Legendary British actor Malcolm McDowell is in Montreal this week for a special Just For Laughs event promoting his CBC comedy series Son of a Critch. Going by a story he told at the recent Montreal Comic Con, however, we should consider ourselves lucky he’s here at all.
During the course of his hour-long panel at the Con, the prolific performer fielded questions from fans about his work in everything from A Clockwork Orange and Heroes to Star Trek and Halloween, all while dropping hints that one of his worst professional experiences was somehow linked to MTL. When someone finally found the courage to ask him outright what had happened, McDowell spilled the beans in his inimitable fashion.
“I’ll tell you this – the only time I was ripped off by a producer was in Montreal. That is the only time in a 60-year career that I was actually not paid. They paid half and suddenly on the last day of shooting I get a call from my agent in LA who goes, ‘Stop working! Don’t do anything else!’ and I went, ‘It’s the last day – are you kidding me? That’s no threat. They’ve got everything they need!’”
After the crowd’s laughter died down, the 79-year-old recalled exactly which project had ripped him off. “It was a remake of The Portrait of Dorian Gray,” he remembered with a chuckle. “They paid me a little bit and still owed me quite a lot of money and then, like five years later, somebody else bought it (…) and I got this call to say, ‘look, German TV will pay you half of your fee. What do you want to do?’ and I went ‘Take it. Absolutely. A half is better than nothing, right?’ So that’s Montreal filmmaking for me!” he quipped. “No, I loved working in this city and it was fantastic, except for that nasty little surprise at the end.”
Pact with the Devil, also released under the title Dorian, costarred Christoph Waltz and Ethan Erickson and was filmed here in 2002. Thankfully, it’s not the only project McDowell associates with Montreal. “I did a movie here with Mos Def,” he told the crowd, citing 2000’s horror picture Island of the Dead. “It was a cool little movie and the food was good too!” he said of our unparalleled local catering.
“I’ve always loved Montreal. It’s a great city. I’ve had wonderful times here and made some weird little movies here, so it’s a pleasure to be back. I’ve been shooting in Newfoundland doing the second season of Son of a Critch, a show that I absolutely love, and it’s a fantastic place too. I really love being there and I’m going to be there for the next two months.”
Critch is based on the 2018 memoir of the same name written by Mark Critch, of This Hour Has 22 Minutes fame. The comedian stars as his own father in the semi-autobiographical series, which flashes back to his upbringing in the 1980s and features McDowell in the role of grandfather Patrick.
When asked by a convention-goer if he’d been officially ‘screeched in’, he feigned ignorance of the classic Newfie tradition, retorting, “Is this where they hit you over the face with the wet fish?” The tradition actually involves getting newcomers to The Rock to recite a poem, take a shot and kiss a cod. “No, they didn’t do that to me, I’m glad to say,” he remarked before adding, “at this point, I think we’ve probably gone past that. I’m now a sort of honorary Newfoundlander.”
“In the new season, I do get to go out fishing for cod with my son Mark Critch, who is a wonderful humorist and terrific writer,” he went on to say. “Of course, things don’t go smoothly and we try to get a bit of comedy out of it, as you might expect. It’s such a fun series. I love it.”
Returning for Just For Laughs, McDowell will be joined by the cast and creative team of Critch for a special panel and discussion this Saturday the 30th at Doubletree by Hilton. It seems a safe bet, however, that his thoughts might also turn to fellow thespian David Warner, as they did during the Comic Con. Warner sadly passed away this week at the age of 80, losing his battle with “a cancer-related illness” after a lengthy career on stage and screen.
Though he is best known to the public for his supporting role in James Cameron’s Titanic and voice work in shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Disney’s Gargoyles, Warner is fondly remembered by McDowell because of their earliest days together in the Royal Shakespeare Company.
“My great mate was David Warner,” McDowell said during the convention, flashing back to Warner’s star turn in 1965, at the age of 24. “David was playing Hamlet. He was the Beatles generation Hamlet and used to get like 300 schoolgirls outside the stage door waiting for him after his performance, all screaming. I mean, it scared him to death, but ahhh…those were the days! It was fun.”
The two would go on to appear in 1979’s Time After Time, where McDowell played H.G. Wells opposite Warner’s Jack The Ripper.
In spite of the ups and downs of a life in the limelight, McDowell seems to have weathered the storms no worse for wear. “I’m really having so much fun as an older actor, actually. It’s lovely and delicious, because I get to play the full spectrum of parts now, from serial killers to grandfathers. And yeah, I kind of enjoy playing psychos because you can do things you can’t even dream of as a person. As a character, you can go nuts and have so much fun. And I love doing comedies because it’s the hardest thing to do. Real emoting is really easy, basically, but the real tough stuff is comedy and timing and getting a laugh, especially on film or on television. It’s always very difficult but it’s challenging and I really enjoy it. That’s why I’m doing Son of a Critch.”
Malcolm McDowell and the Son of a Critch cast will take the stage this Saturday July 30th. For ticket information, visit hahaha.com Son of a Critch is broadcast both on CBC and on the CBC GEM streaming service. The next edition of the Montreal Comic Con will be held from the 14th to the 16th of July 2023