Two tough guys: Actor Gary Lockwood pulls no punches with Steve McQueen

Jeremy Roberts
12 min readAug 6, 2017
Macho “2001: A Space Odyssey” star Gary Lockwood minces no words in an exclusive profile recalling his occasionally rocky relationship with the undisputed King of Cool, Steve McQueen. The duo nearly came to blows when Neile Adams dispatched Lockwood to look for her husband after the Academy Awards snubbed McQueen‘s simmering performance as doomed gunboat engineer Jake Holman in “The Sand Pebbles.” Nevertheless, in the accompanying photo Captain Virgil “Cooler King” Hilts temporarily thwarts a platoon of advancing German soldiers during a thrilling chase aboard his customized British Triumph 650 racing motorcycle. McQueen was on location along the Austrian border in Füssen, Bavaria, filming the iconic World War II epic “The Great Escape” in September 1962. Stuntman and motorcycle gearhead Bud Ekins actually doubled his longtime pal, making the 12-feet high, 65-feet down jump over a fence in a valiant attempt to escape to Switzerland. Photography by Lothar Winkler / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / Pinterest

In Steve McQueen’s determined ascent to the top of Hollywood’s ranks, he could often be mercurial, wary, and downright competitive of his fellow actors. Gary Lockwood befriended the King of Cool in the early ’60s, and he is telling his story for the first time in an exclusive interview.

Lockwood’s admiration and sometimes rocky friendship with McQueen is front and center. The two nearly came to blows several times, once when McQueen lost his Oscar nomination for The Sand Pebbles. In a deep funk, the King of Cool got on his motorcycle and vanished for several days. Neile Adams, McQueen’s first wife, frantically called Lockwood and asked him to locate her husband.

Like McQueen, Lockwood has been saddled with the reputation of being a tough guy throughout his extensive career. One of his first jobs in front of a movie camera arrived in 1958 when he appeared as a stunt double for John Wayne’s son Patrick Wayne on the dusty landscape of The Young Land.

Director Joshua Logan recognized Lockwood’s considerable talent the following year in a basketball comedy entitled Tall Story. Featuring a very green-behind-the-ears Jane Fonda, Lockwood stood in for the picture’s star, Anthony Perkins.

Meatier parts came rather quickly, including two roles in early Elvis Presley features, Wild in the Country and It Happened at the World’s Fair. By 1963 the performer found himself in the title role of NBC’s The Lieutenant, a military style drama created by Gene Roddenberry. Although it was cancelled after one season, Roddenberry would find his greatest success with the classic Star Trek just a few short years later. And yes, Lockwood had a guest turn on the beloved sci-fi show.

But his most identifiable role was just around the corner. In production for nearly three years, Stanley Kubrick’s futuristic paean to extraterrestrial life, 2001: A Space Odyssey, crash landed into movie theaters in April 1968.

As astronaut Frank Poole, the actor brought a necessary resilience to a role with virtually no dialogue. Lockwood was at the top of his game. A quandary soon presented itself: how could the actor find a subsequent project worthy of Kubrick’s critically acclaimed masterpiece, a film that still appears on…

Jeremy Roberts

Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ something fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: