Clive Owen- King Arthur to Shoot em up

March 20, 2008


Few actors get to enjoy the status of “overnight sensation”. Next to none get to enjoy it twice. Yet this has happened to Clive Owen, the latest addition to the UK’s canon of international superstars. Breaking through, back in 1990, as the wisecracking, sharp-suited wheeler-dealer Stephen Crane in the hit show Chancer, he was the hottest thing on TV. Then, after spending the best part of a decade seeking cinematic success, came the sleeper smash Croupier. Failing dismally in the UK, it looked at first to be a disaster. Yet the US critics loved it and, Stateside, it raked in millions, at the same time lifting Owen into the upper echelons. And, this time, he was ready.

Clive Owen was born on 3 October, 1964, in Coventry. His father, a Country and Western singer, walked out when he was three (he’d not meet him again for 16 years), and he was raised by his mother and stepfather, the latter working in the ticket office for British Rail. Clive was the fourth of five brothers. The eldest was Garry, now a salesman. Then came Alan and Lee, musicians (they’d release a single called Heartbeat), then Clive and Scott.

Attending Binley Park Comprehensive School, Clive was initially a good student, in the top stream. Then something thoroughly unexpected happened. Clive has often said that, for some unknown reason, he always wanted to act. But it was only after he played the Artful Dodger in a production of Oliver! that everyone else knew it too. Bitten badly by the bug, he couldn’t concentrate on anything else, putting all his energy into the youth theatre he joined at 13. His schoolwork fell away dramatically. Sitting nine O-levels, he passed only one – English.

His persistence was amazing, really. When he first announced in class that he wanted to act, his teacher encouraged all the other kids to laugh at him. Thankfully the steely intensity he exudes onscreen is a real part of his character and he kept at it.

After his catastrophic exam results, Clive was all for jacking school in. But one teacher saw his potential and was keen for him to continue his studies at drama school. Being a prickly little sod, Clive was having none of it. No one can teach you how to act, he said, it’s all inside you already. The teacher fought back, arranging an audition for him at Mountview college and even buying him a train ticket to London. Owen made the journey, and was accepted by Mountview. Yet even this didn’t work. Absolutely convinced that drama school was useless, Clive turned Mountview down, deciding instead to keep working with his youth theatre group and seek work.It would be a bad two years. Another alumnus of Binley Park had been John Bradbury, drummer of the band The Specials, and The Specials’ Number One hit Ghost Town had pretty accurately described the state of Coventry at the time. Work was near impossible to find and, gradually losing contact with his theatre group, Clive began to waste away. “I was doing what half of Coventry was doing at the time,” he said later, “playing pool and waiting for the next Giro”.

Come 1984, his situation was desperate, so desperate that his altered his anti-education stance and, applying to RADA, was accepted. His fellow pupils including Ralph Fiennes and Jane Horrocks, he did well, graduating in 1987. He also had a stroke of luck, experience-wise. While at RADA, his class worked on a new Howard Barker play, then being performed at the Royal Court with Gary Oldman in the lead. When Oldman fell ill, Clive was asked to step in – being the only other actor in the world who knew the part.

After graduation, Owen went looking for stage work. He appeared in The Cat And The Canary at Watford, and Twelfth Night at the Crucible in Sheffield. Then he won a place at the Young Vic, playing in Romeo And Juliet and Measure For Measure and, in Manchester, The Doctor’s Dilemma. He also met his wife. Onstage. In an incident so romantic it borders on cliché, while playing Romeo he fell for his Juliet, Sarah Jane Fenton. Though their relationship would occasionally be turbulent, with the couple splitting up several times, it would last, the pair marrying in 1995 and eventually producing two daughters, Hannah and Eve.

It was all looking good. In 1988, Clive made his film debut, in Vroom. Here he and David Thewlis played two northern lads who restore a classic American car and take off on the road. Before they leave, though, Clive picks up sexy widow Diana Quick, who adds serious spice to the trip. Next he showed a very dark side with his portrayal of the psychotic Gideon Sarn, alongside Janet McTeer’s Prue Sarn, in the historical costume drama Precious Bane. And then came a big TV hit when he played John Ridd, the man who takes Lorna Doone to the altar in RD Blackmore’s classic. Polly Walker was his Lorna and Sean Bean, of course, was the brooding Carver Doone.

Then, suddenly and quite unexpectedly, he was a star. Chancer, where he played the natty, waggish Stephen Crane, pulling scams on a weekly basis, was immensely popular, throwing Clive’s life into turmoil. The tabloid press were deeply interested in this good-looking newcomer and invaded his privacy wherever possible. He should have enjoyed it, but he didn’t. Hating the constant attention of the tabloids, he refused to co-operate with them, gaining a reputation as a “difficult” actor. Also, as a serious thespian, he was aware of the danger he was in. The public might forever see him as Crane, or at least as a loveable rogue. Threatened with typecasting, he decided to bail out.

Onscreen, this meant controversy. His next part was in Stephen Poliakoff’s Close My Eyes, where he played Richard, younger brother of Saskia Reeves’ Natalie. They’re working-class, trapped in the stuffy middle-class world of Natalie’s husband, played by Alan Rickman. And there’s something else. They’re closer than they should be and actually WAY too close when they embark upon a doomed incestuous affair. The public were shocked that charming Stephen Crane should get up to such beastly antics. And Clive lost an advert, too. He turns them all down, as a rule, but for once had accepted a beer commercial. With Close My Eyes causing such a stir, it was not to be. “They pulled out,” explained Clive “because they didn’t want their Beer Man to shag his sister. How mad’s that?”

Clive would not be seen onscreen for another two years. Keen to let his Chancer-based fame die away, he took to the stage. At the Hampstead Playhouse, he played Leonard Charteris in George Bernard Shaw’s The Philanderer, directed by Brian Cox (later to be his co-star in The Bourne Identity). Pushing even harder against type, he also appeared as a bisexual in Sean Mathias’s Donmar Warehouse revival of Noel Coward’s Design For Living, a show that would see the breakthrough of Rachel Weisz. The Mathias connection would prove useful again later.

Come 1993, and Clive was back onscreen and, for the first time, working in the US. In Class Of ’61 he was Devin O’Neil, an Irish West Point graduate sent off to fight in the Civil War. A modern drama, it concentrated on people issues – friendships broken, tangled relationships, etc – most notably the race question. Then came The Magician, a British TV drama involving Scotland Yard, the IRA and a great deal of counterfeit cash.

After this, Clive was back with Stephen Poliakoff, in Century. Set at the end of 1899, it had Clive as a researcher in a medical centre, working for the grand and brilliant Charles Dance. First he falls for a girl working there, the sexually liberated Clara, played by Miranda Richardson. And then he realises, much to his horror, that Dance is actually practising eugenics, pre-figuring the Nazis by killing and sterilising the poor and “undesirable”.

His next project was serious, too. In Nobody’s Children, Ann-Margret played an American woman who loses a baby and decides to find another in Romania – a Romania wracked by the revolution against Ceaucescu. As Bratu, Clive appeared as an appropriately intense Eastern European, alongside such Brit stalwarts as Katrin Cartlidge and Frances Tomelty, Sting’s ex-wife.

From 1994 to 1996, it was TV all the way. In escaping his Chancer reputation, Clive took all manner of roles, the only similarity being that each was radically different from the last. He was excellent alongside Paul Merton, Martin Clunes and Caroline Quentin in the football-based comedy An Evening With Gary Lineker. Then came Doomsday Gun, where Frank Langella played a supergun-builder who helped first the CIA, then Saddam Hussein. Here Clive joined a heavyweight cast including Kevin Spacey, Francesca Annis and Edward Fox. Next came a starring role in Thomas Hardy’s The Return Of The Native where, as Damon Wildeve, he’s a publican in love with Eustacia Vye (Catherine Zeta Jones), a wild girl who wants to be “loved to madness” and taken away from bleak and lonely Egdon Heath. To spite her, Wildeve marries someone else and, as is the way with Hardy, everything slowly slides towards tragedy and death.

After this period drama came something deeply contemporary in The Turnaround. This was a pilot for a TV series that saw Clive as “seedy but saucy” cop-turned-PI Nick Sharman, having a tough time on complex cases in South London. The role gave Clive plenty to get his teeth into. Sharman has lost his job and his wife due to drink and drugs, so he’s bright but flawed, confident but regretful, an interesting character. The series itself would run in 1996.

Before that, it was back to America for The Rich Man’s Wife, a winding, Usual Suspects-type thriller. Here Halle Berry is trapped in a terrible marriage and conducting an affair with Clive, her husband’s business partner. Meeting a stranger, she mentions how great it would be if her hubbie were out of the way and, horrifically, he very soon is. Clearly, it’s a very messy situation.

This classy thriller was followed by a genuine oddity, when Clive lent his image to the space age videogame Privateer 2. Here Clive, having been frozen for a decade while a cure is found for his terrible injuries, wakes up on a strange planet and has to go searching across the galaxy to find out who he is and what the hell happened. The rest of the cast is a spectacularly bizarre mish-mash. Lending weight are Christopher Walken, John Hurt and Jurgen Prochnow. Adding sci-fi pedigree is Mary Tamm, formerly Dr Who’s assistant, Romana. Then there’s David McCallum, Brian Blessed and – well REALLY, Rigsby – Don Warrington from Rising Damp.

Still battling to broaden that CV, Clive now took on perhaps his most challenging role. Teaming up once more with Sean Mathias, he took the lead in the film adaptation of the stage hit Bent. As Max – a role originated by Ian McKellen in London, then played by Richard Gere on Broadway – he was a gay man in Dachau, who refuses to confirm his homosexuality and receives a yellow (Jewish) label instead. In the camp, though, he falls for the proudly gay Horst and gradually learns to stand up for what he is – even if it means death. Clive, who lost nearly three stone to play Max, was excellent in the part, at first manipulative and grabbing, then open and strong.

The same year (1997) saw Clive back on the London stage in Closer, a sexy, modern, bitter take on relationships that was described as “Private Lives for the Nineties”. A National Theatre production at the New Ambassadors, it would soon move to Broadway, where Rupert Graves would take Clive’s role, as he had done when Design For Living crossed the pond (Graves had also appeared alongside Clive in Bent and Doomsday Gun). Closer would not be the last time Clive would test himself on the boards. In 2001, he’d star alongside Victoria Hamilton in A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg, about a marriage crumbling under the strain of raising a multiplegic child. Clive had in fact played that role before, back in 1994 at the King’s Head in Islington (the area where Clive now lives).

And now came Clive’s big break – though it didn’t seem that way to begin with. In Mike Hodges’ Croupier, he played a South African wannabe writer who, thanks to his con man father, is schooled in most things shifty. Getting a job in a casino, he’s smart, cool and efficient, consequently he catches the eye of Alex Kingston, who’s planning a scam. Clive goes along with it – but only because it might make great material for a book – and so we enter a world of deception, paranoia and rampant double-crossing. It was a pretty good movie, with Clive standing out as the taciturn, constantly plotting lead. Yet there was no audience in the UK – Croupier sank without trace.

Clive moved on. In the dark Christmas tale The Echo he was Michael Deacon, a maverick reporter who, chasing up the story of a tramp found dead in the garage of rich woman Joely Richardson, discovers far more than he’d bargained for. Then there was an Australian production, Split Second, where he was a lawyer who accidentally kills a cyclist and runs away, only to have his whole life collapse around him.

And then came yet more TV success. In Second Sight he was Detective Chief Inspector Ross Tanner, investigating the savage murder of a 19-year-old kid. Trouble is, Tanner has AZOOR, an acute problem with the eyes that’s causing him to lose his sight. He doesn’t want to tell anyone till he’s solved the case, but it becomes apparent to Detective Inspector Catherine Tully, played by Claire Skinner (his wife Thomasin in The Return Of The Native) who, deciding to help him, becomes his eyes. The show – as pacey as ER, clever and taut as Prime Suspect, and with a dash of The X-Files – was a big hit, spawning three sequels straight away, with more in the pipeline.

By now, Clive’s life had changed. Croupier had enjoyed fabulous reviews in the US. In fact, popular belief had it that, had the movie not already been shown on Dutch TV, it would have received Oscar-nominations. Hollywood was at last taking notice, and the parts were coming his way. First though came Greenfingers, where he played a prisoner with a talent for gardening. Spotted by horticultural expert Helen Mirren, he finds himself entered in a national competition. There’d also be a string of five short films for BMW. In each, he played the mysterious Driver, engaged in various exciting missions. These were not simply adverts for the cars. The directors included John Frankenheimer and Ang Lee, one was penned by Seven writer Andrew Kevin Walker, and co-stars included Mickey Rourke, Stellan Skarsgard and Madonna, who played a spoilt, arrogant pop star in Star, directed by her husband Guy Ritchie. 2002 would see a further three episodes, seeing Clive work with such luminaries as John Woo, Tony Scott, Gary Oldman, F. Murray Abraham and James Brown.

Now the big hits began. In Robert Altman’s country house murder mystery Gosford Park, Clive found himself at the centre of the action, as a butler with a secret past that might well have something to do with the housekeeper – Helen Mirren once again. Then came The Bourne Identity where an amnesiac Matt Damon is on the run and trying to discover his own identity, while everyone, including Clive as the shady Professor, is out to kill him.

Success allowed Clive to generate his own projects and, with Mike Hodges, Croupier’s director, he put together the existential gangster flick, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, concerning an ex-enforcer drawn back into the London underworld when his drug-dealing brother is raped and driven to suicide by crime boss Malcolm McDowell. In its themes it was very much like Hodges’ earlier classic, Get Carter.

After this came Beyond Borders. Here Clive played an impassioned relief worker who gets involved with philanthropist socialite Angelina Jolie as they continue to bump into each other across the planet, in the midst of wars and dreadful natural disasters. Originally, the movie was to have been directed by Oliver Stone and to have starred Kevin Costner. According to producer Peter Guber, though, Costner was so demanding they had to dump him, with Clive’s old RADA mucker Ralph Fiennes coming onboard. But then Stone left, and Fiennes too. Once in, Clive would not let it slip, making the most of dramatic scenes like the one where he carries a starving Ethiopian child into a London charity ball and accuses the wealthy guests of dangerous irresponsibility. It was a good role, but a weak movie, not helped by constant delays. Though budgeted at $35 million, it would take only $4.5 million at the US box office.

Nevertheless, Croupier and Gosford Park had raised Clive’s cinematic profile to such a degree that he was chosen by uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer to take the lead in Disney’s historical re-imagining of the legend of King Arthur. Here Owen would play the once and future king as a Roman general leading a band of Sarmatian auxiliaries in occupied Britain. Then, as Rome begins to fall and his knights reach the end of their tours of duty, he must decide whether he will stick around and lead the Brits against the invading Saxons.

He moved on to the infinitely more claustrophobic Closer, taking the role he’d originated in Patrick Marber’s play. As doctor Larry, he’d be set up for humiliation with photographer Julia Roberts by writer Jude Law, but actually enjoy a relationship with her, before forging a bond with Law’s own girlfriend, a self-destructive stripper played by Natalie Portman. It was harsh and testing emotional stuff, with Clive stealing scene after scene from his world-renowned co-stars. It came as no surprise when he won a Golden Globe and found himself Oscar-nominated, too.

Following this, he’d join another all-star cast for Sin City, Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s legendary series of intertwining comic strips. Here he’d play ex-news photographer Dwight, horribly messed around by his dream-girl , manipulated into murder, nearly destroyed. Saved by Rosario Dawson and the girls of Old Town, he then becomes their violent protector. Clive would then move on to Derailed, adapted by Collateral scribe Stuart Beattie from James Siegel’s novel. Here he was an ad exec made despondant by a sexless marriage and a daughter with chronic diabetes. Missing his commuter-train one day, he takes a later one and catches the eye of sexy Jennifer Aniston. They hit it off and, eventually, wind up at a seedy hotel where they’re attacked by a thug, Aniston being raped and Owen badly beaten. Even more unfortunately, the thug steals their details, realises they’re both married and attempts blackmail, leading a guilty Owen to seek incompetent revenge.

Now considered a true Hollywood up-and-comer, 2006 would see Owen making no fewer than four appearances on our screens. First he’d pop up in a 2-minute comedy cameo in Steve Martin’s The Pink Panther, dressed in a tuxedo, chasing bandits and being sprayed with poisonous chemicals in jokey reference to the James Bond role he’d recently lost to Daniel Craig. Then would come Spike Lee’s Inside Man where he’d play a charismatic, cold and clinical crook who, when a bank raid goes wrong, must be talked out of executing the hostages by cop Denzel Washington.

Having missed out on starring alongside Julianne Moore in Savage Grace, Owen would next join her in The Children Of Men, based on PD James’ novel and directed by Alfonso Cuaron. This would be set in the chaotic world of 2027, where all men are impotent and the country is run by the sinister Warden, who promotes the suicide of the elderly, the exile of criminals and the enslaving of immigrants. Owen would play a fusty academic, used to an ordered existence, who’s drawn into activism and agrees to help a miraculoualy pregnant Moore reach a sanctuary at sea where she may help scientists save the human race. Following this, he’d return to Sin City territory for Shoot ‘Em Up, a gun-loving bullet-fest described as a John Woo wet dream, where Clive would deliver a woman’s baby during a gunfight and then have to protect it against a huge army of shooters.

Having escaped unwanted flash-fame, then worked hard to earn genuine respect through a series of challenging roles, coming into his own in his late thirties, Clive Owen is doing all he can to take control of his own life. And anyone who’s ever spent time playing pool and waiting for the next Giro would understand that.

(sourced from the internet)

One comment

  1. […] necrophage32 wrote a fantastic post today on “Clive Owen- King Arthur to Shoot em up”Here’s ONLY a quick extractHe turns them all down, as a rule, but for once had accepted a beer commercial. With Close My Eyes causing such a stir, it was not to be. “They pulled out,” explained Clive “because they didn’t want their Beer Man to shag his sister. … […]

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