Rome Film Festival: Clive Owen on Why Steven Soderbergh Isn’t Retiring Anytime Soon

Cinemax
Clive Owen in 'The Knick'

The actor is "very, very excited" for season two of 'The Knick'

Steven Soderbergh took on Cinemax’s The Knick just three weeks after announcing his retirement. To be fair, he planned to retire from “cinema,” and later called it a simple sabbatical, but a grueling 10-episode shoot in 73 days didn’t look anything like taking a break.

Soderbergh, who said making movies was no longer fun for him, seems to have recaptured that early joy in TV. The Knick is as close to cinema as anything on TV today. The sprawling period show, which marks Cinemax as a major contender in original programming, is scripted, directed and edited as episodic cinema, giving audiences everything they’d except from Soderbergh-style storytelling.

“If that’s retirement …” sighed Clive Owen at the Rome Film Festival, out to promote the series before its premiere on Sky Atlantic HD in Italy on Nov. 11. “He only signed on to do the first, and he said to me halfway through the first season that he’s going to come back and do the second season because he was having such a good time. That was very good to hear.”

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Owen originally signed up for the series for the strong material, and also because he wanted to work with Soderbergh. “He’s incredible because he does everything,” Owen told The Hollywood Reporter. “He lights, he operates, he directs and he edits. He leads from the front, everything and everybody. He’s just incredibly hard working and focused. He’s carrying a camera on his shoulder all day as well as everything else. I just think his work ethic is extraordinary.”

Owen was drawn to the series, in which he plays a standoffish, drug-addicted surgeon at the forefront of medicine for its brutal honesty in depicting New York City in 1900, one of the most active periods of medical research when life-changing discoveries were made literally overnight. “You felt that New York was a dangerous place, and you felt that the world of medicine was a dangerous place,” he said. “Steven always wanted to make a period drama where no one felt nostalgic.”

Indeed, nothing in The Knick, through its relentless operating table deaths, and ongoing corruption, racism and sexism, make the viewer fond of the era. Soderbergh also chose an edgy electronic score rather than typical period music.

The research that went into the series was massive, as Soderbergh insisted everything be true to the era’s history. Owen believes any doctor would be impressed with the show’s accuracy. “Some doctor did ask me, ‘What is it this medical thing you’re doing?’ I said, ‘I’m playing this doctor who’s a drug addict, but he’s also brilliant.’ And he said, ‘What’s changed?’ ” laughed Owen. “Scary. Scary, but funny.”

What can audiences expect from season two? Something “even wilder, I hope,” said Owen. “The great thing about doing a show like this, we take it to places that are really quite shocking. But the beauty of setting all that up, and with Steven coming back to direct all 10 episodes again, we can hit the ground running. It’s just really exciting to see how far we can push it. I’m very, very excited about where it’s going.”

And Owen promises that there are no plans to make his character more likable: “Hopefully not,” he said. “I’ll be guarding against that.”

Twitter: @Aristonla

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