As a romantic lead in cryptic thrillers or the sleek, ice-eyed hero of high-grade action flicks, British actor Clive Owen seems to be every director’s perfect first choice these days.
It’s refreshing, however, to see him step off what has appeared to be a predictable path and take the lead in Australian director Scott Hicks’ off-kilter family drama, The Boys are Back. Owen plays Joe Warr, a British expat sports journalist grieving after the loss of his Australian wife to cancer – in a harrowing first act that, with few words of dialogue, manages to convey the bewildering horror of love slipping away – and trying, half-heartedly, to come to grips with solo parenthood, raising his 7-year-old son in a chaotic style in a rambling farmhouse in the gorgeous gold-and-green wine country outside Adelaide in South Australia.The high-jinks and rough healing are interrupted by the arrival of Warr’s son from his first marriage, a troubled teenager with abandonment issues who’s used to a much more structured and genteel existence in London. Owen’s character, a rakish, self-centred bungler, starts learning – quite accidentally and with near-tragic consequences – how to get his act together and become a real father to his boys.
Based on the memoir of British sports journalist Simon Carr, it’s not the kind of story in which you’d expect to see Owen, the sure-footed star of another genre altogether.
Not so, the tall, finely featured actor said earlier this week during an interview preceding the world premiere of The Boys are Back Tuesday night at TIFF. There’s another screening tomorrow at 4:15 p.m. at the Scotiabank Theatre.
“I never look for genre films,” Owen said. “It always comes down to the script, and this script really moved me. After I met Scott, I was convinced he was the perfect director for this material.
“Someone else might have made another version, a big, aching sentimental mess, but he wanted to tell the story of the real life and the real events on which the script is based – and they’re far from sentimental.
“What carried me through is the notion that grief isn’t clean. There’s nothing reasonable about it. It’s messy and complicated and difficult, and we rarely handle it well. This is a character who makes mistakes, and gets angry.
“And his son, who’s a bundle of chaotic energy and grief, doesn’t make it any easier for him to sort things out.”
He credits the young actor Nicholas McAnulty with making that task easier. “When I first read the script I thought it would be doable only if we could find the right 7-year-old to play Artie. Nick was perfect – unpredictable and full of energy.
“George (McKay, who plays the elder son, Harry) is a very smart actor, the real thing. He already has the important things down.”
Another reason Owen took the part is that, as the father of two daughters aged 10 and 12, he identified with Joe Warr. “When I’m not working, I’m a parent hanging out at home with my girls,” he said. “This script explores that part of my own life. I’m also into sports, so that part of it came easily to me as well.”
Hicks, in a separate interview, said he imagined Owen in the role “very early in the process.”
“His performance in Closer (the 2004 sex-and-relationship drama co-starring Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Natalie Portman) convinced me. There was a great stillness on the surface in that performance, but flashes of a seething inner life.
“I didn’t want an overtly expressive actor doing this part,” said Hicks, who shot the film in the Adelaide Hills, where he lives. “I was looking for someone who could hold the emotion in check, yet reveal his vulnerability.
“Joe is a flawed character. He does crazy, stupid and dangerous things. He’s not always nice to the boys. Yet Clive is able to make the audience care for him, despite those flaws – and, according to audience surveys, it’s men who are mostly taken by surprise.”
The movie took Owen to Australia for the first time. “It was a stunningly beautiful location,” he said. “Nothing about it was manufactured, except the house, which was built for the movie. Everything else is exactly as it appears.
“It was a wonderful and memorable experience.”
The scene Owen remembers most vividly isn’t captured on screen. “We were shooting in London, and Simon Carr came down to watch with his sons, who are now much older, of course,” he said. “It was the first and only time we met. And it was very weird to stand beside him watching the four boys talking together, the two real sons and the two actors, who were almost perfect younger replicas.”
Source: The Star