Clive Owen Takes on Papa
The British actor earned his first Emmy nomination for delivering a warts-and-all portrayal of a literary legend.
Clive Owen never has shied away from playing difficult, complicated men in his film career (see his breakout film Croupier and Mike Nichols' Closer for two good examples). So it's only fitting that the actor, 47, would say yes to taking on one of the most complex and tragic American literary figures, Ernest Hemingway, for his debut in a made-for-television movie -- HBO's Hemingway & Gellhorn, nominated for 15 Emmys.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Playing Ernest Hemingway required a deep knowledge of not only the writer's history but that of the time period in which he wrote and explored the world. How did you prepare?
Clive Owen: It all started with director Philip Kaufman sending me the script, and I fell in love with it. As soon as I'd decided to take the part, I took a few months off and traveled to many of the places where he lived. I went to Cuba and met with some of the people who run his house in Havana. I also met with a Hemingway expert in Paris who took me around to all his favorite haunts. I really immersed myself in his world.
THR: You're a native of the U.K., but your American accent and tone in the film is very convincingly Hemingway. How did you nail that aspect of the role?
Owen: I was very lucky that there is still a lot of audio available of him. While I was on the set, between scenes, I'd have my iPod full of Hemingway's voice and just get lost in the audio. He left such a stronger legacy than any one of us, including myself, could have ever guessed. And yet he was still very mysterious.
THR: What was the most surprising thing you learned about him in your research?
Owen: I think it was when I went to the fishing town of Cojimar, Cuba, where he used to keep his boat, El Pilar. I visited the bar, now called La Terraza, he used to frequent and realized how funny it was that a famous writer preferred to hang out with fishermen than the literary elite. What he loved most about life was meeting people who were good at a certain skill, whether that meant writing, singing or fishing. He greatly appreciated craftspeople, and I think that's how he preferred to see himself, too.
THR: Much has been written about Hemingway and his tragic end. What do you see as the film's message?
Owen: Hemingway was a seriously complex guy, and the film is mostly about him meeting his match in Martha Gellhorn. This is the story of their love. The problem was that he preferred her to live through him instead of with him. There were definitely some very tough scenes between me and Nicole Kidman. Romantic and painful stuff. But the joy of shooting with her is that we completely trusted each other. She's incredible.
THR: Between nominations for your film, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones and others, there is a bit of a British invasion this year at the Emmys. What do you make of the influx of U.K. talent in the race?
Owen: First, I must admit I haven't seen too much of Downton. But overall, I think television has become such a universal business; as actors, we're all just looking for good material, and I guess we're willing to travel for it.
THR: What are you most excited to do on Emmy night?
Owen: I must admit it will be meeting Larry David and the Curb Your Enthusiasm team, if I'm able to. Doing a cameo on that show would literally be the highlight of my career.