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The stuff of stardom

The Oscars | BRIEF ENCOUNTER

Clive Owen rides his Oscar-nominated turn in 'Closer' into elite territory.

February 20, 2005|Mark Olsen

Don't let anybody tell you otherwise -- Clive Owen is a movie star. People can talk all they want about his character-actor face or brooding remove, but the 40-year-old Englishman radiates the insouciant charm, strange charisma and dark mystery of a McQueen, Bogart or Mitchum.

Having come to the attention of stateside audiences in the sleeper "Croupier," Owen has gone on to supporting roles in such films as "Gosford Park" and "The Bourne Identity," and last summer he played the title role in "King Arthur." In "Closer," he plays Larry, a doctor who, as one peg of two interweaving couples, reveals himself to possess a streak of inexorably cruel will. And as he does so, Owen more than matches up tohigh-wattage costars Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Natalie Portman.

Owen previously played the opposing male lead on the London stage, and his turn in "Closer," directed by Mike Nichols, has earned him critical accolades, a Golden Globe and an Academy Award nomination. Speaking from his home in London the night before the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards, he sends a withering chill across transatlantic phone lines at the suggestion there was anything to be nervous about, barely even acknowledging his nomination. He would, of course, win.

How did you come to play the part of Larry instead of Dan, the role you played on stage?

Well, Jude was already cast as Dan. I'd done the play probably six years before, so I think I'd have been too old to play Dan. I met Mike Nichols for lunch -- it wasn't an offer when I met him -- and we talked about it. I'm enjoying the lunch and he says, "Well, I'd like you to play Larry," and I was just so excited. I remember it was in New York and I walked out, walked down the street and I was just so happy. He's got such an incredible reputation with actors, I know the piece very well, I was always a fan of the writing, and it was hugely exciting.

It was nine or 10 months before we actually made the film; he was sort of putting it together. That, for me, was just such a huge thrill just as a start, and from there I went on to have the most fantastic experience making the film. He pulled these incredible actors into it, and then the film's done so extraordinarily well, and it seems to have done me a lot of good. The whole journey of this movie has been pretty extraordinary for me.

Did Nichols live up to his reputation? Was there anything in particular that he did that was different from other directors?

Sometimes it can be elusive trying to figure it out. I think ultimately it has to do with him being incredibly clever and a very smart human being. We rehearsed for a long time -- two weeks in New York, we had a two-week break over Christmas and New Year's, and then we got back together in London and carried on rehearsing there. The first two weeks was just talking around the subject of the play, so you would hit on a scene, read it through once and just talk about what that scene was about. You'd talk about fidelity, or meeting somebody -- it was more just discovering the area, making sure everybody was heading in the same direction.

Then he's got this theory, that he loves to take a break after he's done a certain amount of rehearsals and just not do anything for a few weeks and let all that seep in. And that was the first time I had done that and I could really see the benefit of it. We all went away, we all had our Christmas and New Year, and you couldn't help but think about it every day, think about all the discussions that we had and things are happening by osmosis. And then you come back and it's that much more concrete and firm. But at no point during the rehearsals do you really go over and over the dialogue. And then when we came to shoot, it felt like we'd mined the piece really, really thoroughly -- yet it was still very fresh because we hadn't killed the actual doing of it.

There's an odd glee you seem to have when Larry is at his cruelest, particularly in the scene where he really lets Dan have it. It's as if it's your revenge for having once been on the other end of that tirade.

I certainly had taken a whupping night after night. I mean, it's all in the writing, really, and I am one of those actors who think acting is about serving the writing as best you can. And that is definitely the balance of the scene, in that scene Larry kills Dan, he's brutal and he's tough. I thoroughly enjoyed [it] and found it a great experience playing Dan in the theater. Playing somebody who's weak can be very exciting as an acting challenge. Of course, Larry is a much more front-fronted character, he's much more upfront generally as a person and a character. As I said before, I also loved playing Dan.

I'm always fascinated and intrigued by the more delicate, sensitive things as well, which Dan is. I think they're both fantastic parts. Of course, Larry is louder.

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