At this year’s Toronto Film Festival, I was able to land an exclusive interview with Clive Owen for his new action-thriller Killer Elite. Also starring Robert De Niro, Jason Statham and Yvonne Strahovski, the flick centers on a retired special ops agent (Statham) who is tasked with rescuing his mentor (De Niro). I caught the film at TIFF and if you’re a fan Statham and the rest of the cast, it’s definitely worth seeing. Here’s the trailer.
During the interview, Owen talked about being at TIFF, how he get involved with Killer Elite, how he prepares for action scenes and how many takes does he like to do, and what’s the typical amount of time to get ready for a role. In addition, we talked about Philip Kaufman’s Hemingway & Gellhorn with Nicole Kidman (it airs in 2012), Alfonso Cuarón’s amazing Children of Men, upcoming projects like Cities, and a lot more. Hit the jump for the audio and transcript.
As usual, I’m offering two ways to get the interview: you can either click here for the audio or the full transcript is below. Killer Elite opens this weekend.
Collider: How are you enjoying your TIFF experience this year?
Clive Owen: I’m having a really good time. I have been here for what seems like the last 5 years. I also know it very well because I have shot a film here and I have made friends here. I’ve always loved coming here.
I have come around to thinking that this is my favorite film festival. I love the city, people, and the atmosphere.
Owen: It is true. What I think separates it from a lot of the other festivals is that it is very much about the people who live here going to the movies. Everywhere you go it’s. “Clive! I got a ticket for your movie!” They really embrace it here. It is part of the city. It is not just for the film industry people.
I totally agree. Were you surprised when Killer Elite got into TIFF or did you think that it belonged here?
Owen: It didn’t really surprise me because it really isn’t an action film. I think it is more than that and I think that is why they did pick it. It is always good news because I like coming here.
I’m going to ask two fun questions that I ask everyone. First of all, what is your go to karaoke song?
Owen: I dread karaoke. I hate karaoke. I can’t sing – that is why.
What is the last video game you played?
Owen: I don’t play video games.
Owen: No. I’m trying to think I have ever…no.
I’ve learned two things from you: no karaoke and no video games.
I have to ask, how did you get involved with Killer Elite?
Owen: It was the usual thing. The script came to me and I really liked it. I then had a look at Gary’s [McKendry] short that he did, which he won the Oscar for. I really liked that and I talked to him about the film and what he wanted to make and what he wanted to do.
Who had signed on when you got involved or was it coming together at the same time?
Owen: It was kind of coming together at the same time. Jason [Statham] was definitely on and then De Niro came on just after I signed on.
You have done a number of action scenes before in films like Shoot Em Up. What do you do to prepare for action scenes or have you been trained so much before for other films that it is just a quick refresher?
Owen: I don’t have to know anything new or take any new training. It is a bit like a refresher. I’m pretty good technically at that kind of stuff. It is always about breaking those big fight scenes down, and we have two big fight scenes in this. I am pretty decent technically. I know how to make it look really bad, fully commit, but still be safe. It is really just about putting the work in practically, rehearsing, choreographing, and making sure that it is timed. I approach it like how I approach dialogue scenes – it has to be believable. If there is some part during a fight where someone could do something if you were in the same situation, like, there is a bit in the first fight where I bite Jason’s arm. That comes from me being in the headlock and in that situation. We were going to do something else and I was like, “Guys, I am not trying to be funny, but if I was here I would do this.” I developed it out of that. I approach the fight scenes like that.
Clint Eastwood is known for doing two takes and he is out. Meanwhile, David Fincher is known for doing 90. Where is your comfort zone when it comes to doing takes when you are doing a typical dialogue scene?
Owen: Not too many. For me, I find that I like to do a few. I don’t just like to have 1 take, but not too many. I think it is good to keep it alive. When we did Closer with Mike Nichols, he didn’t like doing a lot of takes. Some of those dialogue scenes were really long and in one take. You come ready to work when you know that you are going to get a couple of gos and it. It kind of galvanizes everything and there is something about it that keeps it very alive. I find sometimes that if you do too many takes, it starts to become meaningless to me. It is hard to sustain it for me. I don’t want to do too many.
What is the typical amount of time that you take to prepare for one of your roles and what is the most amount of time you have taken to prepare for any of your roles?
Owen: It varies completely from film to film. Sometimes, it is very little. I feel like it is all there on the script and I don’t need to do too much. I feel comfortable playing it. Sometimes, I feel like I need a lot. Probably the most I have ever done and I took a bit few months out was that I just played Hemingway in Hemingway & Gellhorn I was going to do a film before it and then I realized that I couldn’t. I was like, “I just have to take this time and take some months. I really have to immerse myself. This is not a part that I can do a couple of weeks prep on and then start doing it.” So I took some serious amount of time to get ready for it.
I was going to ask you about that. How did you get approached for that material and did you feel daunted when you are playing someone like that? It is a big project and a lot of people are going to watch it. Does that influence you?
Owen: Of course, but the material was fantastic. I read the script and I was like, “Wow. What a great script.” And then you get a call from Philip Kaufman, who I am a huge fan of from The Right Stuff and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He is one of the greats for me. How can you not take that home? Of course, it is daunting and, of course, you are not going to keep everybody happy. The minute probably when someone blurt that I was cast said, “Well, that is fucked. What is he doing playing Hemmingway?” But, you know, it was such great material. Nicole Kidman was playing Martha Gellhorn and that is what you are in the game for – you take it on.
What was the one piece of literature that you really gravitated towards for helping you to prepare to play Hemmingway?
Owen: I read everything. I spent days in Paris with an expert, who took me everywhere that he ever mentioned, lived in, or hung out in. I went to Cuba and visited his house there. I went inside the house, which was incredible because of all of his record collection, clothes, and books are still there.
Now that you are looking back on the process of doing it, how happy are you with your performance in it?
Owen: It is hard to say, but I had one of the best times. I think that Phil Kaufman is one of the best directors that I have come across.
Owen: It varies. It really depends. I think it is probably because I have had quite a wide variety of movies. So it depends on what you are kind of into. It ranges everywhere from Closer to Children of Men to Shoot Em Up.
Children of Men is another thing that I wanted to address with you. That is in my top two of that year. I love that movie like how a fat kid loves cakes. I really think the longer it goes on it will be one of those Blade Runner kind of movies where people come back to it and realize how special it was. I also really think that people are going to come back to it after Gravity. I think there is going to be a reemergence. It didn’t really connect with a wide audience. Do you have any idea why it didn’t because it is fucking awesome?
Owen: [laughs] I think that it was…I don’t know. I don’t know why. It was a hugely ambitious movie and I think…when you say that it didn’t connect with the audiences, I have met so many people who talk about it like how you do. They are such fans and it is one of their favorite ever films. I think [Alfonso Cuarón] is a visionary director. I think that it was maybe a difficult film to market and place because it was so original in a way. There wasn’t a template for it. How do you put out a film like that now? I think it was quite a radical film and I think that he is a really special director. All I know is the same as you. When I saw it…I think of all the films I have done and I know that that one, even when I look back on it more, will be one I am very proud of. But I have also had so many people come up to me telling me, “That film is my favorite.”
Owen: I’m not sure yet. I am waiting and having a bit of time off. I just did a couple back to back. I did the Hemmingway film and I did this film with James Marsh, Shadow Dancer. Now I am taking a bit of a break and trying to figure out what to do next.
You are attached to a film called Cities. Is that something that you might be doing?
Owen: Yes. That is still not definitely confirmed, but it is something that I am interested in doing.
That is an interesting concept.
Owen: It is. I play a very serious hedge funder, who gets a bit over confident.
For more coverage on Killer Elite, here’s my interview with Yvonne Strahovski.