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The Boys Are Back - Clive Owen review

Clive Owen in The Boys Are Back

Interview by Rob Carnevale

CLIVE Owen talks about playing a grieving father in The Boys Are Back and why it was important to him not to be too judgmental or sentimental when making the film.

He also discusses his career to date, why he strives for diversity and why he will encourage his children to follow in his footsteps if they so choose…

Q. Is it fair to say this is your most emotional role?
Clive Owen: It was a very beautiful script and I was very taken when I read it. It was unusual in its delicacy and intelligence and in exploring these relationships. It wasn’t sentimental, it was very delicate and precise and I found it terribly moving. I’m a father and parenting is a huge part of my life and when I read the script for the first time and got to those scenes where he’s telling his young boy that his mother might not be around for much longer I found it deeply upsetting… just the whole idea of that conversation. And there was this beautiful exploration of not just grief but also parenting from a guy’s perspective and it was never heavy or sentimental, it was just beautifully written.

Q. Was it hard to make sure it never became too sentimental?
Clive Owen: No, I don’t think it was. [Director] Scott [Hicks] and I… the first time we met and talked about it, we were both adamant that we didn’t want to make that kind of film. Personally, from my point of view, I’ve seen lots of family movies where the family is in this lovely warm bubble and even when things get tough everybody is very lovely and it’s all very sweet and families are not like that… real families. It’s much more volatile than that and this was a script and project that explored that in a very honest way I thought. I think another thing, added to that, is that it’s a memoir based on somebody’s life. All those things happened… it’s not just a nice idea for a film, it’s all drawn from real experience.

Q. How did changing the name of your character free you up from knowing you weren’t playing Simon Carr?
Clive Owen: I was asked very early whether I wanted to meet Simon but I’d read the memoir and decided I didn’t want to meet him. I got an awful lot from the memoir and an awful lot from the script but I felt I needed to be free to interpret it. I had some instincts about it and to see his physical presence, I didn’t want that present in my mind. We did eventually meet him very late on in the shoot, on one of the very last days, and it was very memorable because it was a big harsh reminder that we’ve just depicted a very serious part of somebody’s life.

Q. As the father of two girls, how much fun did you have as the father of two boys, playing around, driving on the bonnet, etc?
Clive Owen: All that stuff is drawn from the memoir… that all happened. That was Simon Carr and in some ways it was a radical approach to parenting because he was in a radical situation, it was like a crash course in bonding and he had this very fast way of bonding with his young one. They tend to split people, those scenes. There are people who get very, “Oh that’s so irresponsible”, and other people say: “That looks like fantastic fun!” I think at the end of the day the film is not saying or advocating this is a way of parenting, it’s saying this is this guy’s approach to it, this is how he got through it. Personally, once they’ve had this tragic loss and you know that this is a father and son grieving, I forgive them everything. They could do anything that brings life… that brings humour, spirit into their lives. It’s not about being responsible or irresponsible, it’s about trying to put their lives back on track.

Q. Did you take the chance to play football with the boys?
Clive Owen: Weirdly, both my girls play football so they’re both quite boyish in some ways. Strange that [laughs].

Q. You said you had similar parental experiences. Could you elaborate?
Clive Owen: I think, and again Scott and I were on the same page about this, I was always interested in exploring the tougher times, for instance the scene where Artie has the tantrum in the car. I’ve been in situations like that with my kids, where they just go into a funk. I think kids pre-eight or nine are kind of crazy and manic obsessive and they go into their funk and you’ve got to try and bring them out of it and I, as a parent, relate to that scene and I was always interested in making that as tough as we could, you know… put him in the corner, make it really hard for my character because all parents will relate.

If this was a big budget Hollywood movie with lots of producers caring about how things were done, people would worry about the likeability of the character. They might say: “Why are they being so mean to each other?” It’s not bad parenting in those situations and I was confident that as a parent people would relate to it… people have been in those situations, it’s not bad parenting, that’s the ups and downs of bringing up children. It was something that I thought was very well explored in the script and that we should keep as faithful to as possible.

Q. Did playing a journalist give you any insights?
Clive Owen: I did an interview where someone thought the most appalling and upsetting scene in the film was when I pretended to be at the tennis and wasn’t actually there. And I had to say: “Don’t you think losing my wife was a little more upsetting?!”

Q. Do you set out to do different things given the diversity of your career so far, what with Sin City, Closer, Boys Are Back… They’re all very different…
Clive Owen: I don’t set out… I think at the end of the day a career is made up of all the individual choices that I’ve made and it is literally an instinctive response. I respond to material. I read Shoot ‘Em Up and I laughed all the way through and thought: “I want to do this film.” It was crazy. I read this script and I was interested in it for different reasons. I trained in the theatre and theatre is always about playing lots of different parts. And I enjoy exploring different aspects of myself.

People have said to me that this is quite a departure… I never saw it as that but enough people have said it to me now that I’ve got to accept it. But I’m a parent and parenting is a big part of my life and I recognized and felt that I’d had similar experiences to a lot of things in this movie, so felt reasonably familiar. I mean I didn’t have the huge tragic loss that they have, but in terms of all the ups and downs of parenting I felt I’d experienced quite a few of them so it felt quite close. So, at the end of the day it’s all about your response to the material and that you want to work with the director and that dictates the choices you make.

Q. Will you ever return to the stage?
Clive Owen: I’m talking about doing a play as I haven’t done a play for a very long time. I’m just trying to find a play that I’m passionate enough to want to go and do. But I’m certainly talking about the possibility of doing a play later this year.

Q. Would you encourage your kids to be actors?
Clive Owen: It’s very early days… my girls are 10 and 12. If they did show a feeling to want to go into it, it would be hypocritical of me to tell them they couldn’t do it because I’ve had such a fantastic time. But all I would do would be to make sure they are going into it for the right reasons.

Q. Which are?
Clive Owen: It’s about the work ultimately and everything else that comes with it… it is what it is. It’s a dangerous game to get into if you are after anything other than wanting to explore the craft of acting.

Q. Are your girls able to watch this film?
Clive Owen: They are very thrilled about this film because they can see it. They’ve got a big library when they’re 18 of Clive Owen movies and some of them I’ll still be unhappy about them seeing! But they came out to Australia and they had one of the best times [while filming]. They loved Australia and they loved meeting everybody and felt very part of the film and yes, it was one of those that when it came out they could actually see it. So, they’re thrilled about this one and are putting me under serious pressure to do a kids movie at the moment, which I will eventually buckle to I think.

Q. Did they say anything about the film?
Clive Owen: No, not particularly. They are pretty disdainful of me generally. Hannah, my eldest, her favourite line at the moment is: “If only they could see what you’re really like.”

Read our review of The Boys Are Back