The time travel genre has always been a favorite of mine, and 1979’s TIME AFTER TIME starring Malcolm McDowell sits at the top of the list alongside such greats as THE TIME MACHINE, TIME BANDITS, BACK TO THE FUTURE, and LA JETEE.
I was fortunate to be able to sit down with McDowell to discuss the film when I was with ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, and the legendary actor explained to me why the project remains so special to him. He also revealed that he was surprised to be chosen to play H.G. Wells, the film’s hero with a heart of gold — given his casting track record for playing dark and depraved characters up until that point — as opposed to the film’s legendary antagonist.
“Strangely enough [I didn’t have to fight for the role], and it’s all credit to Nicholas Meyer, because he could easily have cast me to play Jack the Ripper,” said McDowell, acknowledging the STAR TREK II THE WRATH OF KHAN writer-director’s smart debut-feature choices. “Actually, he cast the very best person to play that role in David Warner, who was absolutely brilliant and nobody could’ve been better than him.”
A twist on Wells’ classic novel THE TIME MACHINE, TIME AFTER TIME finds McDowell as the iconic Sci-Fi author, pursuing Jack the Ripper into the future. After Wells discovers that his surgeon friend John Leslie Stevenson (David Warner) is the Ripper, Stevenson escapes from 1893 London to “present day” 1979 San Francisco in Wells’ steampunk-style time machine.
Wells follows him into the future, but he must first adapt to the society of “tomorrow,” from driving a horseless car to ordering fast food at McDonald’s. As he struggles to adapt, he must race against time to protect his new, modern love interest (Mary Steenburgen) from the legendary killer.
“It’s not a thriller about Jack the Ripper; it is actually a love story,” explained McDowell. “[Wells] comes forward from the Edwardian England to modern-day San Francisco and meets the modern woman, the one he’s been espousing all his life, and suddenly he’s faced with it and it terrifies him.”
McDowell found real-life love with co-star Steenburgen on the set and was married to her from 1980 to 1990. “It threw me for a loop. I wasn’t expecting it, wasn’t looking for it. [It’s] one of those things that happened, and I always say this is one of my favorite movies because I got two wonderful children as a gift from this movie.”
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