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The International - Clive Owen interview

The International

Interview by Rob Carnevale

BRITISH actor Clive Owen talks to us about appearing in global conspiracy thriller The International and the timely nature of having a bank as its main villain.

He also reflects on his own career and the surprises that have driven it, as well as forthcoming roles in Duplicity, which reunites him with Julia Roberts, as well as the possibility of sequels for Sin City and Inside Man

Q. When you were shooting, I presume the global economy hadn’t quite plunged. But did you have any idea how relevant it would be?
Clive Owen: Well, it was always a relevant script. It’s amazing to think that Eric [Warren Singer] started writing it about six years ago. When I read the script, it felt like it was a subject that was worth discussing and talking about now. But no one could have predicted how timely it has become… the whole thing about pursuing a huge bank that we believe to be totally corrupt and questioning whether they’re using money appropriately and whether they’re sound and trust-worthy. It’s just become the big topic of the moment.

Q. Having a head of a bank as the villain, too, resonates given the news images of the heads of banks being grilled by politicians…
Clive Owen: It’s not that far-fetched [laughs].

Q. A lot of people would assume that being a Hollywood actor, you’re not affected by the credit crunch. But is that true?
Clive Owen: I don’t think anyone can avoid this kind of recession, really. It reaches everybody and it’s certainly reaching the film game. Studios are tightening their belt and they’re more careful about the way they spend their money. The worry is, in terms of making movies, that in times like this people tend to get more conservative. So, the worry is that the studios will back the big franchise movies, and they’ll back the tiny, tiny films. But that middle area, which is often the most exciting area in film, where people are given the chance to explore things that are maybe a bit more unconventional or different to what everyone else is doing… that’s the area that will feel it the most.

Q. How arduous a shoot was it, especially the Guggenheim shoot-out? How long did that take?
Clive Owen: That was a sequence that felt like we were shooting it throughout the entire movie. They built a huge replica of the Guggenheim exactly to scale, with exactly the same dimensions as the real thing… the studio in Berlin wasn’t big enough to house it, so they did it in some huge hanger outside of the studio. So, we started off with a few weeks on that set, then they took that down and built a set of just the lobby area… just an entrance and a ground level and the beginning of the rotunda. And then at the end of the movie we came to New York and got into the real place. So, it felt like that scene went on for the entire shoot.

Q. Istanbul looks great in the film. Did you have much chance to look around?
Clive Owen: Well, you always think, ‘great, I’m going to Istanbul, I’ve never been there’. But you don’t actually see much of it because you’re shooting all the time. You see the hotel room. But the amazing thing about that was the end of the film, which was written as a dead end alleyway, where the two people end up trapped and have this confrontation. But when Tom [Tykwer, director] was in Istanbul, the location manager said he wanted to show him something and took him into the grand bazaar, into the shop, up the back, through some steps and suddenly there was this incredible world of these walkways on the roof of the grand bazaar with a mosque either end. I don’t think anybody had ever filmed there before. He literally rang me and said: “I’ve just discovered the most amazing location!”

Q. Didn’t you shoot that climactic sequence first? How was that?
Clive Owen: That was the hardest I’ve ever experienced of being out of sequence while shooting because it’s such a journey. This guy is so angry, passionate and obsessed throughout the whole movie about trying to get to this bank, and then finally has a showdown at the end of the movie… but it’s the very first thing I had to do without doing any of the journey, and none of the scenes building up to it. It was very difficult to be sure of how to pitch it.

Q. If this had been a typical Hollywood movie there may have been a romance between your character and Naomi Watts. Was that a deliberate decision to keep you apart?
Clive Owen: Yeah. It was talked about leading up to the film and whether a scene between them was required, but everyone felt that it wasn’t really. It would have been too cliched. The thing about those characters is that they’re allies in their pursuit of the bank and there’s an obvious attraction, understanding and partnership between them. But it had to be the pursuit of the bank that was the drive for the movie and not some little side romance.

Q. In terms of your career, you seem to be driven towards the more edgy stuff rather than mainstream?
Clive Owen: I don’t really think about films as being independent or studio. For me, it’s never really about the size of a film. And the lines have become much more blurred. It’s much harder to distinguish. People often talk about the independent sector as this very cool sector that’s very adventurous and then you have the studios that are more conventional. But it’s not necessarily the case. Some of the more radical, sort of riskier films that I’ve done have been big studio pictures. Children of Men, I think, is a hugely ambitious film and it’s totally financed by an American studio. So, I think in some ways the studios get a bit of a rough ride when people talk about the independent sector.

Q. Do you think it’s been a good thing that you’re getting this level of attention later in life?
Clive Owen: Without a doubt. I think having gone through what I’ve been through… you know, I was in a big TV show when I was very young, so to a certain extent I’ve been through a process of dealing with that kind of attention that celebrity could bring. It’s something that nobody teaches you. You learn to negotiate it, you navigate it and you find a way of dealing with it. When you’re very young and you’re thrown into it, it can be very disorientating. The problem is that it takes the attention away from what it is you actually do. It’s very easy to then get side-tracked. There’s so much stuff going on.

I think it’s important to remember that, ultimately, the few minutes a day you’re in front of the camera on a movie is when you have to deliver. That’s the work; that’s where it all stops and keeping your eye on that is the discipline you need as an actor. When you’re young, it can be easy to be knocked off that, and I feel that having been through a much lesser version of it – because it was confined very much to this country… But in some ways the heat and the attention that comes from TV is more intense than it is with the movies. And that’s inherently because tabloids are more interested in TV because that’s their kind of world. People who write about movies tend to be wanting to talk about the movies.

Q. Was Hollywood a shock? Or was it what you expected?
Clive Owen: Hollywood has been very good to me. It’s been very good to me. It’s like they say, it’s the ones that you least expect. It was a tiny film called The Croupier that literally changed my whole career. That small film was the first thing that made any impact in America for me and it opened up a world that I’m still reaping the benefits of.

Q. What was it like reuniting with Julia Roberts on Duplicity?
Clive Owen: It was great. It was really fantastic. That script had some of the best dialogue I’ve read in years. I read that script and was totally excited and rang my agent. He’s a brilliant writer, Tony Gilroy, and this is a very wicked… lots of sharp humour and just some fantastic banter. It’s about a couple of corporate spies that are having an affair, who decide to scout the companies they’re working for, but kind of don’t trust each other at the same time. So, it’s just rife with great dialogue scenes. Tony sent me the script and said: “Who would you have as your No.1 choice to play that part?” And we both said Julia Roberts was the best at this kind of stuff. I got on great with her when we did Closer.

At the time she was pregnant, so it wasn’t really an issue, and then later on she came to the script, read it and met Tony and rang me and said: “I think we should do this one.” I was thrilled because there is just nobody better to do this kind of movie with.

Q. Do you have a short-hand with Julia?
Clive Owen: It’s so much easier when you’ve worked with somebody and you trust each other, respect each other and like each other. In a movie like Duplicity, which is very much a series of great banter scenes between the two of us… that whole trust thing is taken care of before you begin. You’ve been through that process already, so you get to the work that much quicker. It’s also much more fun and playful because if you’ve been through a whole thing already, there is a shorthand there.

Q. Is it another film about corporate villainy?
Clive Owen: It is but it’s hugely different in tone from The International. It’s full of very wicked humour and it’s much lighter in tone.

Q. More of a caper?
Clive Owen: Exactly and it’s fun and entertaining. It reminded me, if anything, of old Cary Grant films. I watched His Girl Friday and films like that because there’s a lot of dialogue in the movie and it trips along. It has great speed and rhythmn. So, I tended to watch films where people talk really fast because it kind of demanded that kind of energy.

Q. Is it one that your daughters can watch?
Clive Owen: It might be one of the few [laughs]. Apart from Julia and I kissing a little bit, it might be…

Q. Have they started bullying you to watch your films yet?
Clive Owen: What happens is, they come on nearly every film that I do.. they come on location, they meet everybody, they have a great time, they learn all about the film and then it comes out and they’re not allowed to watch it. And it’s really beginning to get to them. They’re like: “Why can’t we watch it? We know it’s a movie!” But the idea of them sitting down and watching Closer or Shoot ‘Em Up is a big no-no. So, they are putting serious pressure on me to do a kids film.

Q. Julia Roberts handles her career and her private life really well. Is she kind of a model to aspire to for you?
Clive Owen: The level that she’s at is completely different to the level that I’m at. I’ve shot on the streets of New York with Julia Roberts and it’s nothing short of chaos. The kind of attention… they wait outside where she lives, they wait outside where she goes. Shooting in Rome with Julia – that’s where the word paparazzi comes from and it’s really intense. But she deals with it impeccably and I can only stand back and respect just how well she manages to keep going and keep her life as normal as it possibly can be. She’s a very grounded girl. But she’s dealing with this extraordinary situation all the time and she’s very impressive at dealing with it.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about The Boys Are Back In Town?
Clive Owen: Yeah, that’s very different from anything I’ve done really. It was based on a book, about an English sports journalist, who was living in Australia, who’s wife very sadly died of cancer and who ends up with his young seven-year-old boy. It’s all the ups and downs of becoming a single parent and adjusting… you know, having a guy that was very much into sport and travelling a lot suddenly being at home with his boy on his own. And then, after a period of time, his teenage son from a previous marriage who’s been living in England, calls and wants to come out to get to know his father. So, suddenly he’s got this strange family that he’s juggling on his own. The script was a really good script – it was very moving. It’s about parenting really and because I’m a parent, it’s just something that I really wanted to explore.

Q. Will you be involved in Sin City 2 if it happens?
Clive Owen: You probably know as much about that as I do. Seriously. They’ve talked about it since the first one and I’ve never known the state of affairs. It’s always just around the corner.

Q. Was that a pleasurable experience?
Clive Owen: I thought it was a really amazing achievement by Robert Rodriguez. I thought he did something really extraordinary there. To make something that was so faithful to the source material, which it is… it’s like those graphic novels burst into life. Technically, it was a really serious achievement. What he achieved from after we shot the green screen acting stuff, to what everybody saw was nothing short of staggering. Honestly, the first time I saw it I was blown away. I had no idea I was in that movie. And it was a brilliant use of CGI because the graphic novels are heightened and the whole thing was heightened. I think sometimes you see CGI in a movie and it kind of takes you out of the movie – the minute you recognise it, you’re kind of taken out of the film. But this was a brilliant use of it because the whole thing was so heightened anyway.

Q. Didn’t Quentin Tarantino work on your bit?
Clive Owen: He worked on some of the stuff I did with Benicio Del Toro. He’s very good friends with Robert and literally came in for two days.

Q. Are you reuniting with Spike Lee for Inside Man 2?
Clive Owen: Yeah, I saw Spike recently and he’s become a very good friend. Yes, there is a script being written that’s due to be delivered very soon. Everybody is keen if the script is good.

Q. You were also in those BMW adverts. The people you got to work with on them alone was amazing… it must have ticked a few boxes? Was it a heightened learning experience?
Clive Owen: It was in a way and also just learning that there are no rules. All those people are brilliant, but brilliant in very different ways and with different strengths. It actually did very well for me that campaign. Not many people saw it here because it was very much a North American campaign, but I actually turned it down a couple of times before I eventually said yes. Because it was just after Croupier had broken and I thought it was a series of commercials and didn’t think it was necessarily the best thing to be doing. But then eventually they sent me some scripts, which were really good, and they said: “Ang Lee and John Frankenheimer are doing the first two…” And suddenly I was like: “What?” But to get the calibre of these incredible directors, I was really glad that I eventually did it.

Q. Is there anything else that you’re signed up for?
Clive Owen: I have no idea what I’m doing next. It’s been the first time for a very long time that I haven’t known what I’m going to do and in some ways it’s a reminder of when I first started out in acting and the unpredictability of it. Some people just aren’t cut out for it because you never know what’s coming up, or what’s going to be happening. But that was always one of the attractions for me… the unknown. The whole world could fall in front of you and suddenly you were experiencing something that you never would have imagined a little while ago. So, I’m currently in a place where I have no idea what I’m going to do next and it’s quite exciting. I like it. I’m not anxious.

Read our review of The International