From Flicka to vampires with Roddy McDowall
by Susan King
As a child star, Roddy McDowall was friends with Flicka and his son Thunderhead and desperately wanted his dog Lassie to come home. However, in his latest film, "Fright Night," the veteran actor does battle with wolves, bats and flying dragons.
"I've never played anything like this," says McDowall of Peter Vincent, his character in "Fright Night." Vincent is an old, washed-up actor who played vampire killers in horror films. He's the host of a TV horror show called "Fright Night." When a teenager (William Ragsdale) believes that his new neighbor (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire, he asks Vincent for his help.
"I liked very much the challenge of the part," explains McDowall. "The opportunity to get to play somebody who is a bad actor that's fascinating because it's such an unusual arena to get to play. He's just a d-r-e-a-d-f-u-l actor."
McDowall also was intrigued by the fact that the real Peter Vincent, unlike the screen personae, is a "Cowardly Lion. He's a very dear character. He's a very sad man and a very lonely man."
The boyish McDowall admits that initially Tom Holland, the writer/director of "Fright Night," was probably looking for someone older for the role of Vincent. "While I'm 56," he explains, "I've always looked younger than I am."
McDowall says he based Vincent on a couple of actors he remembers seeing as a child on stage in New York. "You wouldn't know who they were," he says. "They were very bad actors who were sort of flamboyant and full of sound but no content. They were also adorable; there was something rather brave about them because they wer out of step and out of time."
Though McDowall was one of the top child actors in Hollywood during the '40s, he left California and went to New York when he was about 21 years old. "I didn't have any craft," says McDowall. "I think I was talented. When you act as a child you're manipulated by very talented people. If you are talented, you respond well to direction but you don't have a concept and you don't have any experience."
When he arrived in New York McDowall started to work in live television ("which was a wonderful period") and attended acting classes. He also became a professional photographer.
"I'd always taken photographs aand thenin the early '50s I got into a play, 'Misalliance,' that was a success," says McDowall. Because he had a lot of time on his hands McDowall started to snap pictures. "Somebody from the developing house called me and asked to see me," he explains. "Somebody thought I had a good eye and that I'd be a good photographer."
McDowall decided it was the right time to see if (he) could do something other than act. "Because I never made a personal choice to become an actor," he says, "I really didn't know if I wanted to be one. So I began to work to see if I could do something else. I found out I could, but obviously I still wanted to act."
Currently, McDowall is in the midst of shooting a six-episode series for CBS called "Bridges to Cross" with Suzanne Pleshete, Eva Gabor and Jose Ferrer. "It's very good," he says.
However, McDowall hates to discuss future plans. "It's never really wise to say anything until after it's over because it's very difficult," he says. "I hate to do interviews while I'm making a film because it's difficult to talk about a part that I'm playing as it's going on. It upsets the apple cart."

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