Clive Owen on Children Of Men: 'Some films take more out of you than others, but I always have a good time'
"Right from the minute I got on stage playing Artful Dodger at 13 years old, I knew acting was what I wanted to do," Clive says. "Of course, no-one took me seriously. But I got involved with youth theatre and then school went out the window. I was unemployed for two years from when I was 16 and I didn't think it was going to pan out. I applied to RADA and got parts in plays, though I was afraid of all the posh people and the alumni like Ralph Fiennes, Jane Horrocks and Iain Glen.
"After RADA, I did lots of TV for money. It's a good environment where you learn quickly by doing. I was in two series of Chancer and I became a national character, a sort of debonair sexy charmer. I felt very privileged to be able to make a living but I got offered a lot of the same sort of thing and I didn't feel I was risking anything - I wanted to open it out get more varied work."
Clive's big break came in 1991 when he was offered a role in Stephen Poliakoff's Close My Eyes, the story of a sexual relationship developing between a brother and sister. "It was a love story. Twisted and unusual. Amazingly original and delicate, not about right and wrong," he says. "But it only got a minimal release in the UK. Unfortunately with a film, if it's not an obvious success, if it's tricky or complicated or a 'difficult' story, it's often scrapped. We worked really hard to make some of my earlier films work for distribution. I kept doing theatre and TV and small films, and in Croupier I did a lot of voiceover work. I think it's the most intimate form of dialogue, a voiceover delivered straight to the audience. Also, I think Mike Hodges [the film's director] is hugely underappreciated." He blames the bow tie in Croupier for starting the rumours that he would go on to play James Bond, rumours he denies having stoked, as he's already very happy with what he's doing.
Clive would go on to work with Hodges again in 2003's I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, two years after his unpaid work in Gosford Park won impressive reviews from the critics and a share in two major ensemble acting awards. Then came Closer, of which he says "The casting call was like a gift. I loved the play and Mike Nichols is a genius with actors. The writing was great, Julia Roberts was very generous and lovely to work with - she has what most actors want, she makes it look simple and it isn't. Though it was very full on and demanding I had a great time. It's still very dear to me seven years later."
In 2006, Clive took on a new genre with Children Of Men, as an accidental hero trying to protect a young pregnant woman in a dystopian future Britain. Appearing in nearly every scene, he says he found it very galvanising, and director Alfonso Cuarón just blew him away. "I had strong instincts about the part," he says. "I really wanted to go on that journey. There was an extraordinary collection of talented people on set. The director of photography and handheld camera operator were both phenomenal; there was so much configuring and reconfiguring of sets. It had to feel real so we used very carefully planned tracking shots. Some films take more out of you than others, but I always have a good time."
This year brought another film on the subject of fatherhood, with The Boys Are Back looking at what happens when a sports writer suddenly has to cope with his kids by himself. "I had a beautiful script," he says. "Terribly moving, not sentimental but honest. It was a very personal film for me and the director got great performances from the boys. They're two of the most impressive actors I've worked with."
So what's on the cards now? Clive has two films in the works - Raymond Chandler adaptation Trouble Is My Business and Colombian crime thriller Cartagena, but he is also interested in returning to the theatre, noting that "If Patrick Marber [the writer of Closer] were to give me something I'd be extremely tempted."