'The Knick's' Clive Owen on Thackery's Transformation: "He's Much More Fragile"

"The struggle is a very deep and difficult and long one," the actor tells THR about his character's ongoing attempt to stay sober.
Courtesy of Mary Cybulski/Cinemax

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Friday's episode of The Knick, "Wonderful Surprises."]

Addiction is a lifelong battle, and no one seems to encompass that more on television than Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) on Cinemax's The Knick. After spending a large part of the first season falling deeper into his cocaine addiction in order to cope with the mounting pressures of being a brilliant surgeon, season two has focused on Thackery's attempts at recovery and what that means to him both personally and professionally.

In Friday's episode, it appeared as though Thackery's first real test back -- his attempt to save former love Abbie (Jennifer Ferrin) from dying of syphilis with a risky, untested procedure, was one that would make him or break him. 

"Abbie is the one person who accepts him, who he knows he can trust. In the first four episodes, Thackery doesn't go home; he's sleeping in his office and her couch because he doesn't want to be in that place. He's afraid of it and what he's going to become," co-showrunner Michael Begler tells THR. "She's doing so much for him, how can he not help her? He knew he had to act, be bold and find the courage to do the procedure, otherwise this woman was going to die."

Luckily for Thackery -- and because of his gamble -- Abbie will indeed live to see another day. Whether that means the surgeon is now on the road to recovery remains to be seen (he is speed-balling, after all), but one thing is for sure: it can only grow more intense from here. 

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Owen to preview what's next, Thackery's God complex, and rounding out his role in season two. 

What is it about Thackery that enabled you to dig deeper in season two?

The first season was bold and ambitious; he was such a great, wild character. The beauty in season two is we’ve done all the establishing and are able to take it further. Starting season two felt like the next day of the first shoot. The beauty of television is when you put 10 hours down like that and have these storylines running you can just keep going further.

Is he more interested in curing addiction to cure himself or in making history?

It’s both all the time. He’s obviously been inspired by personal experience and there’s an element of him trying to get a grip on what he’s struggled with. What we learn years later is that addiction is a huge problem worldwide. In the 1900s it's somebody who wants and tries to find out if there is a cure for this thing. So it’s inspired by both — his passion for medicine and wanting to get to the bottom of it, but obviously also he’s had personal experience. 

Will he ever be able to get through a surgery sober?

We set up in the first season that anytime he came to a surgery he’s a high-functioning addict and he’s needed the drugs to get through the operation. Now his confidence is obviously rocked. He’s much more fragile and I should imagine that’s what it’s like for a lot of addicts. They stop taking the drugs and the fear is that they cease to function properly. It seems to profess that he's trying to come to terms with the fact that he’s going to have to perform at the high level without drugs.

Is that true to life?

A lot of season two for Thackery is about that struggle and it’s a very realistic thing. It would have been unreal for him to have spent the time out in the boat, to come back and be completely cured. Anybody who knows anything about addiction knows the struggle is a very deep and difficult and long one. It’s much more realistic that that is the case with Thackery and we don’t begin as a quick few days out in the boat he’s suddenly cured of all these compulsions and addiction.

Does saving Abbie make him more reckless or is it a positive step in his recovery?

Surgeons on that level, they do have a God complex about them because they have people’s lives in their hands. The show is set in a time where it was very much about shooting from the hip. Some of the things they did, they did go out there. He’s from a brand of doctor that had to push it further than other people just to discover what can be possible. That’s the drive of Thackery. That’s is one of the things that attracted me to it in the first place.

How will he change from her recovery?

He does develop and change and is quite shocking at times, but him reestablishing the relationship with her is a bit of a lifeline. For someone that he feels that strongly about, he begins to lean on her quite heavily in terms of getting through the day.

Can he return to the surgical theater now?

He does, and we do some pretty incredible operations in there as well. The initial few episodes were about him finding his feet again. He comes back, he’s trying to kick drugs, he’s trying to recover what he had without the aid of drugs and that makes it pretty fragile for a while. But we do some wild and extraordinary surgeries... probably more than anything you’ve seen in the first season. You’ve seen nothing yet.

The Knick airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on Cinemax. 

Are you looking forward to seeing Thackery back in the surgical theater? Sound off in the comments below. 

Twitter: @amber_dowling

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