Like many of the characters he plays, Clive Owen was reserved, astute and insightful throughout his public appearance at the Apple store in downtown Manhattan on Friday. Interviewed by American Psycho director Mary Harron as a part of a series of conversations co-hosted by Apple and indieWIRE, taking place during the Tribeca Film Festival, Owen touched on two of his recent projects while fielding broad questions about his professional interests.
Although not currently starring in any theatrical releases, Owen was in town performing opposite Julia Roberts in the corporate spy thriller Duplicity, the sophomore feature from Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy (a special guest at the store the following night). “I read the script and thought it was brilliant,” Owen said, adding that shooting was halfway done. “I’d met Tony already, and he screened Michael Clayton for me. Obviously, when I saw that, it was a no-brainer.” Meanwhile, Owen has another thriller in his queue: He plays an Interpol agent fighting global arms dealing in The International, which finished shooting in New York last January and hits theaters next year. Directed by Run Lola Run visionary Tom Tykwer, The International has provided Owen with “as good a director as I’ve ever come across. He’s incredibly on top of every aspect of filmmaking.”The project took a long time to come together, but Tykwer didn’t give up on it. “He’s a serious heavyweight,” Owen said. “He nurtured that script for two years.” Owen also noted that Tykwer composed the music for the film (as he always does), which was a big help. “I’m the kind of guy who listens to the music during the first week of shooting,” he said. “It influences you because you get a really clear idea of the tone of the film he’s going to try to make.”
Owen didn’t talk about his faraway role as the Raymond Chandler-created private eye Philip Marlowe in Frank Miller’s Trouble, and claimed he had no new information on the Sin City sequel. Instead, he broadly focused on his rise to fame and the specificity of his career choices. “The times you say no are as important as the times you say yes,” he said about the process of choosing roles. “I’ve got a brilliant, judicious agent.” Maintaining his confidence, Owen danced around the question of whether he had taken any roles that he should have passed up. “I’ve never, ever regretted it,” he said, but cryptically tacked on, “I have said yes to some things I wish I had not.”
Owen endured a series of ups and downs for several years. In England, where he was raised in a working class community, he followed the advice of a teacher and opted out of attending the Royal Academy in favor of a more affordable drama school. He subsequently dropped out, bummed around, and eventually wound up at the Royal Academy. “Everyone thought, ‘He’s crazy. He’s blew it,'” Owen recalled. “And I nearly did.” Owen rocketed to success in his native country after being cast on the popular television show Chancer in the early nineties. “It took me awhile to adapt to it,” Owen said. “The trouble is, sometimes people get successful when they’re very young and they get swept up in it. For me, it was always about the work. Becoming a primetime TV actor was never the most important thing.”
At that point, Owen turned down a series of less-than-stellar roles in American films. Eventually, his performance in the gambling noir Croupier caught the attention of several American directors, including Robert Altman. The rest — from Closer to Gosford Park, Children of Men to Inside Man — is history. Having explained how he ended up collaborating with several of the country’s leading filmmakers, Owen was asked whether he has any interest in stepping behind the camera. “I sometimes flirt with the idea of directing, but it’s incredibly different,” he said. “If I didn’t become an actor, it’s scary what would’ve happened.”