The Boys Are Back is your first Australian film. How’d you enjoy it?
Australia is stunning. We shot in McLaren Vale, a region (director) Scott Hicks knows very well and one of the most staggeringly beautiful areas of South Australia. I got a house near the location overlooking this gorgeous beach, brought the family out and we had an amazing few weeks in the great outdoors. My girls still talk about their time in Australia as the best holiday they’ve ever had. And for me, who considers time away from home as the greatest tyranny of being an actor abroad, it was very special.
Fertile wine country around there. Did you indulge?
I’m into researching roles so yeah, that part of my preparation was a big success!
Death. Abandonment. Chaos. This film’s about family… but it’s not a family film?
Right from the outset we didn’t want to make a clichéd sentimental family movie. This story moved something deep down inside me – the prospect of losing my partner is as awful a thing as I can imagine. So while it’s a small story in a big world context, it’ll touch the nerves of a lot of people. “Clive Owen has no sentimental need to be liked by an audience”. So said Patrick Marber, the writer of Closer (for which Owen was Oscar-nominated). True?
It was very true on The Boys Are Back. I’m never comfortable with sentimental things. If it’s truthful people will relate to it. One flaw many actors fall into is wanting to be liked and trying to make characters and films more likeable than they are. In my experience film audiences respect and relate to truth much more if you’re not going out of your way to make it palatable.
Your own dad was a country singer who walked out on the family when you were three and, despite a brief reconciliation at 19, has remained estranged. Did you use that pain for your performance in The Boys Are Back?
It’s something I drew on, particularly in the scenes when Joe’s oldest son explains to his father what baggage he’s been carrying over the years, that he’s a kid on the cusp of manhood whose dad hasn’t been around but who now wants to understand why. Like me, there are lots of people who’ll identify with the emotion of that relationship.
As fourth of five boys, you must also relate to this film’s feral male dynamic?
There’s quite an age difference between my brothers and I. But being in so boy-dominated a household taught me that, strange as it sounds, you can’t cosset or mollycoddle or protect young lads too much. You’ve got to let them get ‘out there’ and find danger on their terms.
Spoken like a man with two daughters!
You’re right. My girls are 13 and 10 and already a breed and law all their own. It might be my house but trust me, I have by far the lowest status in it.
Joe has to hit rock bottom to bounce. Has that been true of you too?
I think it’s true of anybody. My toughest and most unpleasant times have been when I’ve been mentally tested and physically exhausted. When I first left home, basically all I did was sign on for the dole and struggle to get work. But the fact I navigated those storms, emerged at the other end and banked valuable knowledge about who I am and what I’m capable of, means I look back on those times as the most informative of my life.
More informative than pashing Julia Roberts or smoking dope with Michael Caine?
Hah! What I mean is that for a long, long time acting was just a pipe dream for me. I did 20 years of theatre and TV before the whole movie thing opened up to me just lately. It means I counter-balance all the luxuries I’m afforded these days against my parallel life where I didn’t get the breaks…
…and didn’t get to fornicate with Monica Bellucci while shooting bad guys?
Like I said, I’m hugely grateful for everything that’s happened to me.
The Boys Are Back screens from 12 Nov.
Source: Time Out Sydney