When you interview the star of a film as action-packed as Killer Elite, your questions can get really physical-- how many bruises did you get? What's your favorite kind of gun? Is Jason Statham as terrifying in person as he is in the movies? But something about Clive Owen makes you focus everything on the mental stuff instead. The actor isn't just capable of going toe-to-toe with Statham or rocking a very period appropriate giant mustache, but he does it all with a soul-- he's the guy in an action movie who you want to sit down with and hear his entire life story.
Last week at the Toronto Film Festival, I sat down with Owen to talk about how an action movie like this winds up at a film festival anyway, how he handles the physical stress of making a movie so demanding, and what kind of film the versatile actor still wants to tackle. He also takes full credit for his rocking 80s mustache, so facial hair enthusiasts, take note. Killer Elite opens this Friday.
You don't usually see action movies like this at a film festival. People can see a movie with tough guys on a poster with guns and write it off.
I think there's all sorts of prejudices like that. Sometimes you come across a film that's really well done, that's hugely entertaining, and it's a good film. Just because ti's commercial and sort of big doesn't mean it's not going to have real quality to it.
Do these kinds of genre movies appeal to you on a physical level? A chance to do something different?
Not really. I enjoy doing that stuff, and I think I'm technically pretty good at the fights and all that. But i don't treat those scenes any differently than I do the dialogue scenes. It's an acting exercise. People say, "Oh, you do everything in that fight," and of course, it's an acting job. I don't want someone else stepping in there and acting that intent. I've got to carry that off. I want to do that.
So you're a do-your-own-stunts kind of guy?
I don't throw myself off buildings or sit in cars that blow up, but if I'm doing fights and stuff, I do.
Does that start taking its toll? Can you not bend back your thumb or anything like that?
Not long term, but if you're doing a week of that kind of stuff, however much you get ready and however fit you are, because you do it in such short bursts they're very high charges of adrenaline. You get a bit stiff. You've got to keep loose. It's the intensity and adrenaline, and you want each beat to be so energized that it takes more of out you than you think.
Jason Statham is the king of the action genre right now. When you're facing off against him does that make you up your game?
If you're doing massive fights in a film, it's great to be doing them against him. He's so experienced, he's so gifted in that territory.
Do you have to work together a lot on the scenes you have together, since even though there aren't very many, they're so pivotal?
Yes. I think technically we're both good, so there's a safety in that. You can only really commit and make it as long as it's safe. You occasionally work with people that are technically not quite on it, and it can be a little hairy. Then it's just about working it together. It's about rhythm and beats and being able to go with it.
Can we talk about the facial hair for a minute?
I take full responsibility. It's nobody's fault but my own.
Yeah? It was your idea?
I went back and looked at pictures from that period in the UK, and everyone had a mustache. I had to commit to that. I'm a big soccer fan-- go and look at any football team of that period, shots of the team, they all have mustaches. I was like, that's the deal. I've got to have a mustache.
I guess you can go right home and shave it when you're done.
And I did. And I did a couple pretty close together, because I went and did this film about Hemingway [HBO's Hemingway and Gellhorn with Nicole Kidman], so I had this mustache for quite a long time. I've got to avoid them for a little while.
And the IRA movie you have coming up is in the same period--shouldn't you have a mustache for that too?
Yeah, but come on. Otherwise it's going to be my thing. I can't have that.
You talk about the adrenaline rush you get from making a movie like this. When you switch to a more low-key genre, do you need to replace that adrenaline withs something else?
No, not at all. It's literally just going movie by movie, approaching the material and going in there and trying to do it. I'm not trying got get something out of my system.
But what makes you feel like you're getting the job done?
It's different for every film, that's the beauty of it. Duplicity was all about watching 30s and 40s movies where people talked a lot and talked fast, it was all about rhythm and language and speech and the music of that. You look at something like Closer, based on a play, that was very language based. And other films are not. You're putting on different things.
Is there anything you haven't done that you still want to?
A really good comedy. I'd like to do a film which is funny. I'm in talks to possibly do one. I'm excited about it because I find it really funny, and it's first and foremost a comedy. I feel like it would be a newish thing.
Do you feel like you get stuck in a certain spot where you can't do different hinge?
No, because that's one thing, when you look at my career-- I go from The Boys Are Back and Trust to this film. I've got one with Juan Carlos Fresnadillo here [The Intruders]. I feel like I move all over the place, an I'm very happy with that. It's not a conscious thing. I trained in the theater, and it's all about playing parts. I'm interested in playing all kinds of parts. That's why I started to become an actor. That instinct of being attracted to a good piece of material and a part. I'm not looking to hone anything. i want to go anywhere and everywhere and explore as much as I can.
Are you taking any breaks?
I'm taking one now.
Are you one of those people who spends your entire vacate antsy to get back to work?
I think it's very important that you don't do too much. A huge part of acting in movies is appetite. You do your best work when you've got a lot of appetite and you really want to embrace something. When you get tired, you don't have that hunger. And I think you need it.
(Image via Paul McKinnon / Shutterstock.com)