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In his latest film, Clive Owen revisits some of the same terrain he traversed with his hit series The Knick, namely substance abuse. In Bob Nelson’s The Confirmation, Owen plays an alcoholic carpenter whose gung-ho-Catholic ex-wife (Maria Bello) entrusts him with their 8-year-old son (Jaeden Lieberher) for a weekend. For the film, the 51-year-old actor researched the physical effects of the delirium tremens, not entirely unlike the sweat-drenched cocaine and opium withdrawals his Dr. Thackery suffered from on The Knick.
Although he has worked with some of the greatest contemporary filmmakers — Alfonso Cuaron, Steven Soderbergh, Mike Nichols — Owen had no reservations about starring in Nelson’s directorial debut. After all, Nelson is no slouch, having penned the Oscar-nominated screenplay for Nebraska. When picking a new project, Owen says simply, “I respond to the material and the director, or I don’t. I very rarely have that decision of ‘Should I do it?’ ”
As the Saban Films drama opens today in limited theaters, as well as on iTunes, the married British actor and father of two talked to The Hollywood Reporter about religion (he’s not religious), Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump and (gasp) why he won’t be back for season three of Cinemax’s series.
ON THE FUTURE OF THE KNICK:
So is your arc done on The Knick?
Yeah, we always approached the thing as a two-season thing, so when I signed on, I knew that. Yeah.
If you could cast season three, who would you cast?
(Laughs.) I have no idea because I don’t know what the scripts are. If I saw who all the characters are, I might be able to cast it. But I don’t know where they’re taking it.
If Soderbergh returns from film retirement and adapts The Knick into a movie, who should play Dr. Thackery?
(Laughs.) It was a movie! It was a 20-hour movie.
What’s the biggest difference between making a TV series and a movie?
When you’re working with Soderbergh, there’s no difference whatsoever because he shoots both exactly the same.
Steven [Soderbergh] always says the hospital show is the most durable format in television, and that’s true.””]
ON WHAT HE’S LEARNED ABOUT HOLLYWOOD:
What’s the worst piece of career advice you ever received?
“It’s all about being likable. When you act, try to be likable because that’s where success lies.” It was [from] a casting director many years ago.
Do you enjoy seeing yourself on the big screen?
I’ve gotten less and less comfortable with watching myself, to be honest. When I first started, in terms of sort of learning my craft and trying to improve, I used to watch dailies and watch myself. More and more, I’ll only watch a film twice maximum, and then I never want to see it again. I watch it before I have to talk about it so that I know what I’m talking about in terms of talking with the press, and then I might watch it once with an audience, but then that’s it. I’ll never want to watch it again.
You’ve worked with many of the great directors: Alfonso Cuaron, Soderbergh. Any plans to reteam with either of them?
I would love to because I love both of them. They’re two of the best directors to work with, but no, no immediate plans.
What do you remember about working with Mike Nichols on Closer?
He was not only one of the greatest directors but one of the greatest human beings I ever came across. Just unbelievably smart and generous. It was definitely a highlight working with him. He’s just so unbelievably good with actors.
What directors are on your wish list?
I’m a huge fan of Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen brothers. There’s a lot of people that I’d love to work with. The beauty of the film game is that there’s an enormous amount of really talented people with different strengths. I look back on all the directors I’ve worked with. The one thing you can say is, there’s no rules because they’re all so different.
What’s your favorite thing about Hollywood?
Working with talented people. If you’re lucky enough to have a bit of success, that gives you the option to work with really talented people. That, for me, is really what the point of success is. It’s not for its own sake. It’s to open up opportunities. Great directors tend to have great crews with them. I appreciate when I work with a great costume designer, with a great props guy. That, to me, is the biggest joy of doing movies.
What’s the thing you hate most about Hollywood?
That it can be very tough for very talented people to get the right breaks. There’s an element of luck involved. To some extent, you make your own luck by working hard and honing your craft, but there are a lot of stories of people who didn’t quite get the right opportunities at the right time. There’s an awful lot of talented people who didn’t get the work and choices they should have had.
What’s the one project you were offered that you regret turning down?
Honestly, I can say that I don’t really regret any of the decisions because I made them for the reasons I did. Even some films that I turned down that went on to be hugely successful, I honestly don’t have regrets because there was a reason I turned them down at the time. It was a valid reason. I’m pretty clear-minded when I read a project. I have a strong feeling of wanting to do it, or I don’t. I’m very rarely tortured by the decision. It’s pretty clear to me. I respond to the material and the director, or I don’t. I very rarely have that decision of “Should I do it?” It’s very quick. I’ll read a script and know almost immediately if I want to do it.
ON HIS LIFE OFFSCREEN:
Where do you live and why?
London. I know London better than any other city. I went to college there. I went to grad school. When I had kids, we settled there. If I could live in any other city, it would probably be New York. But it would have meant that my wife would be with the kids on her own in America, whereas back home, she’s got lots of friends. And with children, I love the open spaces of London. You can be right in the thick of the city, but within 15 to 20 minutes, you can be in the countryside.
Are you on Team Clinton or Trump?
There have been high-level calls to ban Donald Trump from the U.K. Do you think that is reasonable or unreasonable?
No, I don’t think that would be reasonable.
Thoughts on the referendum for Britain to leave the European Union?
I feel part of the European community, and I’m against the idea.
What are you currently reading?
I’m reading a novel [by Peter Cameron] called Andorra. It’s about a man who ends up on this island of Andorra, this very strange world with very kooky characters. The world gets stranger and stranger, and the story gets stranger and stranger. There’s a possibility I might do a film version of it, so that’s what I’m reading.
How do you spend your downtime?
Very simple, really. Just hanging out with the family. For instance, last year I did season two of The Knick and then had a break and then came back to New York to do a play. It just means that when I do go home, I want to spend as much time as I can hanging with the kids and doing family things. Everything becomes around that, really. It’s just their needs, where they are, what they’re doing.
ON HIS NEW FILM, THE CONFIRMATION:
No, I’m not, actually. I wasn’t brought up with any religion.
As in The Knick, you play someone with substance-abuse issues. How did you get into that psyche, particularly the scene where you are experiencing the delirium tremens?
It was one of the scenes where I was a little worried how believable it was, the whole hallucinating and all of that. I just had done a bit of research, and obviously the power of the [scene] is that a young boy is having to witness this. So I just did what I always do. I looked around [for] who had wrote about [experiencing DTs] and read about serious alcohol issues and then just tried to convince it was good. Everything I read suggested that it’s great physical pain, as well as the body was subjected to torture, the whole body hurts, and you turn to sweating. So we just tried to make it as accurate as we could.
In The Confirmation, most of your screen time is with a young actor. What’s the biggest challenge and/or upside of working with a child?
With Jaeden, it’s only upside. I’m one of those rare actors who actually enjoys working with children. There’s some that don’t like working with kids, but I actually really love it because kids are often very instinctive and very open. For me, to really be convincing playing a parent or acting with a kid, you have to be as open as they are, otherwise you just look like you’re acting. [You can’t] come in too controlling or [have] worked out exactly what you want to do. You have to be open because that’s how you make the relationship convincing. So I actually really enjoy it because that has its challenges, but Jaeden is a freak of nature. He’s the full deal already. He’s very restrained as a young actor. He doesn’t get very excitable, and he doesn’t overstate and overplay things. Even though there’s a huge age difference, we have quite similar sensibilities, and I just had one of the best times with him.
ON WHAT’S NEXT:
You’re about to start shooting the sci-fi film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. What was it about that project that most appealed to you?
[Producer-director] Luc Besson. He’s a huge talent. It’s a project that he’s developed for a really long time. I met him and I really liked him, and I wanted to do it. It’s a huge, ambitious movie, and it looks like a great, sort of fun project. It’s a passion project for him, so it’ll be great to be involved.
What else do you have on the horizon?
I’m going to do this film with Andrew Niccol called Anon, which is actually another futuristic movie, with Amanda Seyfried. There is a similarity in some ways between Children of Men and Anon because, as much as you’re stepping into the future a little bit, it’s quite a big comment on the present as well. Anon is set in a world where there is a complete loss of privacy for anybody. Everything that everybody does is recorded. [Niccol] says it’s about the battle for privacy, which we’ve probably already lost.
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