KING ARTHUR - Q&A with CLIVE OWEN
"I have to admit that I was surprised that they asked me to do it," says Clive Owen about being cast in the title role of producer Jerry Bruckheimer's ambitious new retelling of the legend of King Arthur. The self-effacing British actor's previous credits include flinty, brooding performances in THE BOURNE IDENTITY and smaller films such as BENT, CLOSE MY EYES, and the widely admired CROUPIER, and KING ARTHUR director Antoine Fuqua is in no doubt about why Owen was right for his new film. "Clive is very internal," Fuqua explains. "He reminds me of Steve McQueen because there's a lot going on in his eyes." After months on location in Ireland, during which he learned to ride a horse, Owen talks enthusiastically about being given the opportunity to lead the legendary Knights of the Round Table and work with fellow Brits Keira Knightley (as Guinevere) and Ioan Gruffudd (as Lancelot). KING ARTHUR represents the 39 year-old actor's highest profile role yet, though Owen will next star opposite Julia Roberts in the film adaptation of CLOSER and he's working on director Robert Rodriguez's next project too. And what about those rumours that he'll soon be playing James Bond? The bedroom-eyed Owen addressed that and other career questions during a recent interview.
So how did you get the role of King Arthur?
It's not everyday a film of this size and scale comes to Britain, so there were rumours going around for some time that a big Hollywood production company was coming to the UK to do a movie about King Arthur. When you hear this, you immediately assume that they're going to cast a couple of A-list American actors for the film, but to Jerry Bruckheimer's credit, he decided that they were going to go to the UK to cast. I suppose when you cast abroad, there's not as much pressure to cast anyone other than the people you want for the film. So I got sent the script and was asked to go to the US to meet Jerry and the director, Antoine Fuqua. The next day they offered the part to me. It was very exciting to be involved with something like this.
Because you grew up learning about the legend of King Arthur, was it at all daunting to take on the role?
It's strange. A lot of people have asked me if I felt a lot of pressure playing King Arthur or being in a huge movie like this. But at the end of the day, you approach it like any other part - you just jump in there and do it. You can't play heroic and you can't play status. It has to be in the fabric of the script. When two actors are together, you can only be given status if the other actor gives it to you. So you do go into a movie like this knowing it's a huge part, but it's not any more daunting than any other role as long as the direction and the script support you, which in this case, they did.
Speaking of the script, how faithful is it to the King Arthur story?
I always take scripts how I find them. I'm not one of those people who feels that if it's based on a book, it has to be just like the book. I like this script. I like the momentum. I like the way it sets up the story and then sets these guys out on a mission from hell. The writer, David Franzoni, told me about his historical research and how he arrived at this concept. He gave me a lot of background on the original King Arthur myths, and it was enlightening because so much of my knowledge of King Arthur was based on children's storybooks and movies. I soon realized that I didn't know that much. It's a very elusive myth that came together over a long period of time and our film is based on the things that the writer learned from his research. It's set in a time when the Roman Empire was pulling out of Britain, society was collapsing and chaos reigned - all of which make for a very exciting backdrop for the movie. I think it's important to view this film as one interpretation of this legendary story.
How would you describe King Arthur as a person?
Arthur had a strong faith and belief in Rome and what it stood for, but that changes in the movie. Because the world is evolving, he has to reconsider how he fits into the scope of things. He is slightly in denial about his English heritage, but he is a man of these people and of this land. In fact, he is possibly the one man who can unite this land. He's an interesting, dramatic character - someone who feels conflicted, and that's part of the draw of playing someone like this.
How did you prepare for all of the physical demands of this film?
It was a hugely physically demanding movie. The first thing we trained for was the horse riding because the story is set in a time when people practically lived on those things and I was not a very good horse rider. I'd done a movie before where I was put on a horse that was way too lively for me and it got freaked out and created a bit of a hairy situation for me. Of course, I didn't tell Jerry Bruckheimer or Antoine Fuqua that I couldn't ride before I was cast. But once the deal was done, I rang Jerry's office and told them, "I have to start training on a horse tomorrow!" This was two and a half months before we started shooting in Ireland.
What can you tell us about your romantic scenes with Keira Knightley, who plays Guinevere? How awkward is it for actors to film love scenes?
I've done a number of love scenes and it's often a very technical process. You have to remember that we have a crew of 50 guys standing five feet away and we're all trying to capture certain frames and you've got to fill the frames to get certain images across. So it can be quite technical, and I suppose that takes away some of the awkwardness one might feel in that situation.
How interested were you to see the finished film? Any surprises for you?
Yeah, it's pretty extraordinary. A film of this scale and size takes so long to put together that the filmmakers and actors can't really see it in totality for some time. Seeing the finished film, I just loved the scale of this. I am very happy with the end result
You're currently making SIN CITY with Robert Rodriguez. How has that experience been?
I was just in Texas finishing up on that. There's lots of guns, lots of shooting, and it has Benicio Del Toro as Jackie Boy and Rosario Dawson as Gale. I play Dwight. It's a pretty crazy world these characters are living in.
Any truth to the rumours of you playing James Bond someday?
It's all complete media speculation and it's been going on for a while now. I think it's all due to a combination of me wearing a tuxedo in the CROUPIER and driving BMWs in the HIRE short film series I did for BMW. It's really surprising to hear these rumours because Pierce Brosnan has done such a fantastic job as Bond. He's reinvigorated that franchise and made the company a lot of money. As far as everyone knows, he's going to do another one and I don't understand why people just don't come out and say, "He's our man. He's our Bond and he's great." I don't know why they don't back him like that. But I can tell you that they've never approached me.
What was it like to work with Julia Roberts in CLOSER?
That whole experience was a huge treat from start to finish. She was so good and so nice that it was a pleasure, an absolute pleasure. We did a lot together in the movie. If you know the play, then you know that there are some very tough, emotional scenes dealing with the breakdown of a relationship. And when you're working with probably the biggest actress in the world you don't know what's going to come with that - you just don't know. And I was just bowled over by how pleasant and easy she was to work with. I was incredibly comfortable and had a really great time.
As an actor, do you feel that your career is always gaining momentum? Is your sense that the roles you get just keep getting better and better?
I've always been in it for the long-term. It's a lifelong thing for me. It's a craft. It's something I want to keep doing. And I'm hugely fortunate that I've been introduced to American audiences. I was never chasing the American film market, it just happened and suddenly the whole film world opened up and I was being asked to work with really great people, so I'm nothing but grateful. I was only unemployed for a couple of years in my hometown of Coventry before going to drama school. That was pretty tough. And I had a year or two of struggling a bit when I first left drama school, but then I landed the TV show CHANCER and that laid the whole foundation for my career.
Would you ever consider moving to Hollywood?
No, I live in London with my family and I'm very settled and very happy there. There's no need to live in Hollywood. It's not like every movie's made there. It's true that as an actor you go where the work is, but the work can be anywhere now.
What sorts of things do you like to do during your down time?
I've got about a 55-foot garden in London, not so big, but there's always plenty to do. But when I'm at home my kids are the center of everything. It's only fair because I usually have to travel when I'm working. They're 7 and 4, so they're just beginning to understand exactly what it is that I do for a living. It's funny - the other day my daughter said to me, "How much money do you get for your movies?" I said, "Are they asking you this in school?" And she says, "Yeah. I told them a hundred pounds." I said, "That's about right." I'm not sure she believed me.
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