Clive Owen: interview
In his new film ‘The Boys Are Back’, Clive Owen faces his greatest acting challenge to date as a bereaved single dad forced to tackle his own shortcomings as a parent
Was it nice to play a more scruffy, off-the-cuff role after the sharp-suited ‘Duplicity’?
‘Yeah. I think that comes down to acting with the little ones so much. With a kid of 6, they don’t have a precise skill that they’re coming in with every day. It’s much more instinctive and reactive, and they demand that of you because if you’re too honed not only are you not going to connect very well, but they’ll show you up. They’ll make you look like an actor because they’re the real thing. They’re just putting it out there.’
What appealed to you about the script and the character of Joe?
‘I liked the fact that it was terribly moving without being overwrought. I just thought it was a beautiful exploration not only of parenting from a guy’s perspective, but also of grieving. It’s very honest. Every time I read the scenes where he tells the little one his mum might not be around for much longer, I found that deeply upsetting. It’s probably because I’ve got two girls, I find the idea of having that conversation very upsetting.’
How was your relationship with the two boys?
‘It was great. Nicholas [McAnulty] was six years old, very bright but really unpredictable. I was very keen to explore the tougher sides of the script, so I needed him to trust me, to feel safe with me. So I got out to Australia early and we went on days out, we went on safari, we went to a funfair. Part of every day during the rehearsal process was for me and Nick to go off and do something.
‘But the relationship with the other boy, George [MacKay], was very different, because he’s the real deal. He’s fully conscious of everything he’s doing. There’s nothing naive about George. I think he’s a really skilled actor, and he’s very important in the film. It’s the thing I’m most proud of in the film, that dynamic between the three of us and how natural it feels.’
The film could have ended up being terribly maudlin – what creative decisions did you and director Scott Hicks take to stop that from happening?
‘I took a producer role very early on, when the script was being developed. Scott and I had a similar vision, and I wanted to protect that vision. The script was in very good shape to begin with, it was just about keeping true to that. People get scared about the central character being likeable: why is he nasty to the boys, why is he unpleasant there? It’s about having the courage to go “people will understand it, people will relate to it”. He’s grieving. It is not about being likeable or unlikeable - grief is messy, it’s unpredictable.’
Did it force you to examine the relationship you have with your own children?
‘That was definitely an element that resonated with me: the fact that at the beginning of the film Joe travels a lot, and suddenly he’s got to take a crash course in parenting. But I recognised that a while ago and made sure that the rhythm of my life is very set: if I go off and make a film for a period of time, I then take time out to hang out with the family. It wasn’t always like that. In the early days when things started taking off, I’d just go off and work. Then I began to think: This isn’t good, they’re gonna be 16 before I know it.’
Have you noticed your celebrity having an effect on your children?
‘There was a time when they didn’t understand it at all. Someone would stop me in the street and they’d ask, “Why did that person just talk to you?” And it’s a cliché, but they are seriously putting me under pressure to do a kids film.’
Did they wish you were in 'Harry Potter'?
‘They wish I was in any film they could go to school and talk about!’
Read our review of 'The Boys are Back'.
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