Clive Owen Shoots 'Em Up and Talks About It

Maui Time | August 21, 2007
Born in Coventry in the fall of 1964, Clive Owen parlayed his youth theater days at Binley Park into a three-year stint at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art before joining the Young Vic Theatre Company. His persuasive work in television, stage, commercial and film roles conspired to catapult the dashing young actor to choice parts in feature films such as The Bourne Identity, King Arthur and Robert Altman's Gosford Park. Having been nominated for a 2004 Best Supporting Oscar in Closer, for which he won a BAFTA in the same year, Clive Owen is one of the most sought-after actors in the world.

Clive Owen's recent performances in films like Sin City and Children of Men have put him on the radar of cutting-edge directors like Michael Davis who uses an outre violent style inspired by John Woo as a logical extension of the old Bugs Bunny cartoons in his movie Shoot 'Em Up. Smith (Clive Owen in the Bugs Bunny role) is an all-around tough good guy that rescues a newborn baby after witnessing its mother being gunned down by badass gunslinger Hertz (Paul Giamatti in the role of a very twisted Elmer Fudd). Owen's Mr. Smith really does munch on carrots, usually as a tell that guns are about to fire, and Hertz really does say, "wascally wabbit" in the midst of outrageous shoot outs and chase scenes that get increasingly hairy. Shoot 'Em Up belongs to the Transporter/Smokin' Aces school of modern western grindhouse cinema. The exploitation element is similar to the way Andy Warhol exploited icons of pop culture. When Hertz makes out with a corpse, or Monica Bellucci shows up as a lactating strumpet with the hots for Smith, you know you're somewhere between Sam Peckinpah, David Lynch and John Woo.

I sat down with Clive Owen at Manhattan's Ritz Carlton hotel overlooking the Statue of Liberty to find out more about a British actor who has truly arrived.

CS: Did you have to train specifically for the physical demands of your character?

CO: It was physically really, really demanding. I have to get very fit for it. You've got to move fast because there's so much to do—so much coverage to shoot. You're doing 30 to 40 set-ups a day; a lot of it’s very physical. I just trained and made sure I was in physically good shape.

CS: What's different about this action movie?

CO: Michael [Davis] is an "action" director. He loves action movies. He studies all the big sequences, and his theory is that, in action movies it works better if you see the guy doing it because it makes you feel like you're the guy in there doing it. And if you keep going wide, and sort of stepping away from it, you don't feel like you're in the thick of it. He said to me at the outset, "I want you to do as much as is humanly possible." So, I knew going in that it was going to be physically tough on me.

CS: What was the most dangerous and demanding stunt you had to perform?

CO: The wirework was the toughest; the free falling from the plane. Wirework is tough anyway because you're hoisted very high in the air; they drop you at varying speeds; they're spinning you and turning you and adjusting you. It's not natural, because you're being pulled and turned and twisted by machines; your body is being taken to places that maybe it's uncomfortable. So, it's physically very challenging.

CS: Was there something in the originality of this script that excited you?

CO: That is certainly a thing that I'm really excited by, and that's why I did this film; it's why I did Children of Men. It's hard to come across original films. I mean, all films are derivative of other films. You can always see influences in films, but a genuinely original film -- you think, "I haven't seen this before. I haven't seen this movie," and I though that with this film. I read it and said, "this is an action movie with a really subversive, crazy, irreverent wit." It was fresh. It was its originality that made me want to do it.

CS: You had to shoot four days of green screen. Does that kind of acting get tedious?

CO: I've done a lot of green screen. There's something straightforward about shooting action, because your objectives are very clear. You go shot by shot to achieve the whole thing. You know very clearly because each shot is storyboarded. So each shot is like, "this is what we're trying to achieve, just that little bit there where you spin or that little bit there where you turn." Everybody's very clear, and you go at it, you get it, and you move on. That, in some ways is a lot more straightforward than doing a three-page dialogue scene where there's nuance, subtext and delicacies. I find shooting action to be quite a satisfying experience because it's clear what your objective is.

CS: Was there anything you saw in the 16-minute animated short that director Michael Davis made that you thought couldn't be achieved for the movie?

CO: Amazingly, the action in the movie is very close to the animation. It was more like, seeing the animation and going, "It would be great if we can do it like that," because it was so witty and full of verve. The great thing about Michael's "action" is it has such momentum. It's always going somewhere. There's always a feeling of drive and momentum.

CS: Monica Bellucci was asked to do some interesting things for Shoot 'Em Up. How was it working with her on those kind of racy scenes?

CO: "Interesting" is a good word. She embraced the project and the character whole-heartedly, and I think she did a great job in the film. She plays pure sexpot, and there's no one better to play that. Even with the craziest scenes, she was completely willing to go wherever it was required. You'd be crazy to come into a film and start saying, "Actually, I'm not really comfortable with this." The film is very clear from the beginning, and you don't come into this movie unless you're going to embrace it, and say, "Let's go wild."

I think that once you sign on for a film like this, you've just got to commit. If you have those reservations, have them before you say yes, because if you have them afterwards, you're in trouble. This is an insane film; it's crazy, the tone is so ridiculous and wild. So, you think about that and then you sign on, and then you just commit. Because, if you don't commit you could fall really flat in the middle.

CS: Were there ever any discussions about the Bugs Bunny references while you were shooting?

CO: They were always in the script, and that "carrot" thing was always there. It was one of the challenges of the movie for me, to try to make eating carrots look cool. (laughs) At least it's healthy.

CS: Are you doing any producing?

CO: I'm producing, and hoping to star, in this Marlowe project -- Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. We've got the rights and we're developing the script. That's an area that's really daunting because the greats have played him -- Mitchum and Bogart. But I won't be going in there trying to do something that relates to them -- you go in there with a fresh approach. I wouldn't do The Big Sleep, but I'll do my interpretation of Marlowe, and hope it comes even within the same radar as Bogart.

CS: What other movies are you working on?

CO: Well, I'm just starting with Tom Tykwer on a film called The International, which is a really fantastic script. It's a big international, political thriller with a guy obsessively trying to expose and bring down a big bank. And every time he gets close, people are backing off and strange things are happening, and people are being murdered. It's like a throwback '70s era political thriller with some amazing bursts of action in there as well.

CS: You've worked with some vibrant young directors. How important is it for you to keep working with these kinds of filmmakers?

CO: It's all about that now. Scripts are obviously hugely important. There's no point in getting a great script with an average director. It's never going to be anything more than an average film. Children of Men was a lesson I learned. I think he's an extraordinary director, and I love Alfonso [Cuaron], but when I read the script I didn't have a strong reaction to the part, and usually I have to have that. But, I was so blown away by him, and knew that he is a very special, unique, visionary director. So I embraced that film, going in thinking, "Well, I haven't got my usual strong thing but I just want to go on this journey with him." And I had one of the most satisfying experiences of my career and I'm incredibly proud of that movie. It's a lesson in "follow the director."

CS: You're playing Sir Walter Raleigh in Shekhar Kapur's period piece Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Are there any other genres you'd like to do?

CO: It's said, often by people that I work with, that I should do a comedy. But Shoot 'Em Up is a bit of a comedy. I'd love to do a western.

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