Most action heroes are your three standards, your suave, debonair James Bond types, your muscle-bound, roboticArnold Schwarzenegger, or your uber-violent Rambo or Bruce Lee types. But in the economic hard times the U.S. and the world is currently engulfed in, there may be a new blueprint burgeoning in the works, the ‘thinking man’s action hero’.
This was described to us by director Tom Twyker of his impression of actor Clive Owen in the new action thriller The International. Owen, who has been in films as diverse as King Arthur, Sin City, Children Of Men,Shoot ‘Em Up, and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, first discussed with us what is arguably the centerpiece of the film, a shootout at the famous Guggenheim Museum in New York City
“I think it’s one of the most exquisitely realized sequences I have ever been involved in,” Clive recalls, “It was talked about from the very first time I met Tom. He said to me, this isn’t an action film, but when we got action, I want it to be as explosive and as intense as we can do. The thing about that sequence was that it was strange, it bled through the entire shoot. They built an absolute to-scale replica of the Rotunda. While we were prepping the film, Tom had the whole thing worked out and choreographed way, way, way in advance. Eventually, just before we set off in Istanbul, we did one run through the whole sequence, without the guns going off but with the stunt guys and with everybody involved.” “And at that point, when we finished the general run-through, the whole feeling was this is going to be some sequence, if anyone gets anywhere near this, this is going to be pretty incredible,” he continues, “Then, we go off, we start the film in Istanbul. We come back and the first few weeks, we’re doing nothing but that shoot-out sequence. We then start to shoot other things as they build the set of the whole ground level, the entrance thing, again, exactly to scale, an exact replica. So, halfway through the Berlin shoot, we go back to that and shooting all that sequence. And then, right to the end of the movie, we come to New York and we go into the real Guggenheim. We felt like the whole sequence bled right through the shoot of the film.”
We asked Owen if there was anywhere else in New York City he’d ever feel apt to do an action scene in a film.
“I was pretty happy with the Guggenheim. We’ll end it there,” he laughs.
Clive also shared what he feels are the distinct differences between him in action mode and in dramatic mode that he feels brings realism to his role as Interpol agent Louis Salinger in the film, who tries to bring down one of the most powerful banks in the world.
“They’re kind of not too dissimilar, really,” he believes, “The scene withArmin [Mueller-Stahl], that guy is happens to be right in the midst of the economic crisis currently afflicting the U.S. and the world. Clive insists, however, that the seemingly impeccable release is purely coincidental.
“No one could have predicted how timely the film is really,” Owen says, “I think there was always a relevance for it. It was always about things that were happening now. But with the collapse of the banks, the big question of the film is can you trust your bank? Are they sound institutions? Do they handle money appropriately? They’re all the questions that everybody’s asking now. Nobody could have foreseen how timely the film’s become really.”
We asked Owen if the film’s true-to-life story has had an impact on his view of government.
“When the script came to me, it came with a lot of research material,” he recounts, “Both Tom and [writer] Eric [Warren Singer] were looking at and basing a lot of the script on real events that had happened about corrupt banks and globalization, so it was always a very well-informed, well-researched script. I mean, ultimately, it’s an entertainment . It’s a big, sweeping international thriller, but it was very, very grounded and it was quite eye-opening to see this.”
“And I think that an area of the film really goes into, it’s food for thought for everybody,” Clive adds, “It’s a simple thing like guns, you think how many guns there are in worldwide circulation and you think every single one of them is bought and sold, somebody’s bought it and somebody’s sold it. And that’s a huge amount of money being spent, which means the banks have to be in place somewhere in the line. I just think it kind of opens up these global questions.”
It’s this combination of detailed realism and high-octane entertainment, he stresses, that so strongly motivated him to end up doing The International.
‘I think that the ambition of the film was always to be a very well-researched, well-informed, intelligent, mature, but ultimately sweeping international thriller,” Owen says, “It’s a big, big entertainment, as well as being very smart and informative. In terms of my character, I think there’s something about his passion and anger and obsessiveness and how far he’s prepared to go, really.”
“That’s the thing that I liked about it and why I wanted to do it,” he continues, “At any given point in the film, most people would not give up and not carry on their pursuit of trying to bring down this hugely powerful corporation. But he’s an old-fashioned and very fallible human being at the cost of everything else really. But in some ways, He’s kind of heroic because he’s prepared to go that far. He’s got an innate sense of what’s morally right and wrong and I was attracted to that.”
Another thing, Owen claims, that motivated him to do the film was the opportunity to work alongside Naomi Watts.
“We were on and off for a while and we came close to working together a few time,” Clive says, “It didn’t quite happen, so it was great that we finally did. I really rate her. I think she’s a very special, great actress and she was a lovely girl and it was just easy. It was easy working with her. I believe in everything she does and it was a pleasure.”
He also remarks that another aspect of the chemistry between Clive and Watts’s characters is that it doesn’t take the predictable route of turning romantic.
“I was very glad that it didn’t descent into cliché, really, the relationship,” Owen says, “I think they are a partnership. There really is an attraction there, but it’s kind of based on their work ethic, really, and their sort of pursuit of the bank. I think it would have been sort of an obvious and cliché thing to do to descend into a typical romance. I think there’s a delicately, well-pitched relationship and I think I was happy that we didn’t do the obvious.”
Owen noted to us that the most important aspects of his role as an actor is to be a small part of the larger world that occurs on screen.
“I certainly don’t watch myself,” he believes, “When I think it was Stanislavski who said, ‘Beware the actor that looks in the mirror too much all the time,’ or something along those lines and I agree with that. I think it’s a very dangerous thing to observe yourself acting. I don’t think that’s good at all. But I think I’m aware of what goes on in a film set in all departments. I think it’s hugely important for me to be conscious of what the camera’s doing and how I react to that and that is not necessary to be obvious that he knows what he’s doing.”
“It’s a hugely important thing because it means I can be more specific about what it is I’m trying to do at any particular moment,” Clive continues, “A good example I can think of is say some of the stuff inChildren Of Men, which was shot in a particular way that was supposed to feel like you was there in the middle of it. I think it was very important that it didn’t look conscious for me, that it looked like things were happening as they were happening. And I think that’s just what film acting is about, really, you have to be conscious, but not be obvious about it.”
However, he doesn’t necessarily agree with Tom Twyker’s assertion that Clive is the “thinking man’s” action hero.
“He’s so full of shit, I can’t tell you,” Clive replies, “I certainly don’t think of myself as an action hero. I think I’ve done one. In my opinion, I’ve done one really crazy action film called Shoot ‘Em Up, which was a comedy/action film. And every other film maybe has got action in it, but that’s just the sweep of the story. I really don’t think of myself as an action guy.”
“It’s interesting the parts that I’m attracted to,” he adds, “I knew from a very early age, I’m a bit of a cliché, I did a school play when I was 13 and from that moment on, I decided that’s what I was going to do. I’ve been pretty unwavering ever since. If it hadn’t worked out, it’s a terrifying thought because I’ve never wanted to do or be able to do anything else. I was the Artful Dodger and I’m still playing that part over and over again.”
On a final note, Clive was apt to share with us the next film on which he does plan to have romantic scenes in.
“Duplicity,” he announces, “In a few weeks time.”