Career Prospectus: Clive Owen
(For previous installments of the Career Prospectus series, please click here.)
I wonder if you may be interested in doing a Career Prospectus on Clive Owen? I remember there being so much buzz around him a few years ago, not least because at one point he appeared to be the strong favourite to take the Bond role that eventually went to Daniel Craig. Looking at his IMDB page, it looks as if he has been steadily working throughout his career but it feels to me that the last big leading-man role he had was in the excellent Children of Men, way back in 2006. I would be interested to know your thoughts on this – does he regret not taking the Bond role (bearing in mind the doors it has arguably opened for Daniel Craig), or has he deliberately chosen to avoid the blockbusters/franchises in favour of a quieter life?
NOTE - I am from London, England so possibly I have British bias and he was never that big of a deal to start with?
I have a soft spot for Clive Owen because Inside Man is one of my “Saturday afternoon” movies—if it comes on TV on a Saturday afternoon, I will ALWAYS stop and watch it. Although he does take a hit for being in Derailed, still to this day one of the worst movies I’ve seen. But yeah, for an Oscar nominee and a guy who’s been in some very good movies (let’s pretend Derailed never happened) over the years, Owen’s career is not as brilliant as it could be. So what’s going on? Is it really all James Bond’s fault?
Here’s the interesting thing about those James Bond rumors—Owen denies them. In March of this year, in an interview with The Times, he said he was “never party to any of it”, referring to the supposed negotiations circa 2005. The Times has a pay wall, which is f*cking lame—what is this, 2009?—but you can read his comments here. For years, the conventional wisdom has been that Owen was in talks to play Bond in the twenty-first century reboot of Casino Royale, but that they couldn’t come to terms over a back-end points deal. The talks fell apart and the role eventually went to Daniel Craig, and many people have long pointed to this as the moment when Clive Owen’s career moved out of the fast lane.
I’m not sure I buy that Owen was never involved in talks regarding James Bond, mostly because the details of what happened were so specific, but I can buy that Owen doesn’t want to talk about it. And I buy that, whether he courted the role or not, not being James Bond has defined Owen’s career. There was a moment in the early aughts when Owen was a big deal—he broke out with 1998’s Croupier, gained traction in 2001’s Gosford Park, and then a string of mainstream Hollywood projects came along, from The Bourne Identity and the messy as hell King Arthur, to co-starring with a mid-reformation Angelina Jolie in 2003’s Beyond Borders.
He got an Oscar nod for Closer, and then in 2006 he posted up two great movies, Children of Men and the more popcorn Inside Man. But 2006 is also when Daniel Craig made waves as the new Bond in Casino Royale, and suddenly Owen found himself starring in a string of knock-off Bond roles in movies like Duplicity, The International, and Killer Elite. He went from being The Guy to That Guy, you know, the one who was almost James Bond. And it seems like he’s never really recovered.
Owen’s chief problem is not lack of talent—he’s plenty talented—or that he can’t carry a movie, because he can. Unfortunately, he came along at the millennium, a time when Hollywood wasn’t actively mining Brits. These days, producers and casting agents want those repertory-trained, comparatively ego-less talents who seem to pour out of London every five years or so, but when Owen broke out in 1998 Hollywood was busy birthing its last generation of Movie Stars: Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt. The only thing anyone knew to do with Owen at that time was make him James Bond, except that didn’t end up happening, so he’s been left flailing around in B-grade action flicks interspersed with the odd period drama.
A lot of these prospectuses end with, “Try TV,” as the best option for restoring a career gone stale, and wouldn’t you know it, Owen has a new TV show starting this week. He’s the lead in Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick, about doctors in the early twentieth century. It airs on Cinemax—not the most respectable network—but the reviews have been outstanding. So it’ll be interesting to see if heading up a (potentially) prestigious TV drama can jump-start Owen’s film career (his next movie is called The Last Knights and sounds exactly like Keanu Reeves’ awful 47 Ronin, so he could use a boost). Penny Dreadful hasn’t done much for Josh Hartnett so far—let’s see if things work out better for Owen.
The Knick premieres Friday, August 8 on HBO Canada.