Legendary actor Malcolm McDowell blasted his way into popular consciousness with his chilling portrayal of Alex DeLarge, the psychopathic leader of the violent Droogs, in the seminal A Clockwork Orange. Since then, the storied British actor has racked up hundreds of credits in film and television, from the infamous Caligula to the villainous Dr. Tolian Soran, a.k.a. the man who killed Captain James T. Kirk, in Star Trek: Generations. Most recently, McDowell loaned his star credibility to the new stoner classic Grow House, which opened on 4/20. McDowell plays Dr. Doobie, the prescribing doc who sets the main characters (Lil Duval and DeRay Davis) up with medical marijuana recommendations. We caught up with him by phone while he was on set filming a project in Atlanta.
HT: So how long were you on set for Grow House?
MM: Uh, I think three and a half hours. You think I’m joking—I’m not. I literally went in, did my stuff, then had to leave by five o’clock, because I was booked to do this Shakespeare thing, so really it was very fast.
So you performed Shakespeare and played Dr. Doobie in the same day.
That’s right! Exactly (laughs). That’s an actor’s life.
It’s a wonderful life. Is this the first marijuana-centric film that you’ve done?
I think so, although of course I have done films which were a lot better under the influence of marijuana.
Some notorious films! Do you have a marijuana story from a set that you can share with us?
Nope, because I don’t smoke, especially when I’m working. Otherwise I have a feeling [my performance] will be quite boring, because when you are a little high of course you think everything is better than it really is.
When you started out, in the ‘70s, pot smoking was fairly widespread in the arts. Do you feel a new sense of acceptance of marijuana use in the acting community, or in general here in the US?
Well, the voters in Colorado made it legal, so of course there’s much more acceptance of it now then there was, even in the ‘70s, by the way—it was still illegal. But pot smoking in the ‘70s was very—I mean you’d have to smoke like five joints to get just one hit’s worth now. This is before hybrids, and people taking farming of it very seriously and making it 50 million times more potent. I mean today I don’t smoke, but I do know that it’s way more powerful now than it was in my day.
What do you think of the idea of cannabis as a healthier, safer alternative to alcohol for responsible adults?
Well responsible is the key word isn’t it? And, you know, I think alcohol is probably worse for your health. I don’t know because I’m not a doctor, but I personally think that anything in excess is not great so, whether it be alcohol or pot, you know. I know I sound like a fuddy-duddy for High Times, but that’s the way I feel. But that’s my generation maybe.
I enjoyed watching you in Grow House.
You have one up on me, ’cause I haven’t even seen it.
It’s a lot of fun!
Is it? I hear it is, and those guys are fabulous, they’re really great.
It’s fun—that’s great, that it’s fun. I only had a little bit to do. But I enjoyed my time there.
You were quoted last year as saying A Clockwork Orange was more prescient than it seemed at the time. Do you still feel that way?
The reason why I honestly believe A Clockwork Orange is still a very vital movie today, after all this time, is that it’s about a universal subject—the freedom of a person to choose how they live their life, whether it be good or evil or something in between. And the whole point of the movie is that the government, by various methods, has tried to take away that freedom.
I don’t want to get too heavy about it but listen, I’m lucky because, you know, the movie was way ahead of its time when we did it, and we’ve had a lot of imitators since. It made a huge difference culturally and socially, not only as a movie, but even things like the music, the clothes, the make-up. And all that stuff became part of the national—the international language.
High Times was started in 1974, and it embraced a lot of the ideas behind that particular story.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. Well [the characters] weren’t smoking pot, but they were drinking lovely Milk. I used to go into restaurants in the old days, when the movie came out, and people would send over glasses of milk. They weren’t laced as far as I know, but quite funny really.
In relation to what we we’re speaking about, regarding freedom—statistics show that in states that legalize marijuana, drug-related crime rates go down. Are you an advocate for legalization?
To be honest with you I don’t know the answer to that because I have never been faced with a vote on it so, I don’t really know.
I don’t think that marijuana is the problem here—I think the drug problem is the harder stuff, heroin and stuff like that. And you know most people that get hooked on heroin are prescribed drugs from the doctor that are opiates. And it’s just like being given a shot of heroin, really. So it’s insane. I really don’t think that marijuana is the problem here.
There is evidence that cannabis can help treat opiate addiction.
Is that really true?
Yeah? Well then great! Of course, it’s helped a lot of cancer patients, you know and that’s a big thing. And it’s amazing for that.
And many returning veterans are finding relief with medical cannabis instead of using opiates to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.
Keep them off the opiates. All the better.
Well, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure to chat with you.
It was very nice talking to you. Bye!