Shock Interview: Silent Night’s Malcolm McDowell

ON had the honor of talking with Malcolm McDowell about his new film Silent Night.

McDowell chats with us about the approach he took to his character, his working relationship with the film’s director, Steven C. Miller, and working with legendary director Stanley Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange.  

Silent Night is the story of a small-town sheriff (McDowell) and deputy who go on the hunt for a murderous Santa Claus terrorizing their community on Christmas Eve. But with the streets full of Santas for the annual Christmas parade, the killer is hiding in plain sight. He’s made his list, checked it twice, and the naughty are going to pay with their lives. The film is currently available on DVD and Blu ray.

Shock Till You Drop: Have you seen the original Silent Night, Deadly Night?

Malcolm McDowell: No. I’ve never seen it and really have no desire to. I know about it, of course, but we didn’t do a remake. It’s inspired by the first film, and that’s about it. I don’t think the story is anything like the first film. I don’t think my character even appears in the first film. You take every job on its merits; on the script, and the people involved. The reason that I wanted to do the film wasn’t because of the first film, but because I liked Steven [C. Miller] and I liked his vision for the movie.

Shock: You were great as Sheriff Cooper. What did you do to make the role your own?

McDowell: The parameters were quite simple. I was playing a sheriff in a small town that had basically no crime. All he had ever done was issue parking tickets, sort out squabbles between neighbors, and put drunks in the lockup. He takes his position as sheriff very seriously. As soon as he puts that uniform on, he sees himself as a man of power in his community. So, when a serial killer is on the loose is in his town and the FBI can’t get there because the road is blocked off, he’s okay with that. He thinks he can handle it. I guess that his arrogance makes him think that he’s invincible. Of course, he doesn’t want to listen to Jaime King’s character, because she comes up with common sense solutions. He has his theories that he would rather rely on than use common sense. You can tell he’s fond of her, though. He’s a professional. He really takes pride in being a cop. So, I didn’t want to make him a buffoon. I wanted to make him as real as I could.

Shock: You have some fantastic dialogue in Silent Night; particularly the line about bringing a flame thrower to a gun fight. Was any of the dialogue improvised?

McDowell: I love that line! That was in the script. A lot of the other lines were ad libbed, though. I was having a bit of a dig at CSI: Miami, because I did a couple of episodes of the show. For fun, I said something like ‘What do you think this is, CSI: Miami?’ There were various other scenes that were improvised, as well.”

Shock: You were fun to watch. I think that it came together very well.

McDowell: Thank you.

Shock: By some standards, Silent Night is a pretty shocking film. Was there anything about the movie that shocked you or made you uncomfortable?

McDowell: No. I think we are all immune, by now. I think the chipper scene is a terrific scene. It makes me laugh, probably because I’m a sick individual. We know it’s a movie. The chipper scene that really horrified me was in Fargo, which is one of my all time favorite films. But, I think that Steven did a tremendous job making the Santa character so scary with the mask and the whole setup. I thought that he did a great job.

Shock: I thought the film did a great job of walking the line between horror and comedy.

McDowell: I agree. I have limited experience with these things, but I agree. Another director that I love in the horror genre is Wes Craven. He is the king. I love his work. Wes is a great director. He’s unbeatable in the horror genre. I think Steven did a very commendable job.

Shock: Shifting gears a little for this next question, you once said that you had to get beneath the surface to really get to know Stanley Kubrick. How were you able to do that with him and forge the relationship that the two of you had?

McDowell: I knew him for a year and a half.I saw him pretty much every day, during that time. You get to know somebody pretty quickly when you are doing something where you are so vulnerable. I had to trust him as my director, which it’s not difficult to trust Stanley Kubrick. He had an enormous charm when he wanted to, but he was much more at home with his cameras, and lights, and angles. Kubrick undoubtedly was a genius of the age at the technical side of filming. There were incredible inventions that were made directly because of Stanley Kubrick. For example, the use of the steady cam, came right out of The Shining. It came of him asking people to design something that he wanted. His innovations on the technical side are just legendary.

I got to work with him in a very different way. When I asked him, very early on in the film, if he had any ideas for how I should approach the character in a scene, he looked at me and told me that was why he had hired me. I went back and thought about it and I realized that he had presented me with the greatest gift. What he had said to me was to show him, and that when we got it right, that was what we would do. Of course, that’s what he wanted. That’s what Peter Sellers did before me. He could go in to funny voices at the drop of a hat. He was brilliant at that.

Shock: Thank you so much for talking with us. It’s been an honor.

McDowell: Thank you. Happy Holidays.

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