Clive Owen is one of the most sought-after international film stars. His body of work speaks for itself and includes Inside Man, Children of Men, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and his award-winning performance in Closer. His versatility is reflected in the broad spectrum of characters he has portrayed. Perhaps his most shining moment is in his new film, The Boys Are Back, in which he plays Joe Warr, a man whose wife dies of cancer and has an ensuing struggle to define his role of single dad to two young boys. Although the story is a difficult one, under the outstanding direction of Scott Hicks (Billy Elliot, Shine) the film never gets maudlin and is a tribute to this family’s ability to overcome an incredibly painful experience. Owen’s multi-textured performance is worthy of an Oscar nomination.
Following are excerpts from a recent press conference:
Mirror: Good morning and congratulations on a brilliant performance. Get your tuxedo ready. (Laughter)
Owen: Thank you.
Mirror: Despite the sadness of the story, it seemed like you had a lot of fun filming the movie – water and pillow fights, playing hide-and-seek, high jumps into the bathtub. Was it as much fun as it appeared on the screen?
Owen: It was a lot of fun. That said, much of the film is geared around seven-year-old Nicholas (McAnulty) who plays the younger son Artie. Because of his age, he was unpredictable, so we had to be flexible. Scott was great at keeping the cast and crew on their toes so if Nicholas did something interesting, we were ready to capture it.
Mirror: Did you find it difficult working with two kids for most of the film?
Owen: I loved it but was nervous because this was a very different way of working. When you work with someone as young as Nick, you must be ready to react instantly. If you’re too controlled and too prepared, you look like you’re acting. That was the challenge. I had to be spontaneous and make it as honest and true in depicting the pain of the wife and mother dying.
Mirror: What was it like working with George MacKay? (the older son, Harry)
Owen: Working with George was very different. He’s a super skilled fine actor, mature beyond his years. There’s nothing by accident from him.
Mirror: How did it feel to actually meet Simon Carr who wrote the autobiographical book on which the film is based?
Owen: I only met him at the very end. I read the memoir and then the script and Scott asked me if I wanted to meet Simon. I said no because I got a lot from both the book and the script and had strong impulses and instincts on how to proceed in developing the character. Even if I had met him for five minutes, I would be have influenced by his voice, physicality, how he carried himself, etc., and would have thought about it as I was working. I wanted to be free to do my own interpretation and instinctively inhabit the character.
Mirror: What was it like when you finally met him?
Owen: He showed up with his two boys on the last day of shooting. It was a very memorable day standing on the train station when the two young actors met the real boys.
Mirror: Would this have been a different film it was a “studio” film – perhaps more sentimental?
Owen: It’s a great advantage that this is an independent film as it gave us the freedom to explore, without studio restrictions. If it was a big studio film, it might have been more sentimental and committees would be concerned about the likeability of my character such as “he’s so mean there” or “he’s not very nice to the boys.” They’re grieving and grieving is messy. It’s volatile, it’s not neat and clean and wholesome. It’s unpredictable and not very nice.
Mirror: Did making this film have an effect on your own parenting?
Owen: My own parenting has been infused in my work by remembering that I had been in a particular situation. I can generally relate to saying “no” pretty quickly to our kids so I can understand my character’s instinct to give more freedom to his kids by just saying “yes” to everything.
Mirror: How has the film been received in advanced screenings?
Owen: The advance screenings have been hugely encouraging. It is a difficult film but people are terribly moved by it as they can connect to it on some level whether it’s a death, a divorce, etc., as it explores the whole world of parenting.
Mirror: What would you like an audience to take home with them?
Owen: At the end of the day, this is a very hopeful, positive film. It’s not heavy, but is very moving. This family experiences a terrible tragedy, but you are left knowing that they are ultimately going to move forward.
Mirror: What was the biggest challenge you faced in your career?
Owen: I don’t really know. I just always carried on in my career and opportunities just opened up. When the movie thing opened up, I was quite contented as I had a very full career in England doing theatre, television and moves. I’ve been very lucky and have tried to keep my eye on the main thing, which is the work.
Mirror: As an international movie star, how do you retain your family values?
Owen: When I’m at home with the girls, I do the washing up, the laundry, and other chores around the house just like any other dad.
Mirror: What do you do with your guy friends?
Owen: There’s a lot of football watching – a lot of soccer.
Mirror: Best of luck with this film.