The father of cinematic absurdity opens our eyes to his adventures in multimedia

(reprinted here exclusively since they deleted it from their site) by Sean Kelly

ComputerLife: Describe for me your role on the Star Trek VG.  

Malcolm McDowell: I do all the voice-over work for the same character from the Star Trek: Generations movie - Soran. The CD uses all the voices of the principal characters in the film. Of course, they are played by the same actors, so it's everybody from Star Trek and Bill Shatner. Like in the movie, I'm trying to blow up the world. The game, of course, goes into many more worlds than we can do in a linear movie. So here, we take advantage of the whole thing: the game situation and the technology. And, I think you know, this is cutting-edge stuff. Next year, it's going to be even more astounding, but, of course, you know that better than I do. 

CL: Did this project present any new challenges for you that you didn't have in the Wing Commander series?  

McDowell: No, it was easy. And it was well written, very simplistic; I had played the character before in the movie, so it was just a question of using the same voice. 

CL: You've done four interactive movies now and so have proven your interest in them. What is it about the interactive movie that attracts you? 

McDowell: I enjoy doing characters and voice. I actually like doing radio work, you know, because it's fascinating just to do the voice and imagine a whole world. And while interactive movies aren't quite like radio, you can still do an awful lot with your voice in them; for me that's very much a part of who I am and what my characters are. 

CL: Was that the appeal for this particular project -- experimenting with your voice?  

McDowell: Well, the appeal to Generations on CD is that I had played the part before, and all the original cast was going to do it. I loved working with the people in the film; and the people at MicroProse seem to always make a good product, so I knew it wasn't going to be cheesy. If I had said no to doing the CD, I would have been sour grapes -- a bit of a killjoy -- so why would I have wanted to do that? Leet's just go to the party and enjoy it. 

CL: On a more personal note, there seems to be a common thread in some of the roles you accept, whether they're in independent films, interactive movies, or the films you've done that have broken completely new ground in one way or another -- Caligula, Clockwork Orange, Generations. What do you think that common thread is for you?  

McDowell: I don't really know if there is a common thread. I think you're offered a role, and you have to take what you're offered. And because of Clockwork Orange, I'm always offered the heavy first, which is a shame. That's why I ended up doing a sitcom on television, to change people's perceptions. It's amazing the number of times I've had people say, "Can he do comedy?" And that staggers me. I've always thought Clockwork Orange was a black comedy, and everything I've done, I've always taken the comedic route. I think it's always good to try something new, anyway. I'm not scared about doing new technology; I embrace it, and I think one should try everything. 

CL: What do you see as the future of the interactive movie?  

McDowell: Soon every movie will come with an interactive game. Movies and interactive games are so intertwined now, and the technology for these games is close to being as good as that in movies. It isn't at the moment by any stretch of the imagination, and, in fact, I think on Wing Commander IV, where we did all the live-action stuff, the computer-generated stuff looked real cheesy compared to film. You know, it didn't mesh; the technologies were not really caught up. 

CL: Do you think, as an actor, that it is any more difficult to give as gripping a performance in an interactive movie as opposed to a regular film?  

McDowell: Well, in the case of Wing Commander, while the writing wasn't bad, I wouldn't say it was great, so it was a lot harder to do than a movie because you had to make the script sound like it actually meant something. 

CL: Is it harder to work in the blue-screen studio environment of interactive games than with actual sets?  

McDowell: No, that doesn't worry me at all. I think your imagination just takes you over. They say, "Oh, you're on a starship," so there you are on the bridge of a starship. When I worked with Chris Roberts on the Wing Commander series, I got to experience both ways of doing things. Wing Commander IV was the first interactive game shot like a movie with sets, because Chris wanted to move his camera, and there was no technology -- and I still don't think there is -- for ggreen-screen or blue-screen setups where you can actually move the actors and the camera and keep the background consistent. I think the technology is getting close, though. 

CL: Obviously, Chris is heavily pushing digital technologies in the way of movies. Who do you think is most responsible for pushing movies toward digital technologies? 

McDowell: Well, look at what Spielberg is doing with these dinosaurs. That is so mind-boggling to me. But I think James Cameron is the one that made the gigantic leap in Terminator 2; he's the one that actually pushed this business way into another stratosphere. He's the more modern version of Stanley Kubrick. And Stanley's 2001 is still a benchmark. Without 2001, there would have been no Star Wars. 

CL: What do you think of the Internet?  

McDowell: The information you can get there is staggering. It's just these stupid chat rooms. I've logged in, and I look and think, "Who wants to spend time talking to these brain-dead people?" That kind of thing is a complete waste of time. 

CL: Do you cruise the Net yourself?  

McDowell: I don't really use it, to be honest. Why? I know you can get sucked in and obsessed by it and never get any sleep. I'm fairly obsessive. It's like I don't choose to play golf because I don't want to obsess on it. I'm not saying it's not great, because it really is. My kids use it without even thinking about it, but when I sit there, it's like I have two left thumbs, you know. Hopeless. 

CL: Are you the type to rush into new technologies? You know, anything from cell phones to pagers to laptops . . .  

McDowell: I haven't got a cell phone yet, but I have a phone in the car. But that doesn't really count. I tend to resist rushing off into this stuff, and I think I'm a bit frightened of it. We're always a bit frightened of stuff we don't know. Also, my life is kind of nice the way it is. Why screw it up if it's not broken? 

CL: How sophisticated would you say you are with computers?  

McDowell: On a scale of 1 to 10? Two. I'm saying a two because I'm involved in these games. 

CL: What kind of technology interests you most?  

McDowell: As a kid I always wanted to travel at warp speed. That was the one thing I asked for during the movie. 

CL: Did they put the warp scene in there for you?  

McDowell: I don't know whether they put it in there for me, but I suddenly did it. 

CL: You killed Captain Kirk in the film, ending life for a whole generation of Star Trek fans. That resulted in a number of threats on your life. How do you feel about that?  

McDowell: Really, you should be sitting here by the window [laughs]. . . . Actually, I'm not really worried about it. It's probably a joke, but you never know. I don't think it's good to talk about it, so that's why I don't really enter into interviews about Star Trek, because I'm not a Star Trek actor. I did one movie, and I happen to really like the work I did in it. I loved the part and I loved the people I worked with. Getting threats is ridiculous, really, but I will say you have to consider any threat: I've got my children and my wife. The threats came over the Internet, by the way, so if you're asking me why I don't like the Internet, there's your answer. 

CL: Do you kill Kirk again in the disc?  

McDowell: Absolutely. We have to stick to the story. But you know, my feeling is this: If whoever makes the next Star Trek movie paid a big enough check, Bill Shatner would be back as Captain Kirk. 

CL: Is there anything you want to say publicly to address the threats?  

McDowell: I would just like to say, "Hey, come on guys, lighten up. I'm just an actor, so let's not blame the messenger." 

1997 Computer Life
Archived 2001-08 Alex D. Thrawn for

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