The Malcolm McDowell Q&A Screening series, produced by Prospect House Entertainment as part of its ongoing In Person presentations, concluded last night at the restored art deco Alex Theatre in Glendale, California. And it did so in style, as Michael Dorn moderated a packed screening of Star Trek Generations and interview with McDowell. Also in the house were Nichelle Nichols and Spice Williams.
Dorn interviewed McDowell for about 40 minutes prior to screening. His first question addressed how McDowell became involved with Star Trek and how he landed the role of Dr. Tolian Soran. McDowell revealed that he turned it down four times. His initial response was that he didn’t want to be on cheap sets “with Shatner and Mr. Ears.” But then he read the script and felt the role was good, though he still had reservations about being involved with a big sci-fi franchise. Dorn then asked what ultimately turned him around on doing Generations: “When they came up with the money,” replied McDowell. That was typical of McDowell, who comes off as jokingly disdainful of Star Trek, though the fans on hand knew better. McDowell clearly enjoyed the Generations gig and, during the Q&A session, shared amusing anecdotes and poked fun at William Shatner and Patrick Stewart. He also, much to the fans’ delight, uttered his memorable Generations line, “Time is the fire in which we burn,” a couple of times during the evening.
Dorn asked McDowell what he did immediately before and after filming Generations. McDowell shot that one down quickly. “Oh come on…,” he said. “What were you doing last Thursday night?" Dorn also asked McDowell to name some of his favorite and/or most memorable actors among those he’d worked with, but McDowell volleyed the question back at Dorn. Dorn responded by citing Jean Simmons, to which McDowell ribbed him about working with the KISS front man. Of course, Dorn was referring to the late, great actress, not the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
McDowell then related story about how long he’s known Patrick Stewart -- they first met in 1965 at the Royal Shakespeare Company – and how his first speaking part came when he was across the street in a pub and they needed someone who knew the part of a king. He regaled those that came to get him by rattling off lines, but then when he stepped on stage he got his first line horribly, terribly wrong -- so wrong that he saw the director and members of the crew turn around and start laughing. And, McDowell noted, Stewart still harasses him about that moment to this day.
Next, Dorn began asking about the dangers of typecasting, citing Andrew Robinson (Garak), who had a very hard time after being so amazingly good as Scorpio in Dirty Harry. Right then, McDowell interrupted: "But they can't typecast you, can they? Aren't you thankful for that?” Dorn replied simply, “Yes, there’s not a lot of call for Worf to show up (on other shows)."
Later, Dorn asked McDowell what it meant to him to have been a part of the Star Trek universe. "Star Trek, for me, was just a pleasant thing to do,” he replied. “As an actor you get asked a lot ‘What's your favorite part.’ Well, it's always the next one. I'm not the kind of actor that sits around watching all my old movies, though, God, I've been in a lot of good ones!” That last comment elicited much applause from the appreciative crowd and prompted Dorn to note, “We’ve (the TNG cast) all become fans of Star Trek, but when we got the job, it was just a job too.”
The conversation continued, with McDowell then offering up two of the night’s most memorable anecdotes. Back in the 1980s, while at the Mark Taper Forum in L.A. performing the play Hunting Cockroaches with Swoosie Kurtz, McDowell heard a knock on his dressing room door one night. “I’m told there is a visitor for me, and it’s Patrick Stewart, who I’d not seen in years,” he explains. “Patrick told me, "I'm doing a science fiction thing.” I asked him what and he told me Star Trek and I told him, “Oh no, not that hackneyed thing!’ And he responded, "Well, it will be a nice little pension for me."
Dorn then chatted a bit about William Shatner and how unbelievable it is that he's running around the world and still working as hard as he does at 83 years old. That paved the way for McDowell to share a tale about shooting Generations near Las Vegas and how, one night, Shatner invited him to see the Rolling Stones with tickets Rick Berman had gotten them. “I thought, ‘Oh, finally, the producer is putting his hands in his pockets!’” McDowell said. McDowell was looking forward to an amazing event, only to discover that the seats were terrible. He pointed out to Shatner "Bill, this is not good for your reputation!” McDowell also described how, as they were leaving, they were spotted by a bunch of fans who raced to get on the elevator with them, essentially rushing after Captain Kirk. Shatner, McDowell recounted, shoved his own party into the elevator and pushed and kicked at those trying to get in in order to keep them out of the elevator. This, McDowell cracked, was his first taste of Trek fandom. Dorn joked that those fans gleefully told all their friends “I got kicked by Captain Kirk!” Meanwhile, McDowell rose from his chair and reenacted Shatner’s moves, performing a Shatner-esque double-kick in the air.
A letter was then brought onto the stage for Dorn to read. It was from Shatner, who couldn’t be at the event but sent the note along. He wrote, "I spent some special moments with Malcolm filming Star Trek Generations and I consider him a true friend. Especially if he goes on April 24 to see my new film of my one man show." McDowell’s response: "I’m going to frame this and hang it in my loo!"