Clive Owen Interviewed – ‘Children of Men’

     December 28, 2006

As I wrote in my intro to the AlfonsoCuaron interview the other day, I loved Children of Men. Loved. WhileI haven’t seen all the films of 2006, Children of Men is easily in my top five.

I walked into the screening notknowing much about the story, and I hadn’t seen a trailer. I knew somethingabout it taking place in the future, and the human race could no longer havechildren.

So due to my ignorance, the moviehit me like a ton of bricks. Unlike a lot of films that you can predict pointsa, b and c while you are watching, Children of Men moves around in itsown way, and all the credit needs to be give to Alfonso Cuaron, the director ofthis masterpiece.

It’s interesting talking to friendsabout this film. Most have heard about it, and a few are really excited to seeit. But I get the vibe that most people really don’t know how amazing this filmis. And I really think this is going to be one of those films that becomes ahuge cult classic, something that years from now people will re-watch andwonder why it never caught on when it first came out.

And that would be a shame. This isa film that demands to be seen on the big screen. This is a film that iscomposed in such a way that nothing is wasted, everything you see wasput there on purpose.

Now here is an unusual opening toan interview that I want you all to read.

Don’t.

At least not yet.

I’m telling you to not read thisuntil you’ve seen the film. Not only due to the spoilers, but due to therespect the film deserves. I think Children of Men will be infinitelymore powerful if you don’t know what to expect and if you read this, there is noway to avoid knowing too much. Imagine if you read a big interview with Harrison Ford where he discuses all the big plot points of Blade Runner and then you saw it, wouldn’t that take away some of theenjoyment?

When you decide to read theinterview you can do it two ways. First is to just read it. The second way isto listen to it which you can do by clicking here.

The junket was held in the middleof November and just like most Universal press events, it was a pressconference. But unlike most, all the questions were good and Clive Owen gave alot of great answers.

Children of Men has just opened in select citiesand it will be expanding in the coming weeks. I cannot say enough how good thismovie is. See it, you won’t regret it.

And if you want to read BrianOrndorf’s review of the film you can do it here.

Question:Clive, you’ve been a part of several films with really extraordinary technicalprocesses. The green screen of Sin City and the single takesof this. How aware are you of that process when you’re doing these movies?

Clive Owen: Yeah, hugely aware. Imean it’s one of the elements of making movies that I actually really enjoy. Ilove the collaboration of doing shots like those in Children of Men becausethere’s something about filmmaking that, you know, if it was just about puttinggreat directors, great scripts, and great actors together and you’re guaranteeda great film, that’s one thing, but that isn’t the case. There aren’t any rulesand there’s something sort of elusive that’s out of any individual’s controlthat makes a film work or not work and when you’re doing one of those hugelyambitious long sequences of one shot, it’s a genuine collaboration. It’severybody pulling together to try and make something happen and theresponsibility is a collective one. And the strongest memory from the movie washow much, how closely I had to work with the [camera] operator on thosesequences because we would rehearse for a very, very long time and it was verypainstaking and specific, but then when we come to shoot it, it has to feellike we’re catching it on the run. You’ve got to feel like you’re in the thickof it. And it’s all about pacing. If you hold a beat a bit too long, it willsuddenly feel a bit manipulative like he’s held there so we see the tank justover his right shoulder so we work very, very specifically about what we wantto see and what we want to catch. And then when we go for it, we’ve got toshape that up and keep an energy that is much looser than that. And they’revery adrenalized those sequences because there’s huge resets. It’s like, youknow, some of those big ones are four, five-hour resets to try and go again fora take like that. So everybody is very adrenalized gearing up to go in for oneof those takes and there’s something just a bit magical. I mean I think that technicallysome of this film is pretty staggering. The operator…most of the film is handheld and the operator did a really incredible job, I think.

When youwere doing those long single takes, was the direction from Alfonso to just kindof keep going in case you stumbled or something happened?

Not specifically, no. Somebody’sthere to abort if something early on goes wrong. There’s no point in going onand carrying on and blowing up the side of that building if very early onthere’s something that is obviously amiss. No, it was really about rehearsingvery, very thoroughly and then it was very cool of Alfonso because he then – sortof the pacing and everything – he then hands the trust over to George and Ithat we’re going to sort of do that thing. And the take… one of the takes ofthe big sequence at the end going through the thing, there was a unanimoussense at the end of that one that that was the one. Alfonso was then veryworried because the blood spattered on the camera and Chivo and EmmanuelLubezki said, ‘But that’s brilliant. That’s brilliant.’ But collectively at theend of that take, there was a sense – George, I, everybody – like that was it,we nailed that one. And Alfonso decided in the end we’re going with it becauseit worked. That was the best take.

Do youremember which take that was?

Yeah. Yup. Which number it was?

Whichnumber it was.

I think on that sequence it wasabout the third one.

HavingClare as a complete newcomer to this, what was it that you talked to her aboutgetting ready for the process of working with Alfonso and working with such aveteran cast of actors and was there something specifically that she came toyou about and asked you?

No. You know, she’s a verytalented and lovely actress and it’s just really about making sure that shefeels comfortable in that environment. She hasn’t done that many films and it’sa big film and it’s an ambitious film and it was just really… You don’t have totalk about it, but it’s just everybody’s very aware of making her feelconfident and comfortable. I mean you know it’s a given that actors do theirbest work when they’re confident. If the confidence goes, the work’s not goingto be as good so you’re just constantly trying to create an environment wherepeople feel comfortable and confident to do their thing. But she was lovely to work with. It was greatcasting. You know, I think Alfonso is a very sort of pure visionary directorand he just cast the best person for the part.

Could youdescribe these feelings of working with Alfonso and what qualities he brings asa director? What’s unique?

I was and now am an even bigger,huge fan of Alfonso’s. He’s very, very high on my ‘directors I’d love to workwith’ list and even some of his films that were maybe not as commerciallysuccessful I think are very special. He’s a highly original, talented … hugetalent. And when he first sent me the script, I wasn’t sure about the part. Ididn’t quite know why he wanted me to do it. It’s a highly unusual lead part.If you look at that character, he’s in every scene but it’s very unusual traitsthat he’s got. It’s not the kind of part where you can sort of do your thing asan actor in a way. It’s about sacrificing yourself to Alfonso’s vision and notgetting in the way of it which seems to me more important than doing anyacting. But I went and I met him and I talked to him and I found him hugelyexciting and he told me his whole vision of the film and his take on the movieand then I came on board and the first thing he said is, ‘This is now the bit Ilove. I love working with actors. I love the collaboration of that. We’re goingto do this movie together and he was very true to his word. I signed on well inadvance of the movie. I was shooting other stuff but we kept in constantcontact. I then, as soon as I got a break, went and spent a few weeks with himin New Yorkjust holed up in a hotel room talking about the movie, talking about Theo. Thecollaboration continued throughout. It was a genuine, really brilliantcollaboration through the whole movie. He kept me completely in the loop in allthe post production. He sent me various cuts and edits and there was endlessconversations and still now as we’re taking the film out there and sort ofputting it out there, it still feels like that. So it’s been a very, veryspecial collaboration and I do genuinely think he’s a very rare and uniquetalent. The thing about his movies is they are whole visions. They’re … Hedoesn’t do that thing of pandering to what he thinks the commercial marketwants. He makes his movies. He has a very singular vision and he goes out thereand does that. I think he’s very special.

Did youknow the P.D. James novel before you came into this? And do you think there isa possibility for kind of a totalitarian society which the book and filmenvisage could happen in the U.K.down the road?

I didn’t know the book and I readit afterwards. It’s obviously like whenever you do an adaptation of a book, thatwas the starting [point] and the huge inspiration for the movie but then Alfonsohad a lot of other things he wanted to discuss. Alfonso, I think, with thismovie has been very clever. He’s actually using a film set 30 years in thefuture as an excuse to talk about present worries, concerns, and fears that weall have. It’s an incredibly relevant vision of the future because he’s reallylooking ahead and saying ‘if we’re not careful, this is where things could begoing.’ And I don’t think the film is that futuristic. If you look at theopening scene, my character walks into a café, walks outside, and a bomb goesoff. The beginning of the movie. That’s the world we’re in. That’s notfuturistic, you know. That’s incredibly relevant. And I think it’s not that …it isn’t that farfetched. There are endless images in this movie that we’veseen that we are sort of already familiar with and he’s obviously taken itfurther than the real thing but I just don’t think it’s…it’s not a fantasy.

Can youtell me how the scene of the child’s birth was done? Did you actually have ababy there or was it a doll?

There were a number of sequencesin this where Alfonso was hugely ambitious. You know, we’ve talked about thelong one-shot deals. Now when you’re rehearsing and setting one of those up allday long and the light goes and you haven’t turned the camera over and you’vegot to come back and carry on tomorrow, you can imagine the phone calls thatfly around that evening with the studio going, ‘What is he doing? We haven’tturned over?’ And he had that sort of a tack on certain sequences and the childbirth was one of those because we get there and he says, ‘I want to do it inone — the whole sequence — from the minute we come into that room to the babybeing born.’ His sort of objective aboutthis movie is to keep trying to viscerally put you in the action and the bestway of doing that is to keep it as much real time as possible and to not cutaway and not do this sort of manipulative, single, single, where you feel youknow the sort of territory you’re in – the movie territory. He wanted to putyou into the thick of it so that scene was about just trying to viscerallyconnect with the audience. That was the thing. Now I was present at the birthof both of my two children so I had those things to draw on. I was in the thickof it both times and I remember feeling a bit like Theo does in the movie. Thestrongest thing that I remember from that day was towards the end of the shootit was a very, very long day and we went well into the evening because it wasonly one take and we had to make sure we had it. And Alfonso goes, ‘We’ve gotto just try one more.’ And we would just keep going and keep going and we went,you know, the day turned into a night shoot as well.

So wasthat a doll or a baby?

No, there was an animatronic babyand some CGI stuff was done afterwards. But again it was…you’ve got all thecamera work to consider, you’ve got the pacing of the scene because ultimately… It’s very special when a director gives actorsthe responsibility of a scene of that length because we have to pace it in someway. We are dictating the pace, we have to keep the scene alive and it puts alot of responsibility on the actors. But also technically it was very demandingfor the operator again because the whole movement of the camera at the very endwhen the baby arrives it’s incredibly specific where that camera has to settleand sit so again it was one of those genuine collaborations where everybody was coming together and trying to achievesomething pretty extraordinary.

I saw youas what I would call almost a reluctant hero, your character, an average manimprobably thrown into an extraordinary situation. One of the things thatstruck me, I want to ask you, being barefoot. I mean it was just that wholesense of immediacy. Were you really barefoot most of that time running?

For some of it. I mean it’s ahighly unusual lead character for a movie of this size really because the firsthalf of the movie the guy doesn’t even want to be there. The guy’s dragged intothe movie. He’s very reluctant. It’s very unusual to play a lead character thatis apathetic, cynical, depressed, drunk, sad really, overwhelming sadness wasthe thing. Now they are unusual traits. That’s not usually the sort of leadcharacter of a movie and eventually he does become engaged. It’s about the last… Theo sort of embodies the loss of hope. There’s a hopelessness about him.He’s given up. He’s given up. There is no point to anything. But through themovie he does become engaged again. Now the thing about the feet. People sortof crack jokes about the flip flops and things but it’s actually a real strokeof genius because there’s a point in the movie later on where suddenly Theo isbecoming active. He’s become engaged again and he’s running around trying tosave this girl which in turn could save the world and Alfonso, who has a hugesort of aversion to sentimentality, to stop any notion of we’ve seen thiscliché where our guy’s gonna become active and do it, he put me in flip flops. Andthat’s never going to become the cliché action guy. It’s like it’s not going tohappen. So that was a very deliberate thing on his part and then the thing justdeveloped – the foot fetish developed throughout the movie. [laughs]

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I havetwo questions. One about working with Michael Caine. Those scenes are justamazing. He seemed almost like the heart of the movie. And also could you talka little bit about shooting the film after I believe the bombs had gone off inLondon and what the feeling was and maybe with people even standing aroundwatching you.

Well Michael Caine is just a … Youknow, he’s just a legend. He’s been at the top as long as I’ve been around andthere’s a reason because he’s just a fantastic and very special talent and wehad a very strong connection because we’ve both done a couple films with MikeHodges. He did the original Get Carter which was an important film in Michael’scareer and Croupier was a very important film in my career and so we had thatstrong connection. And the most important thing in those scenes was that that’sthe one place where Theo relaxes. The rest of the time he’s a defeated, verysad person. But then there’s a light, there’s a warmth, there’s a humanity abouttheir relationship so we just had to look like we were really comfortable andhe’s my best friend. He’s the guy that, you know… So that’s what we had to nailin just those few scenes we had. And he was a delight to work with. The bombingscene, the scene at the beginning of the movie where the bomb goes off, was theworst day’s filming. It was really upsetting for everybodybecause it was close after the bombings and I was amazed we actually gotpermission because it was a big explosion and we were right in the center of London and it was justincredibly eerie and awful and it’s very poignant. I think it’s a veryincredibly sort of poignant and profound opening to the movie to have thathappen and set the tone and say ‘This is the world we live in. This is 30years’ time and this is the world we live in.’ Because you know I’ve got twoyoung girls and the fear and the trepidation about the future is that thisfeeling of fragility and fear of these things happening … you’re bringing kidsinto the world and this might just become part of their lives. That’s just whatthey deal with and that’s an awful and worrying idea really.

ConsideringAlfonso’s ambition, was there ever a moment where you were concerned with thepicture or starting to think ‘Is this going to work?’

Personally, yes. With what I wasdoing, yes, because as I said before, he’s not a dynamic lead character and you’reholding a film. I’m in every single scene in the movie. When you’re holding afilm of this sort of scale and size and you are playing sort of sad andapathetic and the way you pitch that, you worry if it’s holding. You worry.It’s not like I can be proactive and take the character in the film and takepeople through the movie. That isn’t the kind of character and I knew… myinstinct from the very, very beginning was that thing I said is that I didn’twant to get in the way of his vision. It wasn’t about doing good acting in thismovie. It was about…he thinks very wide, Alfonso. He’s about environment. He putscharacters in environments. He doesn’t… if you notice, there are very fewclose-ups in the movie. There are very few times where he goes in on something,and there’s a reason when he does. But most of the film is done wide. There’san awful lot sort of just following me and you worry that as an actor that it’sholding because you can’t do the strong things because that’s not what’srequired. It’s something else. It’s about I felt I just wanted to serve hisvision and not get in the way of it and bring something to it, but you don’tknow where that’s pitching. You don’t know if you’re playing somebody who’sreluctantly dragged through the first part of the movie, you don’t know if theaudience is going to go, ‘Why should we even be going with this guy because hedoesn’t want to go on the journey?’ So there were times certainly where I wasinvolved, but he… you know, for me, the opportunities I’ve been getting in thelast few years are hugely appreciated and the opportunity to work with him wasa really great one and I think the film is one of those that later on in mycareer when I look back it will be one that I am very particularly proud of, Ithink.

Are youlooking forward to Sin City 2 and playing Dwight again?

I honestly don’t know what’shappening there because everybody’s talked about it. It’s been announced a fewtimes that it’s happening but I have no idea what’s happening there. I mean Idon’t know when they’re going to do it, who’s doing it. I have no idea.

Well thestory they’re doing is A Dame to Kill For which is before The Big Fat Kill. Areyou familiar with that?

Oh, I know that but it’s justthat’s been talked about and it’s floating out there as an idea but no one hasever talked to me about it.

Well thatdoes come from Robert so that is the story.

[laughs] No, he told me that that’s what he’s doing but I have noidea when or what’s happening with it.

I heardyou might have seen a rough cut of Shoot ‘Em Up.

[laughs] News travels fast. Yesterday.

I waswondering what you thought of the version you saw?

I think it’s going to be a prettywild, highly original, crazy ride of a movie.

What didyou hear from Mexico?

I’m actually going to Mexico nextweek so I’ll be out of town even more. We’re going to open the film there nextweek. I don’t know what I learned about Mexico but I adore working withAlfonso. I know all those guys. They’re hugely talented like Guillermo del Toroand Alejandro. They’re huge talent and I love the way they support each otheras well. They were all at the screening last night and I think it’s a veryhealthy thing they do.

Can Ijust ask quickly about Casino Royale? Now that that’s been put to rest, whatare your feelings on it?

I can’t wait to see it. I’m reallylooking forward to seeing it and I think he looks great in it so… I haven’tseen it but I’m going to see it soon.

Are youhappy not to be asked about Bond anymore?

I’m very happy in my flip flops inthis one.

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