Lynn Hirschberg: Did you act when you were a child? Were you in school plays?
Clive Owen: I played the Artful Dodger in Oliver! when I was about 13. It was the musical version. I didn’t sing that well, but I gave it a go. I was just given the part, thrown into it, and I came out and said, “I have to do this. I’ve got to be an actor.” I was unwavering from that moment on.
You did youth theater in your hometown, the industrial city of Coventry, in England, and then you auditioned for RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.
I’d stopped acting a bit, and I’d been unemployed for a couple of years, and I suddenly realized, If I don’t get into a drama school, it ain’t gonna happen. So I only applied to the one—and that was RADA. You audition, and they choose only 18 people a year. Getting into RADA for a kid like me, coming from where I came from, was the beginning of the whole thing, really.
At RADA, they concentrate solely on theater. They are almost anti-television and film.
After three years there, I still had no idea what a movie set looked like. If you got a part in a TV show, it was completely alien. But then, I had no burning ambition to get into films or TV. All I wanted to do was plays.
You met your wife, Sarah-Jane Fenton, while acting in a play.
Yes. After drama school I did a seven-month tour of Europe performing in Romeo and Juliet. I played Romeo. I was at the first rehearsal, thinking, I wonder what Juliet is going to be like, and she came in. She had a corduroy jacket on and was carrying a pile of secondhand books, and her glasses were falling off. I kind of fell in love at that moment.
Wow! Did people think you had enormous chemistry in the love scenes?
When we did the big balcony scene, I always thought we had this amazing connection. Much later, she admitted to me she couldn’t even see me because she’s so shortsighted, and she didn’t wear her glasses onstage [laughs]. At the time, I didn’t think it would be a great idea if Romeo and Juliet got together, so we didn’t do anything about our relationship until halfway through the run. We finally got together in Belfast, and now we have two daughters.
The first time I saw you was in Croupier—a fantastic movie—in which you play a somewhat mysterious, utterly compelling man who works in a private casino in London. Despite your platinum hair, you were dark in a very attractive way. That ability to portray a mix of toughness and sexuality became a kind of Clive Owen hallmark—in Closer, for which you were nominated for an Academy Award, you were an irresistible bad boy.
Well, I was in the play version of Closer too, and when we did the play, people walked out almost every night [laughs]. They seemed to find me repellent.
Don’t be ridiculous. Closer was full of intense sex scenes—and so is Hemingway & Gellhorn, your movie for HBO, which airs May 28. Do you prefer doing sex scenes or scenes in which you die?
It’s much harder to do a death scene. You’ve got to do it convincingly, and it’s a huge thing to die [laughs]. Sex scenes are only hard if there’s no narrative conveyed through the sex scene. In the Hemingway film, the sex scenes have a story going through them. It’s part of who these people are and what they are. [Read more…] about Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen in An Affair to Remember