TimeZone Interview with Malcolm McDowell

by Michael Disher

July, 2002

Malcolm McDowell is known for many
memorable film roles, including Mick Travis in O Lucky Man!, Alex De
Large in A Clockwork Orange, and Dr. Tolian Soran
in Star Trek Generations. Malcolm’s newest film, Gangster No. 1 is in theaters now. What most people don’t know is that Malcolm is also an avid wristwatch

In this inteview with TZ’s Mike
Disher, Malcolm talks about watches, collecting, Morgan sports cars,
films, and more.

MD: Mike Disher

MM: Malcolm McDowell

MD: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us today.

MM: It’s a pleasure. I am a great fan of old watches, and a modest

MD: How long have you been collecting writstwatches?

MM: I’ve been collecting since 1979.

MD: That’s about the time you moved to California?

MM: That’s exactly the time I moved to the United States, yes it is.

MD: How did you become interested in wristwatches?

MM: I was given by my ex-wife a beautiful, old 1918 watch.
It was a World War I watch from the American military in stainless steel
– absolutely gorgeous. We had mutual friends, a writer called Jay Cocks, and
Jay was a writer for Time Magazine – he was their film critic actually for a
long time, and now he does screenplays, and he’s a great, great friend, and
Jay advised her what to get me for an opening night present for a play I did in
New York. Jay is a wonderful writer and a great man, and he is a collector. I
used to walk up and down Madison Avenue with him, and there was a wonderful
store on Madison Avenue run by this guy who’s a friend of his called Stewart.
And we’d go in and look at the watches, and I suddenly started to become
hooked on them. The watches that I was drawn to time and time again were the
‘20s and ‘30s and ‘40s and ‘50s Rolexes particularly. I like their
designs very much. They were very conscious of design. The majority of my
watches are Rolexes, although I do have a wonderful Tiffany watch which I like
very much – it’s a white gold one, which is fantastic. I particularly like
steel – I have a wonderful steel Prince, which is quite rare, because Prince
when they came out were sort of for 25 years’ service – that sort of thing.
They’re usually gold, or two-tone gold, white and yellow gold, or silver.
It’s very rare to find one in steel. I think they’re beautiful in steel.
They were just as expensive when they were new as the gold ones, so people went
for the more flashy ones.

MD: How large is your collection now?

MM: I don’t know. I certainly have over 50. I must have 60. What I
decided to do was, every time I did a film or a play or something, I would buy
myself an antique watch as a remembrance of it. But I think I just got into too
many films. I couldn’t justify it really after a while. It’s not good just
buying them – you have to hunt out what you really want and what really
strikes you. The last watch I bought, I bought it from Sig, it’s the most
spectacular octagonal ‘30’s Rolex – a silver one – it’s absolutely
incredible, with a most beautiful dial – a dial that I’d never seen. It’s
a sliver dial, and it’s really, really wonderful, and it’s original. I’m
trying to find original dials if I can.

MD: Would you say that’s your favorite watch in your collection
right now?

MM: Probably right now for this week, but next week, it will be
something else.

MD: Among the watches that you collect, do you have any favorite
styles or complications?

MM: I think if I had only one watch to keep, which would be very hard
for me, the one that I wear the most, which is the flashiest I suppose, and by
the way, I don’t like flash watches. Those Muller watches are inordinately
expensive and they seem to me to be just in rather bad taste – too much of
everything. But my favorite one I think is a pink gold bubbleback with a pink
California dial with the pink rice bracelet. That’s as flashy as I’d ever
get. It’s a beautiful watch. I bought that in Geneva, from a couple of guys
who were going to put it in the auction. I met them in the hotel, and they
pulled it out and I went “Oh my God!” and I bought it. I bought it quite
reasonably then, but of course now its, well, I’m sure it’s a lot of money

MD: Do you tend to hang on to watches, or do you buy them and sell
them – do they move in and out of your collection?

MM: Very rarely. I don’t think I’ve ever sold one. My wife also
has a small collection now. She’s got the bug a bit. Sometimes we’ll put in
a couple of hers, you know, we’ll swap in.

MD: I understand that you are also a Morgan automobile enthusiast.

MM: Yes! I have a Morgan. I’ve always loved the Morgan. Actually I
got interested in them because a friend of mine had one – he had a Plus 8, a
turbo – a new one, and I drove it, and it actually scared the living daylights
out of me, and I thought “I’ve got to have this!”. So I went and ordered
one. I went to the factory, saw it being finished – they’re all hand built
and all that, and we spent a fascinating day up there. I got this beautiful
turbo Plus 8, but it was propane – the only way you could get it into the
states was sort of a propane version, which was not bad at all, it was fabulous
actually, but a little inconvenient. I kept following RVs around, you know, when
I got quite low on gas. Then I started going to the Morgan meets and meeting
people that know all about Morgans, and it soon became obvious that the really
great Morgan was the Super Sport. And so I was looking for one, I think for 10
years, I couldn’t find one, and eventually I did find one.

MD: Do you see any connection between your love for these older cars,
and your love for older watches?

MM: I suppose I must do. They have that sort of similar feel to them.
And of course in my Morgan, which I had restored beautifully, I put in a couple
of wonderful old ‘50’s stopwatches. It absolutely looks authentic. I have a
Jaguar too – a 120 Jag, and there’s a guy in Germany making these
stopwatches in a beautiful regular clock, and I bought that and put it in, and
it looks fabulous.

MD: Do you drive the cars?

MM Yes, I drive them all, absolutely.

MD: Is there one particular watch that you really wanted to get, but
were never able to acquire – something you’d call “the one that got

MM: Yes, there was a moonphase Rolex from the ‘50s. I could have
bought one, I thought it was a bit too expensive at the time, and I was an
absolute idiot, because I think I could have bought it for like $8000, which I
thought was a staggering amount at the time. Now I hear that they’re 60 or 70,
so I really tripped up on that one. I don’t really feel that it’s the one
that got away, you know, it’s just one of those things. That’s the one I
think is the most desirable – that moonphase of that period. It’s a fabulous
watch, but you know I’ve got others that… I’m more into the really early
Rolexes too. I have quite a lot of those first World War watches – I think
they’re so beautiful. They look sort of like pocketwatches with a strap, you
know. And I think some of those are great. I have a beautiful black face one –
every time I go to England, I’ll find one. I’ve got guys that I know, you
know, James Dowling, who wrote the book on Rolex, he’s been a friend of mine
for a long time, and through the years I’ve bought from him. But now because
I’m in L.A., I seem to hang out around Sig’s place, Second Time Around,
which has the most stunning collection of any place in the world actually, I
must say this. You know, I’ve been to all the London dealers, Paris, even in
Geneva – in Geneva you’d be hard pushed to find a really beautiful old
vintage watch. They don’t have many there – they’re all shipped off to
London. Sig has the best.

MD As a quick aside, James Dowling is on our TimeZone team and he
hosts our Rolex discussion forum.

MM: Oh yeah! He’s an old friend and I’ve bought a lot of watches
from him. Actually I guess I bumped into him at the Portobello Road years ago.
Is he still there?

MD: He posts weekly stories on our site called “Today at Portobello
Road” so he’s still there every week, I’d guess.

MM: Oh it’s lovely to go see him there, and he’s always got a
little gem. I bought the most incredible Lifesaver in fact I have
two, one for my wife, and I have a pink face one, which is absolutely one of the
most beautiful watches. Of course it’s steel, you know, and they are so hard
to find. These two are spectacular – absolutely spectacular!

MD: Do you have a watch in mind now for your next purchase? Something
you’re hunting after?

MM: No, but if I went into Sig’s store, or I saw James, it
wouldn’t take long. I know that I can’t resist coming away with something.

MD: You mentioned earlier buying watches to commemorate films that
you’ve been in, and I’m curious when you’re playing a role in a film are
you typically allowed to select the watch you’ll wear, or is that provided by
the wardrobe department?

MM: That’s the prop man, it’s his department. They would prefer to
give you a watch, because they want to make sure it’s there every day, and I
tend to change watches all the time. But if I’m playing something important,
usually the characters I play would never ever have a vintage watch, but
sometimes, with some of the characters, yes, and I’ll pick a watch for it.

MD: Do you ever wear watches from your personal collection in films?

MM: Occasionally, yes. Occasionally I do.

MD: Are there any you can tell us about?

MM: Well actually when I did a very brief season of Fantasy Island, the
re-make of it, they asked me what watch I wanted, and I said “Well, you know I
think this character probably wouldn’t have a vintage watch, so why don’t we
get him the Moon Watch from Omega. And we did, and they actually gave it to me
afterwords, which was rather nice of them. And it’s a good everyday wearing
watch. And actually I’ve got this beautiful watch, it’s called a Ventura, do
you know it?

MD: I know the brand well, yes.

MM: Well, there’s a black face one which is like a slide rule – I
wear that one at night, because if I wake up in the middle of the night, it’s
so luminous, I can read it very easily. And I wear that a lot. That’s sort of,
if I go away someone where I don’t want to leave watches in hotel room or
something, I will always take that watch, because it’s a wonderful watch. I
have it in titanium on the titanium bracelet, and I think for everyday knocking
around, that’s the watch I’ve got.

MD: One of your most famous film roles was Alex in A Clockwork Orange,
and I’m wondering – what is the symbolism of the word “clockwork” in
that title? I assume it has nothing to do with clocks.

MM: No. Well, I asked Anthony Burgess, who wrote the original novel, I
said ”Where did you hear this
title?” He said he was in a pub in the East end of London, and one of the old
guy regulars in there went [in a cockney accent] “Yes, e’s as queer as a
clockwork orange.” And it always stuck with him, this title. Which means
he’s as peculiar as a clockwork orange, God knows, your imagination has to do
the rest.

MD: You’re probably asked this a lot, but which of your film roles
have been your favorites, and why?

MM: Well, I think “A Lucky Man” is one of my favorite films that I
made, because it was made with this very great director who was a friend of
mine, a great great friend, my best friend, Lindsey Anderson. I wrote the
original idea for the film, and it went on to be something else, but still I
always felt that was sort of my baby.

MD: That was based on your personal experience …

MM: Right, as a coffee salesman, exactly. And so that, I think, is the
fondest memory I have of a movie or of a role. But you know, I‘m the sort of
actor who doesn’t like to look back. I’m always looking ahead or at what I
am doing now. The one that I really like that I think is a wonderful film, if
not everybody’s cup of tea, is Gangster No. 1, which is just going the rounds
now. It’s a very hard film, you know, in that it’s violent and it has sort
of strong language, but it is beautifully directed and very well performed by
everybody in it, and I’m very proud of that film.

MD: Should we be looking for you in any films that will be opening
soon? I was in the theater the other night, and I saw you in the trailer for I

MM: Oh yes, I think you’ve seen the whole performance. I don’t
have much to do, but it was a great joy working with Betty Thomas, the director,
she’s wonderful. I like very much Owen Wilson, and Eddie of course is a huge
talent, so that was fun to see him work.

MD: It sounds great. Anything else that we should be looking forward

MM: I’m about to start shooting the new Robert Altman film, which
I’m very happy to do. It’s called “The Company” and it’s about a
ballet company like the Jeoffrey, and it’s all the shenanigans, all the
personalities, behind the scenes, and that sort of thing. So that should be a
lot of fun. I’m really looking forward to that – it’s a great script.

MD: Do you know when it will be in theaters?

MM: We start shooting in October, in Chicago, and knowing Bob, he’ll
have it ready for Cannes – I wouldn’t be surprised. Anyway, I know it will be
a wonderful Bob Altman film. He’s like a great Claret – he just gets better
with age.

MD: Well, those are all the questions I have.

MM: I apologize again for being late, but it worked out well in the

MD: It did. Thank you very much.

MM: Thank you.

© 2002 TimeZone.com

All Rights Reserved