I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is a British film made by another old pal, Mike Hodges. Like Get Carter and Croupier, which Hodges also directed, it is an incisive anatomy of the narcissism of the male psyche, set in the criminal underworld. It stars Clive Owen in the lead part - a former gangster who emerges from self-imposed isolation to exact revenge for the death of his young brother. McDowell, playing a reptilian bully-boy and ageing gangster, has only two scenes. "I think he did it as a favour to me," Hodges says. But they are pivotal scenes. One is a male rape. "I was prepared to do for Mike what I wouldn't think of doing for Guccione .... Actually they conned me into it ... Well, the truth is, I hadn't read the script." But it is the second scene, a death scene, where we see McDowell at his true power. There is a myth, Hodges says, that directors create great performances. "A great performance comes from the actor and from good casting. All you can do as a director is create the right atmosphere." In this scene, what is shown is a bully shrivelling before your eyes. Watching it, from his side of the camera, Hodges says he couldn't believe his luck. "He showed the pathetic side of this character, this arrogant bully who, when confronted with his own demise, just dissolves." You can expect a lot from actors, Hodges says, but you can't expect fearlessness. "But then I have known Malcolm a very long time and I've never seen him frightened of anything." He sits on his hill, unafraid, and more content than he has been in a long time. "I don't have to worry any more. I've been around so long that I have changed and grown up on film. There's my whole life up there. My 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s. And now I am 60. God it's depressing," and he bursts out laughing. He juggles Beckett in his arms, he answers the phone, which seems to ring a lot. He plays golf. "I think I'll go out and hit a few balls," he said more than once. Though he didn't go. Still a sucker for attention. "Always have been," he says. "That's why I became an actor."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
"A British Classic. Richly Atmospheric"
- Ray Bennett, Hollywood Reporter