Hollywood A-Lister Clive Owen has come a long way from his working class roots in Coventry. Here, Josh Roberts chats with the BAFTA award winning actor recently crowned the 5th sexiest man alive.
When I first told people that I was interviewing Clive Owen I usually got one of two reactions. Girls (including my mother) tended to gaze skywards, let out a longing sigh and (although I can’t confirm this) spent the next couple of minutes thinking what it would be like to date Clive Owen.
“Imagine”, their doe-eyed facial expressions seemed to say, “imagine, how safe you’d feel being held by those big, muscular arms”. Blokes, on the other hand, tended to be more to the point: “ask him what Angelina Jolie’s bangers are like”, was the most popular response.
Regrettably I hadn’t the balls (metaphorically, obviously: I do actually have balls) to ask either for a hug or for a pic of Angie’s whammers. I did, however, ask plenty of other things.
Reading Owen’s early biography you could be forgiven for wondering how on earth he ended-up being one of Hollywood’s leading men. Born in Coventry in 1964 Owen didn’t have what you might call an easy ride.
His father, a country and western singer, left home when Owen was just three (they would later meet when he was 19) and the Binkley Park Comprehensive School which he attended was hardly a ‘star factory’. Nevertheless Binkley Park did give him his first taste of acting, a taste which as soon as he had tasted he knew he wanted to taste again (too many tastes?).
“I played the Artful Dodger in a school production of Oliver!, he reflects, “ from that point forward, I said I wanted to be an actor. Nobody in my family took it seriously, but I saw no other path. This one teacher said: ‘You’re a working-class kid from Coventry. What do you know?”.
After leaving school Owen, like so many teenagers of that era and geography, went straight into unemployment. He spent two years ricocheting around Coventry until he finally pulled the trigger and applied to The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) where was accepted.
How did being on the dole affect him? “Those two years were, in some ways, the most formative for me”, he responds, “I think it was very important to have lived some real life before going to Drama School, and it also helped me appreciate the opportunity I was given”.
It was undoubtedly a golden time to be studying at RADA (his contemporaries included Ralph Fiennes) and Owen went about gaining “a very good grounding for a life in acting” taking on parts in classics such as Henry IV and The Lady from the Sea. This formal training is still a huge influence on performances today although, he is quick to add, you need not go to RADA to be an actor.
“There are no rules and I have worked with some brilliant untrained actors”, he says on the subject, “but the discipline I learned in those years is still a part of me”.
Following his graduation from RADA Owen went on to join the Young Vic theatre company and it was here, as cliché would have it, whilst playing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet that he met his now wife Sarah-Jane Fenton (yes, she was playing Juliet).
It was around this time that Owen’s career began taking-off – in 1988 he made his film debut in British-made Vroom and became a fully-fledged TV star playing devilish rogue Stephen Crane in Chancer.
The success of Chancer made Owen uncomfortable and fearing that he would be typecast (an estimated 70% of the show’s nine million viewers were female) he sought more varied work including his role in Close My Eyes in which he played a brother who acts on his incestuous desires for his older sister and the part of Max in Sean Matthias’ film adaptation of Bent.
His big break came in 1998 when he was chosen to play the lead in the Mike Hodge (of Get Carter fame) film Croupier. His portrayal of a struggling writer-turned-casino croupier who falls for a femme fatale scam artist became a hit in the US and soon after Owen began “meeting serious people”.
Parts in huge films such as the Oscar winning Gosford Park, The Bourne Identity and Closer (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award and won a BAFTA) soon followed and Owen cemented himself as a Hollywood A-Lister. Since then he’s starred alongside some of the generations best known actors including Denzel Washington, Julianne Moore, Michael Cain and Kate Blanchet among many others.
Given the level of his current success and the fact that his name alone is enough to get a film made, I’m keen to know how he picks his projects. “It always starts with a script”, he says adding, “but film is a director’s medium, and for me they’re the most important thing. It’s no good telling a great story…badly”. Which directors would he most like to work with? “Two who spring to mind are Paul Thomas Anderson and the French director, Jacques Audiard”.
In a world where celebrity and overnight success are valued more than talent and graft Owen, as a movie star, is somewhat refreshing. His career has been hard-fought and slow burning – he diligently learnt his craft, has chosen projects for substance rather than dosh and has managed to avoid all the usual pitfalls of life as a movie star.
He fiercely guards his family’s privacy (“because that’s something I don’t think I should be putting out for the consumption of a newspaper”), for example, and has chosen not to relocate them to Hollywood like many British actors.
“Hollywood has been very good to me and given me some wonderful opportunities”, he says, “but gone are the days when you have to move to LA to make it in movies. It’s a much more global, international industry now”.
Indeed, so ‘global’ has the industry become that Owen spent last summer on Ireland’s fair shores filming the upcoming Shadow Dancer. The movie, which has been described as “a taught thriller”, follows an active IRA member as she becomes an MI5 informant to protect her son. It is directed by Oscar Winner James Marsh (Man on Wire) and although set in Belfast was partly filmed in Dublin.
Of the film’s subject matter he says, “it’s very interesting dramatic territory for film-makers from the British Isles. It happened in our lifetime, it threw up these extraordinary situations which speaking as a dramatist, are very rich to explore”.
And what was his experience of Dublin? “I had a really great time”, he says of his time here, “but maybe drank a little too much Guinness!”
When he’s not downing pints of the black stuff Owen dedicates time to his other passions – his two teenage daughters (Hannah and Eve), Liverpool FC (he admits to being star-struck when meeting Steven Gerrard) and horse-racing on which he’s previously said “anybody who bets on horses and says they win is probably a liar”.
Betting on horses might be a bit of a gamble; but betting on Owen’s career prospects is anything but – next year will see him alongside Uma Thurman in the hotly anticipated Blind and he’ll also be filming Harold Becker’s Recall.
As a final point I’m interested to know how this 47 year old actor intends to ensure a lasting career. “Like everything else”, he responds simply, “by working hard”. And after our interview I’ve no doubt he will.
Shadow Dancer is released later this year.