Clive Owen is now firmly established as one of the foremost leading men of his generation of film actors. He admits that he’s drawn to characters that are not necessarily all good or all bad. With Louis Salinger in Columbia Pictures’ The International, he plays a man haunted by his past and is driven to try and make amends.
“I remember going to Los Angeles once to meet some casting director, and I was there on the back of some little film and he called me in to see who I was and he said, ‘So, do you play goodies or baddies?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t really see it like that…’ and the meeting disintegrated.
“I never see characters as good or bad. Some people have said to me, ‘You play a lot of bad guys’ and I don’t think any of the parts I play are bad. I don’t see them in that way. They are full of conflict, fallible. None of us are good guys or bad guys—we’re all mixed up.“Salinger has become single-minded in pursuit of this bank to the extent that there really isn’t anything else in his life. He can’t sleep, he doesn’t eat properly and he’s driven by this desire to bring these people down, but in the end he might well have to compromise what he believes in to do it. It’s a gray area again and I like that.”
Directed by Tom Tykwer, The International is a gripping action-thriller about the dark side of financial institutions. In the film, Interpol agent Louis Salinger and Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) are driven by the pursuit of justice to take down the most powerful foe imaginable: an international bank with financial and political tentacles that reach into the world’s houses of government. Though their task seems impossible, they are determined to take down the bank, which has proven it will stop at nothing, even murder, to advance its own interests.
What appealed about The International?
I’m a big fan of Tom Tykwer’s work. I’ve loved all of his films. He’s a rare talent, and then you get a script that reminded me of all those paranoid political thrillers of the ’70s. It was very well-written, intelligent, with great locations all over the world.
Films like Three Days of the Condor?
Exactly. And All The President’s Men. That was the template and they were the films that Tom talked about. We went and watched those movies, we talked about them, and, you know, The French Connection, The Conversation. Great films. They were the inspiration.
Did Tom live up to your expectations?
Completely. He’s certainly up there with the best directors I’ve worked with, and he’s on top of all aspects of filmmaking. He’s unbelievable. I’ve always said that directing is all about taste in all aspects of the film. “Do you like this? Do you like that?” As the director you’ve got to call it all the way down the line. Tom’s got impeccable taste and he’s absolutely anal on detail, like obsessive. And I’m always comfortable around those directors because they are on top of it all. You feel you can trust them because they are not going to let anything go. Alfonso (Cuaron, who directed Owen in the acclaimed Children of Men) was the same—details, details, details and obsessive about small things. They have the vision for the movie in their head. Tom is also ultrasmart and we had a great working relationship.
Would you work with him again?
In a heartbeat. I think he’s great.
With the financial markets in turmoil, the film does feel very timely. A happy accident?
In a bizarre way, because we did finish it a little while ago and this was somebody’s baby for a couple of years before we made it. And when you think about everything that has happened recently, it’s bizarre because to put the film in hugely simplistic terms, it’s having a look at the big corporate institutions and the big banks and saying, “Are they using the money and behaving appropriately?” And then you look at what has happened over the last few months, with banks crashing and basically being exposed. There’s a fragility to the whole economic structure to the world, and I think our film is very timely.
And it does make you think about whose interests some of these big financial institutions have at heart.
I think that’s what the film does at the end of the day—you’ll walk away and maybe you’ll ask some questions. It’s a big, entertaining thriller and we’re not saying that this is real, but what it does do, based on some very sound research, is make the viewer think about some questions.
Was it a physically demanding role for you?
Yes, it was. The whole Guggenheim (Museum) sequence was very physical. And it was amazingly well-choreographed. The first time I met Tom I remember saying, “When are you going to shoot it?” And he said, “About a year’s time when we can get the Guggenheim.” The whole schedule was based around that. We were actually there for two, three days and the rest we did in the studio in Berlin.
Let’s talk about your character, Louis Salinger. He’s a very driven man…
His rage drives him on, and when Tom and I talked about it, we both agreed that had to be the heart of the movie. It’s about this one man up against this huge corporation who is desperate and fallible and f_____g up. He’s not Mr. Perfect Agent and he’s got huge gaps in his own life, but he’s obsessive. From day one on the set, Tom was like, “The guy is furious, he’s obsessive and he thinks that it’s an injustice and he’s going to do everything he can to try and expose it.”
The locations are a big part of the film. How does that add to the movie, do you think?
The heart of the movie was in Berlin, and then we were in Milan and shot in one of the big squares there, so you are in this very Italian environment for a while. And then it was on to New York and you hook up with the New York actors, and you are in the Guggenheim—fantastic. And Istanbul, too—the Grand Bazaar. Being in those places is incredibly evocative, and Tom’s use of them was brilliant. You really feel like you’ve traveled when you watch this film, and we certainly traveled making it.
What do you look for when you are choosing a part these days?
More and more, it’s the director. It used to be more the script, but the balance has slightly shifted for me. I’ve had the best times working with the best directors—directors that you really admire, whose work you love—and I think that’s where it’s at. I’d say Tom Tykwer and Tony Gilroy (Duplicity, Owen’s upcoming film) are two of the best I’ve ever come across. I don’t look at films to see if they are independent or made by a studio, all the lines are blurred. I would have jumped at The International and Duplicity whatever context they were in. They are serious films made by seriously good directors.
You mentioned that, for the most part, The International was based in Berlin. What was that like?
I had a great time in Berlin and I’ll be going back to open the film festival there (The International opened the Berlin Film Festival). I think it’s one of the most exciting cities in Europe at the moment, and it feels that the people sort of own the city and it has a really lively, vibrant feel to it. I really enjoyed my time there.
You seem to be very level-headed about all the fame and attention that comes with your job. How do you do that?
Well, the fact that all this, making big American films, happened relatively late for me was good, I think. I’d been through a level of fame—TV fame—in Britain, where there had been a lot of attention. So I’d been through a lot already and processed things. I think it’s very easy to get knocked off-balance when you’re young because you’re not used to it, and when it’s happening for the first time, it can be very disorientating. But for me, I realize that the most important thing is the work, and you have to take everything else with a pinch of salt.
Do you see The International as an optimistic or a pessimistic film in terms of its view of big institutions?
Well, it’s a thriller, first and foremost, and I like to think it’s a very good one. You know, some people seemed to think that Children of Men was pessimistic, but Alfonso (Cuaron) and I used to talk about it, and for us there was something uplifting about that movie. I think it’s a good thing that films talk about issues and address things that need to be discussed. I don’t see that as a negative thing. I think The International is exploring things and drawing attention to things, and that’s healthy.
Source: Business Mirror