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March 2006
Inside Man : An Interview with Clive Owen

Inside Man: An Interview with Clive Owen

by Wilson Morales

In the last few years, Clive Owen has been on a tear as far as his film career is concerned. Since breaking out in “Croupier” in 1998, he’s been a sought after actor for many roles, going as far as being considered for the James Bond role that Daniel Craig eventually got. Some would say that Clive was offered the role, but we will never know and that’s another story itself. Owen may have won numerous awards playing the supporting role in “Closer”, but he is very much a leading man and someone who can bring in an audience. Last year, he was part of an all-start cast in “Sin City” and played opposite Jennifer Aniston in “Derailed”, and this year, he had a small cameo playing “006” in “The Pink Panther”. That may be as close as we get to see him playing a Bond role, but in the meantime, Owen has a fascinating role coming up in Spike Lee’s film, “Inside Man”, opposite Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster. In “Inside Man”, Owen plays bank robber Dalton Russell who wants to commit the perfect heist and has to outwit Washington’s Detective Frazier in order to pull it off. In speaking to blackfilm.com at a press conference in NYC to promote the film, Owen goes his character, working with Spike, Denzel and Jodie, and his career choices thus far.

You spend 90% of the movie with your face concealed by a mask.  How comfortable was it and how much of a challenge was it acting wise?


Clive Owen:  It was very strange actually and it was a concern at the beginning when Spike [Lee] first talked to me about it because as you said an awful lot of the movie was from inside the bank, I have to keep my face covered.  We joked a lot about it, it was strange, and it's unusual because your intent as an actor is expressed through your face, through your eyes, through your face that's where you see an actor's intent.  When you have just got a voice behind a mask and dark glasses, it was an odd experience.  I remember when we did the scene where Denzel [Washington] comes into the bank he was a bit sort of freaked by it as well he was like 'I can't see this guys eyes, I don't know what's going on' but it was unusual but obviously necessary.  The comfort of it, it wasn't particularly uncomfortable.  You treat it like you treat any character.  That was the costume, that was the character, the situation he was in, we managed to do the phone calls without the masks on and there were a lot of them so we managed to be able to take that off.  But, no I knew going in that that was it and it was unusual but it was just part of the job really.


So much of the movie you are by yourself in the bank separated from the other people.  But you have got a couple of great scenes with Jodie [Foster] and with Denzel.  How did you psych yourself up?  How did that go, what do you remember about working with the 2 of them?  When you had that tumble down the stairs with Denzel was that stunt work or not?

Clive Owen:  We did a lot of it, we did a lot.  Those scenes were fantastic, listen to be in that movie, I've been a huge fan of Spike Lee's for his whole career really and to be in a movie directed by him with Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster, they are both absolutely as good as it gets.  The whole role for me in the last year or two has been incredible and the biggest thing is working with people of that caliber really.  Yeah, it was a big thrill working with both Jodie and Denzel because I just respect them both so much.

In a lot of ways this is another noir in a lot of ways.  It's got twists and turns.  Do you keep getting put in these films because you like them or because you have done them in the past they want you to do more of them? 

Clive Owen:  In this one I think that Spike liked what I did in 'Closer' and talked about doing this particular film.  I don't know, I mean there was every reason for me to do this film.  I didn't even ever think about it in terms of it being a noir, I just saw a very smart script with Spike directing and the rest of the people involved.  If that's Noir, then I'd love to keep doing Noir.

Denzel has the luxury of knowing Spike's nuance, in terms of his directing style.  You just said that you admired his work.  What is it like to work under Spike's direction?

Clive Owen:  I like working with Spike.  I not only like him and respect him as a director but now as a guy as well.  I had a great time with him and he's a one off Spike.  He's got an attitude and a sort of visceral ness about the way he makes his movies that no one else has got I think.  He's very incredibly dynamic with the camera, he's' very assured about how he wants to shoot a scene and he's always very sort of visceral and strong.  He does that unusual thing, which has been talked about a bit, where for the last 6 movies he's shot in both directions at the same time, which I've never done it before with any movie.  It's often just too difficult for the guy to light the scene if you have got to shoot in both directions.  But I think that Spike has discovered that it keeps a spontaneity and aliveness in the scenes.  Also if anything unpredictable happens you can go with it because it's so present, it's like shooting live.  All those phone calls I had with Denzel in the movie we shot live on the phone with 2 crews.  One of them shooting me and one of them shooting him, on 2 different sets.  It's a very exiting and very live way of working.  I've got just the absoluter respect, I'm a huge fan of Spike so I think he's a very special film maker.

The part is a wonderfully ambiguous character in terms of his moral position.  Was that part of what attracted you to doing the film and was there any kind of special process you thought through or did you do any improvisation to bring that out?

Clive Owen:  No, I think the important thing is that the movie starts, the guys get out of the van, they take the bank over, and you think this is territory we have been to but we know the heist movie scenario.  Then it starts to change and I think that he's not the usual guy who takes over banks in that way, he's doing it for his own very particular reasons and as the thing unravels and develops you realize that it's a very unusual heist and he has planned a very clever, smart, situation here.  That was an attraction to doing it.  It was a very, very smart script.  It's very well put together heist movie, I think.

You said that you have been a fan of Spike's movies over the years.  What grabbed you about his movies?  The subject matter, his technique?

Clive Owen:  Both of those things, right from his early films I think he sort of exploded into movies really because there was no one doing what he was doing.  I love the fact that every time you see a Spike Lee film, Spike is trying to make a really serious movie, you know that he is a proper film maker, he goes in there and he is making films about subjects and he's unusual in that way.  He's always been true to that and there is something very special about that.  I love his attitude and I love what he ahs done.  He has opened up a lot for other film makers as well, I mean Spike has been around a long time now but when Spike first exploded on the scene he really opened a huge amount of doors for a lot of film makers and he still seems very true to that same ethic when he started making his movies., he hasn't changed in that way.

Were there any scenes that were cut or were longer that when you saw the film you were a bit surprised or disappointed they didn't make it?

Clive Owen:  No, I think the way Spike works he's pretty sure about what he's doing.  I can't remember that there is anything that has been lost in that thing really.  He likes to get the script sorted before you shoot and pretty much what that script was is pretty much what the movie is, so I don’t' think that there is anything that we did that isn't in the movie.

What builds your character, what makes him tick?  Is there going to be a sequel to this movie because you walk out with the document, the Nazi document, is there going to be a sequel?

Clive Owen:  Not that I know of.  What drove me was the idea of playing this guy who pulls off this very extraordinary bank robbery and has his own reasons for doing so.  It looks like it's one thing, he takes hostages and it looks like it's going to be a very violent sort of, this guy in there to rob the bank and make a lot of money for himself, and that isn't quite the case.  The guys motivated by other things and it is ambiguous, it's not a straight forward, clear cut thing.  I think that goes for every character in the movie.  I think that every character is very rich and ambiguous.  Also I think that Spike added, it wasn't in the script, it's full of that New York flavor.  You've got lots of great character actors in from New York and there were lots of scenes that were improvised and just he really fleshed it out and made a very smart script into something even richer I think. 

At one time you were being touted about being bond and I was kind of surprised to see you took another stab at it in “The Pink Panther”.  How are you keeping it a secret?

Clive Owen:  They just sent me that script and I laughed when I read the scene so I just said yeah, I'll do it.  I thought it was a funny scene so that's why I did it.  No other motive behind it. 

You said before that you don't particularly like playing good people and that you are being just characters.  When you are playing characters like the guy in this do you have find something that you can relate to?

Clive Owen:  I can always relate, because sometimes people get the idea that I play a lot of bad guys in my movies and I've never seen any of them as that bad.  Maybe it's just me.  [Laughs]  It's always much more interesting to play a character that's got some sort of conflict going own or is ambiguous, it's much more interesting to play.  To play root one good guys, none of us are, so it doesn't feel real to me.  I'm always much more interested in playing characters that are full of contradictions really.

How do you go about deciding what roles you are going to take?  Is there a role that you are dying to play that you haven't played yet?

Clive Owen:  No, it's a very instinctive thing.  Films are directors medium, you have to be in tune with the directors, and it's hugely important who's directing the movie.  Then obviously there is the script and the part.  It's an instinctive thing with me, this one I don't need any persuading.  It's Spike Lee directing with Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster as well, that was a very clear, done deal very quickly.  Other times it's an instinctive thing, it's about the director and about the script and it's just an instinctive 'Yeah, this feels right, this is something I want to do or not.' I'm one of those people who at the end of the day I'll always stand by that decision because it's that sort of instinct that carries me through and even if the film doesn't end up quite what you hope or what you expect, I'd still make the same decision again because that was the reason I got involved.  That doesn't change.

If they were doing more BMW films, would you be interested?

Clive Owen:  Of course, yeah.  I mean that was an extraordinary campaign, I worked with some of the world's best directors and in a very unusual, very dynamic format.  8 to 10 minute short movies with incredible directors, playing a very cool character so yeah, it was great.

Why did they stop, the campaign was over I guess?

Clive Owen:  To be honest with you it was only supposed to be 5 and then they just added some extra ones on, I mean they are very expensive, those ads cost a lot of money.

I thought one of the pivotal scenes of the movie was when Jodie came to the bank and then we understood there was more immorality behind and you were exploiting that.  What did you see as some of the pivotal scenes in the movie that help make the movie what it became?

Clive Owen:  I think exactly those, for me there was that very big scene with Jodie where you get to know more about what he is doing in there.  Also the scene where Denzel comes into the bank and you are establishing a very strong cat and mouse game between the cop and the guy actually doing the heist.  They are certainly key, pivotal scenes but as I said before I think Spike has done a really good fantastic job with this script because he fleshed it out and it's full of real character and humor as well as being a very smart savvy bank heist movie.

Growing up in England what were your first impressions of coming to New York and what do you like to do here when you do come?

Clive Owen:  New York is the best city in the world, the capital of the world in my opinion.  It's the only place I ever come where I can always stay longer.  I shot actually one or two of the BMW's in New York, but this was the first time I'd come to New York to shoot a movie and to be shooting on Wall Street with Spike was a really fantastic experience.  I'm crazy about this city, I think that if it wasn't for the fact that I've got a family and kids that are very settled in London I'm pretty sure I'd probably living here.

What do you like to do when you come to New York?

Clive Owen:  I like to do everything.  There is so much to do here, there is never enough time to do it all.

'Sin City II' is it really going to happen?  Bruce Willis said 'I think I might be in a prequel, Clive is doing the sequel' is that true?

Clive Owen:  I've no idea.  They have been talking about but there is nothing that has been sorted out yet, but I think Robert [Rodriguez] is definitely intending to do two more movies is what I've heard.  But there is nothing set in concrete yet as regards who is in it and when it is.

There is a scene in the film when you are in the child was playing with a Playstation portable.  What is your feeling for the games of today since you do have children?

Clive Owen:  I think that was very much again, Spike sort of fleshing out the movie because I think it's pretty self explanatory.  I think it’s a very funny scene.  The scene is pretty clear I think.  I would never let my children play a game like that, no.

Would your children be allowed to see this movie?

Clive Owen:  My children don't see any of my movies.  They are 9 and 6, but maybe they could actually.  I hadn't really thought about that one yet.  They came out and they came on set and they met Spike and they know about this bank robbing film where Daddy puts on this funny mask but maybe they will be able to see it, thinking it through.  I'm trying to think if there is anything I object too much to them seeing. 

When did you choose your next film 'Shoot 'Em Up'?  How is it working with a first time director?

Clive Owen:  I came from Toronto yesterday, we are in the middle of shooting it now.  It's a really incredibly wild, fresh, original script.  This script, it was talked about and I thought 'I'm not sure this will be for me.' And it was so inventive and so crazy and wild.  It's an incredibly ingenious action movie where the lead character keeps being put in incredible situations and you can't believe he is going to get out of them and somehow he does.  It's very witty and genius action.  It starts with the guy delivering a baby in the alleyway with people shooting at him and it doesn't let up for the next 90 minutes.  I really met the director and thought if someone can pull this off, this will be wild and extraordinary, and I thought he could pull it off because he had been planning this movie for 7 years and it's going really, really, well.  He's incredibly on top of it and organized and it's leaping off the page.  I've got high hopes for it.


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