Malcolm McDowell Interview: ‘Truth Seekers’, Ghosts, & Working With Jim Field Smith
‘Truth Seekers‘, Amazon Primes new paranormal comedy series from Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, James Serafinowicz and Nat Saunders, premieres Friday, 30th October 2020, and in preparation for the launch, I had the chance for a little chat with one of the stars, the legendary Malcolm McDowell.
‘Truth Seekers’ is a supernatural comedy-drama series about a team of part-time paranormal investigators who team up to uncover and film ghost sightings across the UK, sharing their adventures on an online channel for all to see. However, as they stake out haunted churches, underground bunkers and abandoned hospitals with their array of homemade ghost-detecting gizmos, their supernatural experiences grow more frequent, more terrifying and even deadly, as they begin to uncover a conspiracy that could bring about Armageddon for the entire human race.
In ‘Truth Seekers’, Malcolm plays Richard, the somewhat grumpy and set in his ways father of Nick Frost’s Gus, leader of the Truth Seekers. McDowell is arguably among the most dynamic and inventive of world-class actors. Whether it’s as the gleefully amoral Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange’, murdering Captian Kirk as the tyrannical Soran in ‘Star Trek: Generations’, or popping up in tv shows such as Amazon’s brilliant ‘Mozart in the Jungle’, TNT’s ‘Franklin & Bash’, or hit sci-fi ‘Heroes’, he always brings his immense charm, humour and poignancy to the role.
Malcolm describes Richard as “a miserable bugger, who is set in his ways, like most older people,” but adds “he’s an interesting character, he’s multifaced, like them all. At first glance, he seems to be just a grumpy old man, but he’s more than that. It’s interesting to see their unlikely relationship develop, and the way they exist in their own little worlds and how they come together, there is a genuine feeling of family and love. And, of course, the old man’s lonely and he’s always saying, “You’re going out again? What if you leave me and I just die here”, he’s a bit like that. So, poor pitiful me. But there’s a lot of comedy to be had in that kind of relationship.”
The interview took the form of a “round table” with various reporters asking questions, but I kicked things off asking the now America-based Malcolm how was it coming back to the UK to film ‘Truth Seekers’?
Malcolm McDowell: It was great. I had been looking for something to do in England because I hadn’t been back to my home country in so long. In fact, I’ve lived in America longer than I’ve lived in England, which is quite weird. But I was very happy to come back to London, in fact. I’ve been back a few times to do this, that, and the other, but I hadn’t really worked in London since I did a show for the BBC called Our Friends in the North. Which was a hell of a long time ago now, I can’t remember.
I had done a film, a Russian film, that actually started off in Saint Petersburg. Then they all came, all the Russian technicians, came to London to shoot in London. So, it was sort of really weird coming with a load of Russians to be in London. They were all looking for LP records at secondhand shops. The makeup lady, her husband was collecting … and she was forever going off looking for old records. I was going, “Jesus. I threw mine out.” Now, we all want them back. Now we realise that sound of the needle going on, it was so alive. That sound was so great. Anyway, I digress a bit there…
How was it coming back? London is still London. It’s one of the great cities on the planet. I love it. I love being in Soho. I love walking around. Even though it’s very different than it was in my day, it’s still London. Of course, it’s become a sort of millionaire’s playground a bit now with all those fancy restaurants, and all that. But you know, basically, it’s still great. It’s still London and I love it. So, yeah. I kind of miss it in a way. I do and I don’t. I don’t want to live there, but it’s so nice to visit.
There is a scene (mild spoilers) in the series which features some eye trama for your character. I immediately thought it was a little bit of a wink and a nod to your cinematic past, and I’m curious what your thoughts are on that. [A reference to the famous scene in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ where Malcolm’s Alex had his eyes forced open by metal hooks, which left the actor with real permanent scarring.]
Malcolm McDowell: Well, I never thought of it that way. But of course, I think the production was very concerned that I would freak out, which was a bit weird for me. Because of course they’re not going to stick these things in my eyes, and anaesthetise them and all that, which is what happened before where I scratched my corneas.
This was very tame. All it really required of me was to put this red dye in my eye. I think I only had to do it once and they got a close-up, and that was the end of that. Then they just put a bit of makeup in it, in the corners. It may have been a nod from them to Clockwork, but I don’t know. It never even occurred to me, but probably it was. Because, of course, they love to steal things from everywhere. So, you know, why not?
In the show, you play Richard, the father of Gus. He’s very curious about his son’s work, but on the other hand, he’s also very sceptical and teasing him about it all the time. I wanted to ask you, how did your parents actually react when you told them that you would like to be an actor?
Well, my father was sceptical because, unbeknownst to me, his father was an actor. This was never really spoken about, because he was an actor, and in those days you went from theatre to theatre around the provinces. So, I think my father and his stepsister were very … They were very sceptical about the whole theatrical business because they were really never with their father. Because he was always working, and of course they didn’t take the children into the theatre.
So, I don’t think he was that keen when I told him I was going to be an actor. He was, I think, disappointed. But it didn’t last long, because I said, “I’ll just give it a try for a few years, see how you go,” you know. But of course, if you are an actor you can’t really do anything else. Of course, I knew that myself, but I didn’t want to tell my father that. Anyway, it turned out okay. Thank goodness.
Have you had any experience with ghosts or other paranormal events?
Malcolm McDowell: No. No, and I think I’m too cynical to be open to it. I’ve been in haunted houses in England, supposedly haunted houses, but every time I go there the ghosts are out. Gone. I don’t know. They don’t like cynics very much, I think.
You are one of the most, if not the most, prolific actors in many decades. What motivates you to be in an actor for so long? Is there still something you haven’t done yet?
Malcolm McDowell: Probably. Oh God, yes. I’m sure there is. But you know, I just love doing it. I love it. I still love it. You know, I’m 77. I really, probably, should slow down. Well, the only reason I’ve slowed down is because of COVID, the coronavirus. Otherwise, I think I’ve got like a stack of films waiting just to get the go-ahead and then … So, we’ll see how it goes.
Actually, it’s been quite nice to be in enforced rest. I had my knee replaced, which I needed to do, and I never could find the time to do it. So, I just went in and did it, and I’m thinking to myself, “Wow. Why didn’t I do this years ago?” You know, these new knees are amazing.
Anyway, I digress. But, no. The answer is I’m not a believer in ghosts and … but I’m open enough. Listen, if there’re any ghosts up there, out there, come visit me. I’d love to have a chat, and then I’ll be a believer.
How was it working with Jim Field Smith? Because it’s sort of a rarity on a TV show to have one director that goes right through from start to finish. So, was it nice having that sort of continuity?
Yes, and you know, he is a brilliant director. No question. And it is, you’re right, it was a rare luxury. I’ve never had that before. I’ve had, of course, the same producers on television shows. But Jim, he was pretty amazing. He was great. It was great. So, yes, it was amazing. He also devised this show about… what’s it called? It’s really about It’s about questioning a suspect…
‘Criminal’! Yes, going to ask you, has he tried to rope you into that series, yet? Because I think you’d be brilliant on that [If you’ve not seen ‘Criminal‘, it features guest stars each episode being interrogated by the regular cast set exclusively within the confines of a police interview suite.]
Yeah. He did ask me. But I had no idea that he had anything to do with it, and I came in and I was talking to our producer, Richard, who’s also pretty amazing and very much involved in the creation of everything, and the look, the this, the that. I said, “I just saw it on this series!.. “It’s fascinating, because they stay in the room, and it’s just so claustrophobic and so amazing.” He goes, “That’s his show.” I went, “Oh my God,” and it was not a fake thing. You know, it was just happened to be a coincidence. So, it was great!
‘Truth Seekers‘ Season 1 premieres Friday, 30th October 2020 on Amazon Prime in the UK and in over 240 countries and territories worldwide.