INT: Clive Owen

British actor Clive Owen first made a splash in the U.S. with the indie hit CROUPIER, where he played an aspiring writer who sees his life deteriorate after taking a job at a casino. From there he lead the ensemble cast of Robert Altman’s acclaimed GOSFORD PARK, a murder mystery set in pre-WWII England. More recently, he's made headlines most often as the oft-mentioned possible successor to Pierce Brosnan as the next James Bond. Looks like that isn’t gonna happen, but no worry – he’s gotten the opportunity to play another classic British character, King Arthur of the Knights of the Round Table.

I got a chance to meet Clive last week at the St. Regis in Century City. Though still smarting from England’s stunning loss in the Euro 2004 soccer championships, he was kind enough to talk to us about his experience making KING ARTHUR.


How different was the role of King Arthur from the ones you’ve played in earlier films?

It wasn’t that different. My approach remained the same: I took it on like I take anything on; it’s just a character I play in a movie. Now of course you know it’s a huge movie when you arrive in Ireland and see a mile long, 35 foot high Hadrian’s Wall and 600 extras getting ready, dressed as Saxons, and you go ‘wow, this is huge.’ But at the same time you realize at a certain point you are demanded to deliver something in front of the camera. It’s the same thing; it’s the same deal in terms of the responsibility of this film making money, and there are lots of people, employees who sweat about that. I can only do what I do and do it as well as I can.

You are typically an "internal" actor, in terms of your characters’ introspective rather than extroverted natures. How did you turn that around for a big summer blockbuster?

It is, but at the same time you have to cast the script and the way it’s put together and they support you. You can’t play heroic. You can’t play status. It’s like the old bit about actors saying, "You can only play status if the actor you’re working with gives it to you." In the same way you take something like this on, you have to hope the writing supports you, and that the structure and the way the film is made is going to support you, and you don’t go in playing big, iconic, heroic; you can’t do that. You’re just sort of made that, so you just go into the film hoping that the support is there.

How does the elaborate costume and set design help you prepare for the role?

Well, when you’re on a huge white horse in this sort of fantastic armor, you feel good (laughs). You feel tough.

Is there a certain amount of pride in the fact this is a major Hollywood film about British legend whose cast is predominantly English?

It was very exciting. There were rumors going around the U. K. For a while that they were going to come and do this movie and shoot it up in Britain somewhere, so people were aware of it. And then, I think it’s a huge credit to Jerry that you would think the first thing to do would be to secure an A-list star to a movie of this size and stature, but he didn’t. He didn’t put any constraints on Antoine about who to cast; he said to cast out of Britain and Europe. There’s no pressure to have anybody, so it’s not often that we get a film in the U. K. of this stature, so it was a thrill to do it. And also, I think they scoured Europe for all the leading actors of their countries, like Stellan [Skarsgard], all big names in their native countries, and I think they put together a pretty wonderful cast.

Do you perceive this film as exclusively an action movie, or something a bit more complex?

I don’t know how I see it really, but there’s a lot of action in it. There’s a huge amount of big battles in it, but again from an acting point of view, you just play characters, whatever it is. You know, I’m a great believer when you see these films that when you’re going into situations like those big battles you aren’t invested in them. You can see the most spectacular things put together, the CGI, but unless you’ve got an investment, unless you care about the people involved in it, you soon get bored, but if you’re rooting for somebody, you care about somebody in the context, then it has a bigger impact.

What was the most arduous part of the shoot for King Arthur?

The horse riding. There’s a huge amount of it, and it became a very enjoyable thing in the end, but all of us put a lot of time into it, and this was way before we got to Ireland. A half an hour outside of London, the guy who was driving all of the horses had a stable and we would all go out, and thank God we did. I mean, the first day of the film, every one of us had never been on a horse before, and they were shooting and they said "Guys, just go as fast as you can; what ever you feel safe with." As an actor, when you’re told that, you want to deliver, and we did some pretty lively horse stuff on the movie, considering we’re not stunt guys.

Did Keira Knightley really become "one of the guys" as she was characterized in the film’s press materials?

Oh yeah. One moment at lunchtime, by where we ate chow, they trained everybody, so whenever we were bored or we had time we could go and work out with a trainer, and we could box as well. And walking past and seeing Keira boxing, she was fearsome. She was fierce. That girl took getting fit for this really seriously.

What initially attracted you to this role?

It was the whole thing. It’s not often you get a film like that coming to the U.K. It was exciting to have a film of that scale. The big difference with a film of that size is that the world you inhabit is so supported. Seeing Hadrian’s Wall, a mile long, 35 feet high, the first time driving to that location in Ireland, it was like, "Oh my God. Look at the scale." And sometimes when I look at the movie, it looks like CGI or something, but I’m telling you you could walk along the whole thing. It was really solid. It was just an exciting opportunity to be a part of something that’s created on such a scale.

How much fealty to historical accuracy do you have to show, and how much do you just have to commit to making an entertaining movie?

Well you have huge advantage that it’s a myth. It’s a myth, and what (Writer David) Franzoni will argue and what the Arthur historians will argue is that it’s probably more valid than any version because it has an historical context, so there are certain things that they have researched and that they do know about this time. Ultimately, the story of King Arthur and the Knights is a very elusive myth, and it’s not like we’re rewriting history, because it’s not history. It’s something else. And I think whenever you’re doing anything like that, whenever you’re doing something historical, at the end of the day, you have to let go and shoot what’s there on the page. You can’t do anything else. In the end it’s movie, and people are going to see it to be entertained.

Would you do another action-oriented movie after this, or are you more interested in returning to more intimate films, like Gosford Park?

I want to do the action version of Gosford Park. I love to mix it up. I love to keep doing different things. One of the things I’m most proud of about my career is the fact I’ve managed to keep options open. I’ll probably end up going off and doing a play in some little theatre next; that’s the kind of actor I am. I just like to keep challenging myself, keep it varied. It’s a craft, and I’m constantly trying to learn and get better at it.

How was it coming back to work with Mike Hodges on I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead?

It was fantastic. He’s really instinctive and I’m a huge admirer of his work and his style of filmmaking. He reminds me of European directors. It’s mature. He makes films for adults, and he doesn’t underestimate his audience, and it’s a very different movie that King Arthur but I loved working with him. I’m a big fan of his.

Do you think the Will  character from I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is something you’ll explore further in other films?

We have talked about doing another one together, but it wouldn’t be related to that one.

How do you distinguish your own big movie moments from those of past films, such as Braveheart or Gladiator?

You just have to put yourself as any actor into that situation, and there’s a high possibility that being with a group of guys will inspire you in the scene, and you just have to put yourself there. It’s the same as you do any scene. I don’t quite know what the process is; I don’t really know. It’s an instinctive thing for me and you just try and believe what you say when you say it.

Were you more research-intensive about this role than in previous ones?

No. I had a long conversation with Franzoni early on and he gave me his research that he had done and it was the source material for the original King Arthur myth, and I digested that, and when you play the film, you just go from the script.

Is that typically how you work?

I just need to know and believe what I am saying. If I’m playing a doctor, I don’t need to go and work in a hospital for three months. I just need to understand what I’m saying. If’ I’m talking about something I should know about it. I want to find out about it, but beyond that, really I don’t think there are any rules about the process. It’s just whatever it takes. The most important thing is if you see a film and if you buy it or you don’t buy it. How people get there is pretty uninteresting, I think, because it doesn’t matter. You can talk about researching a role for five months and living the life, but it doesn’t matter. You either go to the film and believe it or you don’t. That’s all that matters, really.

Are you satisfied with the way your performance came together in the completed film?

Personally, I’m very thrilled by the movie, and I thought they did a fantastic job, but personally it’s very hard, especially when you see it for the first time, you have no idea what you saw. You just sort of sit there nervously squirming.

Who do you think is more essential to a film’s success, the actors or the director?

They have to do it together, really, but ultimately it’s the actor’s responsibility to be believable, and the director’s there to support that.

What else are you working on?

Closer comes out in November, which is a Mike Nichols movie. I’ve just finished working with Robert Rodriguez on Sin City, and I’m about to do a movie called Derailed which is by Mikael Håfström, a Swedish director whose film Evil was nominated for the foreign film Oscar. I’m very excited to be working with him.

What was your experience on Sin City like?

Wild. Fantastic.

What was it like working with Robert Rodriguez?

What a smart, charming guy. He’s got it down. He’s got his own operation out there. He does it all his own way; he does everything himself. He’s very fast. He has a great, great work ethic. It’s a lovely time; it’s very relaxed, very healthy, but very disciplined as well. It’s the healthiest environment in which to shoot a movie. He’s very focused, and his people are very concentrated, but it’s very relaxed and healthy.

How do you feel people in Britain will regard this film?

It will be the same with anybody when you play in something that’s very established. You’ll get people who are upset, but I have to say those are the people who think it’s all fact anyway (laughs).

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com



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