The British actor Clive Owen has famously shared the big screen with the likes of Julia Roberts, Angelina Jolie, Keira Knightley and Cate Blanchett. And yet, for his new film “The Boys Are Back,” it all came down to finding chemistry with a 6-year-old.
Based on a memoir by journalist Simon Carr and directed by Scott Hicks (“Shine”), “The Boys Are Back” is a new kind of screen role for Owen: that of a parent. In the film, he plays Joe Warr, a single father (his wife dies of cancer in the early scenes) who must find a way to renew his connection with his two sons and raise them alone.
“I was nervous, genuinely nervous,” said Owen, at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month, about the prospect of acting alongside a youngster — and knowing that this film, for which he is an executive producer, needed to find a very unusual performer to play his character’s younger child, Artie, who loses his mother at the age of 6. But, as a father himself, he was moved by the story (“I cried every time I read it”) and felt driven to make the film.The search process to find Artie involved “an enormous amount” of boys all over Australia, where the film was to be shot. Many of the children were “really interesting, lovely kids,” said Owen, “but if there’s a scene or two when they’re not quite believable, you’ve kind of lost. Everyone sees that and steps out [of the movie].” Finally, Hicks showed Owen tapes of 6-year-old Nicholas McAnulty, a native of Sydney who had never been in a film before.
“Nicholas was this bundle of unpredictable energy,” said Owen. “I always think of young kids before they’ve reached 8 or 9 as little manic obsessives. Slightly crazy, young kids, aren’t they? In a lovely way. He was full of that.”
Owen arrived in Australia early for the shoot for the specific purpose of bonding with Nicholas, taking the boy on outings to a safari park, a fun fair and other adventures. “We did things together so that by the time we got on the set he could trust me, he could fool around, because I was very concerned that you would smell it if he didn’t,” said Owen. “Even if he was acting well, doing the scenes well, if he wasn’t comfortable and feeling free, you could notice that.”
Much of the first half of the film is just Owen and McAnulty, as father and son learning how to cope with each other’s moods and habits without an intervening mother. (The second child, played by George McKay, joins them later in the film; he’s Joe’s teenage son from an earlier marriage.) Owen said he realized very early that he would need to change his usual method of working, just as his character has to change his way of life — children, both on-screen and off, don’t always stick to a script.
“Though Nicholas was terribly bright and would understand about the repeating and what the scene was about, he was still very unpredictable, and in some ways capturing that was magical. I’m someone who likes to read a script a lot of times, to prepare, but there was a sense that you have to be open. You have to leave that a little and just be ready to react with him, to make it natural. It was challenging but also very, very exciting because I was exploring something new.”
Owen, who’s worked steadily on screen since his breakthrough role in 1998’s stylish casino drama “Croupier,” said he’s between roles right now, though a sequel to Spike Lee’s “Inside Man” is in the works. Formally trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, he’s considering a return to the stage — he hasn’t done theater work in “six or seven years” — but will wait for the right role. “It would be lovely to do a new play.”
And he spoke fondly of his previous film, the Tony Gilroy caper “Duplicity,” released in theaters to disappointingly small audiences this past spring and now on DVD. “I called my agent, the minute I finished the last page [of the script], and said, ‘This is dynamite, some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read for a movie. I thought it was incredibly smart, really good fun, really sophisticated.'”
But “The Boys Are Back” was, he said, a special project; his first as executive producer, and a four-year effort from start to finish. Speaking of two of McAnulty’s scenes — a very realistic tantrum and a joyful frolic in a motel bathtub — he smiled. “That is the richness of children, isn’t it?” he said. “That is for me the beauty of the film, seeing all of that — seeing the difficult times and seeing the fantastic times.”
Source: Seattle Times