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Over the years, the Star Trek franchise has enlisted the skills of many actors who were already well-known beforehand. Ricardo Montalban and Benedict Cumberbatch were both proven talents before they stepped into the role of Khan Noonien Singh. Christopher Lloyd and Kelsey Grammer both had a beloved sitcom role under their belt before they appeared as a Klingon commander and a Starfleet captain, respectively. Even people like Bryan Singer, Christian Slater, and Seth MacFarlane have appeared in small roles just so they could be a part of the Trek universe. But not every actor out there is a fan, and some would rather have nothing to do with Star Trek. Case in point: Star Trek: Generations’ Malcolm McDowell.
Earlier this week The Alex Theatre and Glendale Arts Prospect House Entertainment honored legendary actor Malcolm McDowell by screening A Clockwork Orange, Time After Time, and Star Trek: Generations. Before the screenings, Trek vet Michael Dorn (Worf) hosted a Q&A wherein, among other things, McDowell revealed that, initially, he really didn’t want anything to do with Star Trek. In fact, he turned down the role of Soran not once, not twice, but four times before they made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. McDowell told the audience:
To be honest with you, I didn’t want anything to do with this. When my agent said, you heard of Star Trek? I said [groans] yes. I thought cardboard sets, Bill Shatner and Mr. Ears (Spock). I never really watched it. I wasn’t really into science fiction, but I didn’t get into it until I got into it. Then I enjoyed it. There is something to be said about Star Trek for its longevity and its legs in the pantheon of American culture. We’re all fascinated with things we do not know — space… my agent said inquiring about the thing [Star Trek] and I said, ‘I’m not doing 5 hours of makeup every damn day!’… I read the script and thought it was a wonderful part. And to work with old baldy again [Patrick Stewart].
Of course, McDowell’s role in Star Trek was no minor thing. He got to face off against two iconic captains (Kirk and Picard) from two separate Trek series…or, as McDowell put it, riffing on the Generations poster blurb: Two Captains. One Destiny. “And one hairpiece.”
For his role as Soran, McDowell also holds the bragging rights of being the guy who killed Captain James T. Kirk (well, in the original timeline, anyway). At one point during filming on Generations Shatner, in typical Shatner form, asked McDowell, “What was it like to kill an American TV icon?” Recalling the incident, McDowell said, “I was thinking to myself, you got to be kidding me but I said, half of the people out there are going to hate me and the other half are going to LOVE me.”
McDowell also recounted his memories of learning that Stewart had signed on for The Next Generation back in the day. It was 1987, and McDowell was doing a play called Hunting Cockroaches when Stewart came by for a visit. McDowell said:
[Stewart] said, ‘Well, you know, I’m doing this science fiction thing.’ I said ‘Good God, which one?’… ‘Star Trek’ [I said] ‘Oh my God, that old hackney piece! No! Oh my God’ [Stewart responded] ‘Well, it’ll be a nice little pension’ That was a understatement. Good for him.
Star Trek of course wasn’t McDowell’s only foray into science fiction. He starred in the bleak A Clockwork Orange for director Stanley Kubrick, based on the novel by Anthony Burgess. In the other film featured at the event, Time After Time, he played author H.G. Wells in a story that saw Wells traveling through time in pursuit of the infamous serial killer Jack the Ripper (played by David Warner). Not to mention the Tank Girl movie, but he’d probably rather nobody remember that one…