t he?

Yes, he was.

A big guy with that mask on. He looked like he had black eyes.

That was a nice touch.

Yeah, it was! And I loved the burning thing at the end. I thought it was fantastic. I also quite enjoyed, “A big mistake, bringing a flamethrower to a gunfight.” [Laughs]

I could tell you enjoyed that line.

Yeah, I loved it.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you’ve done a lot of slasher movies before this.

Wait a minute, I haven’t done that many. I’ve done Rob Zombie’s Halloweens, that’s it.

Yeah, but you had a great character in them. The second one you had a wonderful part in particular.

The second one, yeah, I did too, because I made him an absolute prick. I said to Rob, “I don’t want to just play the same damned thing.” He goes, “Oh, you’re right, yeah.” I go, “I’ll want him a total prick.” He goes, “He’s the only one who’s benefitted from these murders.” I went, “Yeah.” [Laughs] So that was thinking there. I just didn’t want to do the same thing again and again and again, you know.

A lot of people my age have a particular fondness for Tank Girl.

Oh good! I enjoyed doing Tank Girl.

Tank Girl was a really fun movie. Do you have any particular memories from that production that you can share?

It was interesting. We made the movie, basically all my stuff was all shot in a disused copper mine in Arizona, where the heat there was like 130 degrees. It was like working in a blast furnace, and seriously your brain doesn’t really work much past that. And that’s basically what I remember about it. You know, a good cast. Lori [Petty] and what’s her name, who’s gone on to be a big actress now…

Naomi Watts?

Yeah, that’s right. Naomi. And I knew Naomi before that, actually. I was going to do another film with her. Anyway, hers was a nice story. […] It was great that she went on to do big things, because she didn’t really have much of a part in Tank Girl.

I remember being very surprised by your cameo in “South Park” a few years ago.

Well, why? They’re brilliant, those guys. They asked me, I met them at a party and we were just goofing around. They said “Would you come on and do…?” And I said “Absolutely. Just tell me when, I’ll be there.” And that’s how that came about.

Are you that accessible? If I found you at a party and had a movie going on, would you be interested? Or is it just that “South Park” is that great?

No, “South Park” is that great. These guys, that’s one of the best movies… That “South Park” movie? That was one of the best movies of the year that year.

And 1999 was a great year to begin with.

Incredible! They’re absolutely amazing talents. No question about that.

You did a couple of episodes of the television series “Captain Planet.” That series attracted a lot of really top notch talent, and I wonder if it was because the ecological message of the series was so meaningful, or if it was just a good gig?

I think it was well done, and with a voice over it’s very easy. You just go in, ten minutes, and you’re out. But it was also good stuff, so it was more attractive to do stuff that’s well written.

Obviously it’s a more casual environment, but do you approach your voice-acting roles in a different way?

No, it really isn’t. It’s tough. You have to be on it, and you have to be able to take direction, because often you haven’t read the script. You just come in to do the sides, and you need to know exactly where you are in terms of the emotional involvement. So you’re relying on somebody to tell you exactly. You have to be able to take direction, absolutely and very precisely. But I enjoy doing voice overs very much. I love it. I think it’s a lot of fun, and actually I wish I did more of them.

I think my favorite voice over that you did was actually in the video game Fallout 3.

Is that where I played the president?

Yeah, and you were this constant presence throughout the experience, where we’re hearing you on the radio until finally we have that great climax. How did they direct you on that?

Well, they just told me I was the president. So I had in my mind President Reagan. I wasn’t trying to copy him, but I tried to get his cadence a little bit. And that was all I did. I think it took two hours to record, and I was out of there.

God, and I must have listened to you for about sixty hours when I played that video game too.

Yeah, well I know people really loved that. And there was another one I did, which called… Oh god, I’m so bad at remembering these bloody names…

Was it the God of War game?

No. I was in that one too. I only had a little bit in that. No, there was another one. Killzone! How was that, Killzone 3?

I didn’t play that, but it got a lot of really good reviews.

I think maybe they want to do another one, and thank god I wasn’t killed in that! So I’ll be back for that one. I enjoyed doing that a lot. I did it with Ray Winstone, and it was hilarious. We shot it somewhere near San Diego in some studio. It was a big cage, with 360 cameras around this cage. They basically just use your movements and your voice, that’s it. So Ray was sitting in the car with me, going from the hotel to the [studio], and he goes, “Have you learnt it?” [doing a spot-on Ray Winstone impression] And I go, “No, I haven’t learnt it at all. I barely read it.” He goes, “I learnt it.” I went, “You learnt it? What the f*ck did you learn it for?” He goes, “Well, I don’t know. I just fucking learnt it.” So we get there and they give us another script. He goes, “Hey! Why did I f*cking learn this? What’s this?!” I said, “That’s why I didn’t bother learning it. Because they change it all the time.” I go, “You can just read it.” He goes, “I can’t read it without my glasses.” I said, “Then put your f*cking glasses on, because it’s not your face anyway!”

It was hilarious! I could barely keep a straight… I couldn’t even do it sometimes, I was laughing so hard at him. He was screaming in my face, and I just wanted to laugh so hard. And he couldn’t remember it. He knew that whoever it was he was screaming about was an Italian name. So he screams at me and I could see he didn’t know the f*cking name. He comes up, “FERRARI!” And I say, “Gosh, I thought you were going to say ‘spaghetti’ for a minute!” And we both just laughed. I said, “Ray, put your glasses on, darling. We’ll be here for a week if you don’t.” So he eventually just threw them on, so that was that.

I’m sure you get questions about this all the time, but Caligula has this legendary status…

Yeah, I wonder why?

Was it that bizarre on the actual set, or was it just another day at the office for you?

No, I think was a very bizarre experience. It was. No question about it. Unlike any other experience I’ve had before or since. It was absolutely amazing.

What was it that set it apart?

Well, it was just sort of debauchery. Of course we’re dealing with an extraordinary period of world history. This is what really happened. It’s amazing how corrupt and bankrupt morally these people became. But it was an amazing empire. It lasted 300 years [Editor’s Note: Quite a bit longer than that, actually], which is more than any other empire. And they gave more to the world than anybody, in terms of their justice system. Central heating, even. How they transported water with aqueducts. Everything! Roads! Before the Romans there was nothing like that.

I’ve heard that some of your co-stars on Caligula weren’t aware of the debauchery before they got onto the set.

That’s not true, actually. None of us knew they were going to inject hardcore lesbian things in it, and stuff like that. That was shot two years later. A very different cameraman. You can see nothing matches, it was a really bad attempt. And it doesn’t really matter. It’s so stupid. But I must say that there were some really wonderful things in that movie. There were some things that were horrible and just don’t work, but there are other things that really do, and you know, listen… It is what it is. I don’t regret it. I won’t say it was fun to do. It wasn’t. It was just hard work, actually. There was always a problem with the production. There was always somebody going on strike or something, or some kerfuffle going on. You never knew what to expect.


William Bibbiani is the editor of CraveOnline's Film Channel and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani