By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—British actor Clive Owen has a penchant for playing complex, troubled characters. He stars as a brilliant but heroin and cocaine-addicted turn-of-the-20th-century surgeon in the acclaimed Cinemax series “The Knick.” He also plays a recovering alcoholic trying to parent his adolescent son in the new independent drama “The Confirmation.”
“I’m always attracted to characters that are in some sort of conflict or dealing with something because they’re more interesting to play,” says Owen, an Academy Award-nominated actor for 2004’s “The Closer,” in which he played a sex-addicted dermatologist.
Owen burst onto the international scene in 1998 when he starred in the critically acclaimed drama “Croupier,” playing a struggling writer. He since has become a leading man and appeared in a wide range of films including Frank Miller’s noir-ish “Sin City,” Spike Lee’s “Inside Man” and Alfonso Cuaron’s sci-fi thriller “Children of Men.”
Ruggedly handsome with piercing blue eyes, Owen has long been among a handful of British actors rumored to be under consideration to play iconic spy James Bond. But that may be just wishful thinking on the part of Owen’s fans as the actor has chosen a more eclectic career path, mixing small independent film projects like the modestly budgeted “The Confirmation” with larger, studio films and television (he was an Emmy nominee for the miniseries “Hemingway & Gellhorn, ” for his depiction of genius alcoholic writer Ernest Hemingway).
Married for 11 years to Sarah-Jane Felton, Owen lives a quiet life with his two daughters in his native England, purposely keeping himself out of the Hollywood celebrity spotlight. He tenses up when asked even an innocuous question about his hobbies, pastimes or causes, but he is more than happy to discuss his work.
At a press day to promote “The Confirmation,” the directorial debut of Bob Nelson, the Academy Award-nominated writer of 2013’s dramedy “Nebraska,” Owen spoke about taking on the role of Walt, a divorced carpenter who tries to reconnect with his young son on a weekend visit, and working with his 13-year-old co-star Jaeden Lieberher (“St Vincent”). When Walt’s tools go missing, he and his estranged son embark on a search to retrieve them in their small, Washington state town. Along their journey, Walt struggles to fight his alcohol addiction and be a good parent to his son.
Q: What was it about this script that interested you? Had you seen “Nebraska,” because this is kind of similarly themed father-son bonding story, except the characters are about 30 years younger?
Owen: I had seen “Nebraska” and I really loved it. I was really taken with that film. I knew that Bob Nelson had written it. I thought it was a beautifully written script. Both films are very personal to Bob, actually. They’re about his life and his relationship with his father. I thought it was really beautiful, poignant, sad and funny, though it never veered into being sentimental. It had great restraint. It was believable, and one thing that I really loved about it was that there was humanity and respect for all the characters in it. They weren’t being judged or condescended to. There was a warmth to it and it was what you could call a “feel good” movie, but in a real way, not in a fake, sentimental way.
Q: Was there a specific accent that you were going for? Was it a regional American accent?
Owen: Yeah. I worked with my dialect coach. We go through the same process. We know where the film was set (rural Washington state). We went for something that wasn’t something thick and strong, but we tried to do it as specifically as we could.
Q: Do you stay in that accent when you’re not on camera during filming?
Owen: I can, yeah. And to be honest with you, it’s something I’ve learned and developed. I used to think it was really pretentious when people did that, but actually it’s quite important because of rhythm and tone. To switch in and out can start to get really difficult—to turn it on and off. It’s not just the accent; it’s the tone and feel of the part, and the environment you’re in. So I’ve gotten over my shyness over doing that and realized it was part of the job. It was a necessary thing.
Q: Walt is so American in so many ways. How did you uncover the character? Had you met someone like him?
Owen: No, but I’ve spent an awful lot of time in America and I know a lot of Americans. I’ve shot in America in a lot. So I feel like I’ve had a lot of experience, but it was really that I was incredibly supported by the material. The material was very clear to me. I had a very clear idea of what the film was, who the guy was and what his dilemma was.
Q: How did you and Jaeden Lieberher form a bond?
Owen: (deadpan) We actually didn’t get on at all in the movie; we had a few riles early on. Jaeden was such a diva. I’d often be on the set waiting for him to come out the trailer. Then he would come out and he would be demanding candy and this and that. So we made a deal that we wouldn’t speak outside the filming and we just did a very good acting job. (He chuckles.)
Jaeden made a very good point early on that because in this film. We’re estranged from each other, and there is a difficulty and awkwardness about the relationship to begin with. It’s much easier to act that than the opposite–the times there is warmth. And the times you really feel a parental bond. So, it’s really important to gain each other’s trust and know that when we do the more difficult and challenging scenes that it’s a safe thing. We’re only playing. It’s only a film and that’s important.
Q: So, you’ve done TV, big budget stuff, low budget projects. Is that something you’re consciously trying to do? Do you try to mix it up?
Owen: I’m very distinctive. I read a script and I’m open to anything. If you look at my career, it’s incredibly varied and it’s just about responding to material, a part and whoever is directing.
Q: You’ve played addicts before. What’s it like to play someone who is flawed?
Owen: There’s always more than one thing going on. At the end of the day, it’s a human thing to play flawed because we all are flawed. There’s no such thing as a perfect human being. It’s my job as an actor to try and get people to understand and to relate. I’ve played some deeply flawed character but my job is to try to get people to understand why they are how they are and who they are so (the viewer can) relate. You don’t have to condone their behavior, but you have to understand how that person is.
Q: Does it help to be a father in real life playing this parent struggling to do what he can to guide his son?
Owen: We live in a world of many fractured families where maybe fathers don’t see enough of their kids, and life can get in the way. The problems of life, the problems of living day-to-day, the problems of making a living can make things very difficult. The beauty of this script is that none of the characters are judged; they’re all struggling with their issues, but we’re not looking down on them, we’re not condescending to them, we can see that they’re trying to get to the end of each week. I really related to that and felt that yes he’s flawed, but he’s a good guy. He’s trying to be a better man and a better father.
Q: When you were shooting this film in Vancouver, did you manage to take any time to go out on your own and check it out? Where did you go? What did you do?
Owen: We had a very tight shooting schedule and we shot just a little bit out of Vancouver. In my time off, I’ve just gotten to know Vancouver. I’ve worked there before so I knew it well. But, actually, Jaeden and I got along so well, we would just hang out on weekends. We’d go on bike rides and just basically hang out. Jaeden and I got on very well and it was a nice thing to do. I got an awful lot of respect for this kid, not only as an actor but as a guy as well.
Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
Owen: (chuckles) I’m never going to tell you that. (He laughs.) Otherwise, it won’t be a surprise.
Q: Do you have a charity or a sport you participate in or have something you collect?
Owen: No, I think it’s good to have a few surprises up your sleeve.
Q: Your name has been bandied about for years as a potential Bond character. At this point, do you still see that as a possibility? Have the Broccolis approached you?
Owen: No, I’ve never seen it as a possibility and I’m far too old. (He laughs.)
Q: It’s been announced that Harrison Ford is going to do another “Indiana Jones.” He’s going to be 77 when they release it.
Owen: Wow, yeah but he’s great.
Q: Did you ever entertain the idea of playing James Bond?
Owen: I’m very happy doing what I’m doing. I’m very happy doing films with Jaeden Lieberher.
Q: You star on Cinemax’s “The Knick.” The second season is airing in the U.S. Is there more “Knick” in the future?
Owen: I only ever signed on to do two seasons. But I think they’re talking about possibly carrying it on.