PASADENA, California — In 1978, British thespian Donald Pleasence stepped off the grand stage to give horror fans an all-time classic movie character, while declaring that he had stared into “this blank, pale, emotionless face with the blackest eyes … the devil’s eyes!” These days, the equally treasured Malcolm McDowell — perhaps best known for portraying the pathological Alex in “A Clockwork Orange” — is slipping into Dr. Sam Loomis’ trademark trench coat to gaze into the peepers of the new Michael Myers. We caught up with the “Heroes” star on the set of Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” remake for his first-anywhere interview about the film, getting thoughts on a CNN-friendly reinvention of the character, an unusually chatty Michael, and the inevitable sequels you’ll be hearing about soon.
MTV: Tell us about your character.
Malcolm McDowell: I am playing the character that was originated by Donald Pleasence in the original “Halloween” all those years ago, which I never saw.
MTV: You’ve never seen the classic John Carpenter movie, or the sequels?
McDowell: No, I’ve never seen any one of them — and in a way, I’m thrilled and glad that I didn’t see them. When I knew I was going to do it, I could have seen them, but I figured, “Why be influenced by someone else?” Let’s just start fresh. [Zombie’s remake] is a completely new look at it (see “Rob Zombie Talks ‘Halloween': ‘A Bloodbath Doesn’t Interest Me’ “ and ” ‘Halloween’ Star Scout Taylor-Compton Calls Michael Myers ‘Cute,’ Talks Sequel” ).
MTV: So what’s your take on our old crazy friend Dr. Loomis?
McDowell: Dr. Samuel Loomis is a psychiatrist whose lifelong work is Michael Myers. He obviously isn’t a very good one is he? [He laughs.] Of course, he doesn’t cure him, and he doesn’t help him in any way. Dr. Loomis is retired [in this film] … I want to make Loomis a man with a tremendous ego. I’ve met some of these doctors through the years, where there is more ego in it than there is [interest in what’s] best for the patient, and if they can get a book out of it — which of course he has done — it’s a bestseller, and that’s so much better.
MTV: So your Loomis is the type of guy we’d see on CNN as an “expert” on serial killers.
McDowell: Exactly. There is that element, which I thought would be fun to exploit in this character. How good of a psychiatrist he is, God knows. But he is dealing with a psychopath, and there really is not much you can do when it’s a psychopath — maybe shock treatment or something. He has already killed five members of his own family [when he comes to Loomis]. It’s a scary movie, but it’s going to be a classic horror film.
MTV: You’re one of the few actors who works opposite both the grown-up Michael (played by actor/wrestler Tyler Mane) and young Daeg Faerch, who plays the killer as a child. What’s that been like?
McDowell: There’s a 17-year gap from the childhood scenes [with Myers] to what you saw here tonight. Tyler, who plays him, is 6 foot 8 or something, and quite formidable looking. [With young Michael,] you are going to see him doing that sort of stuff at home when he was a child. The sort of family that he comes from, and how disjointed the whole thing is, and what a sad life and childhood he had.
MTV: In the original, we always heard Loomis making reference to watching Michael stare through the wall while they were in the sanitarium. Will this movie show us those moments?
McDowell: Well, I haven’t shot those yet, but there is a lot of improvised stuff, which is great. There is a sort of roughness to it … [young Michael] is just blank in one scene we do, [and we’ve decided] he’ll be completely blank and then my cell phone will go off, which is what happened at rehearsal. It was a friend of mine who said his girlfriend was giving him crap, and I said, “Well look, I’m in the middle of a session, actually. What? Oh really! Well, tell her to go to hell!” [He laughs.] Rob went, “Great, let’s use that!” I am very impressed with his cinema sense.
MTV: We know that older Michael is mute, but does young Michael deliver lines?
McDowell: Oh yeah, absolutely … Michael is this sweet little boy who suddenly just turns evil, and the more angelic he looks, the more horrific the crimes are. He suddenly goes berserk and takes his own family out.
MTV: Fans of the original movies remember the big, over-the-top speeches from Loomis about “I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up!” Will you similarly embrace that melodrama?
McDowell: I get a couple of those yeah, but I’m hoping not to chew too much of the scenery because I’m trying to keep it reasonably real. There is a buffoonish quality to him, which is ridiculous if you look from the outside at him, and that, I think, is quite interesting. For instance, I do a whole lecture about, “These are the eyes of a killer, these are the eyes — they will deceive you, they will destroy you, these are the eyes of a psychopath.” We go through a whole thing, and then I come out of the lecture and say to a guy: “They felt like a row of Christmas puddings! And what about that girl in the front row, what the hell was she doing there, spreading her legs? How can you stand it?” It’s exactly what lecturers talk about after the fact.
MTV: Pleasence, like yourself, was a well-respected veteran British actor. Did you ever meet him?
McDowell: I did know Donald. I met him in London at the Royal Court Theatre. He was a tremendous actor — he played those wonderful sinister parts. I particularly remember him in two performances: He was in two great plays, one was written by Robert Shaw called “The Man in the Glass Booth” and the other was a [Harold] Pinter play, “The Caretaker.”
MTV: Donald Pleasence appeared in five “Halloween” films — how many sequels do you have in you?
McDowell: Well, let’s take it one by one and see how we do. If it’s a great big success, then I’m sure they will want to make another. And I’m sure I will want to play him again, because he is a great character.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Halloween.”
Visit Movies on MTV.com for more from Hollywood, including news, reviews, interviews and more.
Want trailers? Visit the Trailer Park for the newest, scariest and funniest coming attractions anywhere.