Izumi Hasegawa: How much will Michael David (Shoot 'Em Up director) love the Guggenheim scene?
Clive Owen: Michael Davis has already sent me an e-mail going, "I can't wait to see this movie!" He knew about it because I told him about it. He's very, very excited about that.
IH: Was that the roughest thing to do?
CO: It was the most physical and it took a long time, and it was always going to be a huge scene in the movie, even from the very first time I sat down with Tom [Tykwer, director] to talk about the movie. He said, "It's not going to be an action film per se, but when there is action, I want it to be incredibly tense and very explosive," the Guggenheim being obviously the biggest set piece. It just took a long time to film. There were two sets built. The first one was of the Rotunda, almost to scale. The studio in Berlin wasn't big enough to hold that, so it had to be built elsewhere. Then the lobby was built as a set, and then we got in the real place, so that scene bled through the whole movie. It was incredibly well-planned and put together. We were walking around the Guggenheim months before shooting, with Tom talking to me about how he envisions the scene. We're walking up the Rotunda, and we had the whole thing really exquisitely planned out. I remember the first full-blown rehearsal gearing up to start shooting the film with stunt guys and everything, and we just mapped it all out. You got a very strong feeling at the end: if he comes anywhere near this, it's going to be an amazing sequence, because the thing about it is it's not just "get everyone in there and let's shoot out the Guggenheim." It's ever-developing. It's like you go in there and things keep changing and developing, and it gets crazier and crazier. But it's always this forward momentum I think I haven't seen in a film. It's one of the most exquisitely realized scenes I've been involved in.
IH: It's clear there are objectives they have to achieve.
CO: And also the fact that the guy I've gone in there to nail, we end up having to shoot it out together. That's pretty original...
IH: Were you worried about falling over the edge of the low railings?
CO: That's very true, exactly -- they were very low. People were very, very careful. There were lots of sequences where they were squibbing up all the sides of the walls and we'd have to run...but always people are very professional and always plan those things. You're going to get little knocks and scrapes and tiny things because you will, because there's so much going on. But ultimately, you always feel that the people in charge of it -- somebody's job is safety first in the whole sequence like that. They call the shots. If they don't think it's safe enough, you don't do it, so there's never any real fear.
IH: It's refreshing there's no obligatory car chase. Any thoughts on that?
CO: I think that each location we went to has a big wonderful set piece. The thing about the Guggenheim that was important was that it didn't seem out of context with the rest of the film. You don't want to suddenly go, "Now we're going to do this amazing big shootout in the Guggenheim." It had to keep in with the rest of the film. It had to feel like it belonged in the movie, and that's why I think he did it so brilliantly, because it's hugely entertaining. To trash the Guggenheim to that extent with snow coming in there at the end, it feels like a movie but it's in keeping with what's gone before. It feels like it belongs there.
IH: A 1,000-car pileup on Park Avenue wouldn't.
CO: It could have. In the wrong hands, that sequence could have just looked like it was suddenly, "Oh, there's a big flashy shootout," but it doesn't feel like that.
IH: Is he the anti-Bond?
CO: No, it is what it is. The one thing for me playing the character that was very important was that there was no vanity. There was no time for self-reflection. The guy is only looking one way, and that's outwards. He's obsessed. He's a passionate, obsessive character. There's no vanity there, and it was important -- the way I looked clothes-wise, the way my face looked -- that I always looked like I wasn't caring about...
IH: He doesn't bathe.
CO: No, and he doesn't care about what he's putting out in any way, and that's not typical for a lead character in a movie. But it was important that the clothes looked down because there's no time to be thinking about how he's presenting himself because he's so obsessed outwardly.
IH: Does it take a lot out of you to get into this intense mode?
CO: Yeah, in this film especially. I'd say they were very different. You think of Children of Men, and that was a very apathetic, given-up character. This character has to drive the movie in terms of his anger, his passion. It's a paranoid political thriller, and the guy at the middle of it all is railing, saying, "You've got to believe me." You have to put that into every scene that you do because you've got to drive it, because otherwise, if you don't care crazily about it and people don't buy that you're caring, then people aren't going to go with you. So every scene had to have this drive and this energy and this commitment, and it does because it's not the kind of movie where you can ever, ever go on the back foot. You've got to be driving.
IH: What is it about ear-ringing in your movies?
CO: I don't know. In this film, it was to do with where he was at, really -- how fragile he is and how committed and stressed he is. It was a very good character thing.
IH: Talk about leading ladies Naomi [Watts], Julia Roberts...and you don't even kiss in here.
CO: No. I always loved the relationship within this film -- very mature, smart... We didn’t slip into the cliché of "now we're going to get together," but there's an attraction there. They're very close in the movie, and you feel in another time and place, they are the kind of people who got together, but it's not. They're committed because of their work ethic and what they're about and their sense of justice. That was always very maturely and intelligently handled. I mean, Duplicity was just a treat to reunite with Julia because I had such a great time with her on Closer. It might not look like that when you see the film. We actually did have a great time, and it's a hugely exciting script with probably the best dialogue I've had since Closer -- very different but amazingly written dialogue. It was just a treat for both of us to get our hands on, and it's a real banter movie. It's about two corporate spies who decide to team up to scam the companies rather than work for them. And they're also having an affair, but because they're both so good at what they do, they don't trust each other. They keep thinking, at any point, the other one's going to have the other one over. So each scene was incredibly fun to play.
IH: Tell us about the locations you shot this film.
CO: Well, I don't think I've ever traveled so much in a movie as this one. All the locations were great -- really amazing locations. The end of the movie, which is on the roof of the grand bazaar in Istanbul, was originally scripted as they go down an alleyway and there's nowhere else to go, so they have the showdown. So Tom is in Turkey looking for this alleyway, and the location manager says, "Let me show you this..." He takes him to the grand bazaar, through a shop, out the back, up some steps where this incredible world is revealed of a whole network of pathways on the roofs of the grand bazaar... No one has ever shot up there before, and I remember he called me and said, "You will not believe the location I just found for the end of the movie." New York has got a great atmosphere, both on the streets, and obviously the Guggenheim sequence. Taking over that big square in Milan -- we took that over for two weeks -- and then most of the film was shot in Berlin, which is really interesting architecturally. I think the locations play a huge part in this film.
IH: Were you up on that roof?
CO: Sure. The whole crew was up there.
IH: Was it safe? What was it like?
CO: There are proper walkways. The crazy thing is you go up there and there's a world. You can see into windows, people are working... There's a whole network up there.
IH: That was a bazaar chase...
CO: I was given a gun and a security man who kept a reasonable distance away, and we shot for a day or two of me just tearing through that grand bazaar with intent, with a gun in my hand. The scary thing is, if that was London or New York, people would've freaked. People would notice it and they'd react, but it was shocking how we did that. I mean, some people were genuinely thinking that we were being a bit crazy. They were, "Oh, you've got a gun in your hand. Anything could happen." But it was a very exciting way to shoot it -- to just get in there and mix it up with the real crowds.
IH: The film seems prescient.
CO: No, it's incredible how timely it is, really, because you consider they were honing the script for two years and then we started shooting the film over a year ago, and what's happened in the last year with banks and the way the attention is on them now and the way people are looking at them -- it's incredibly timely. When I was sent the script, I was sent a lot of research that it was based on as well. A huge part of the movie is saying, "Look at banks," and, "Are they using people's money appropriately? Are they completely sound institutions?" And the whole world is doing that now, so it's incredibly timely.
IH: Frank Miller finished a script for Sin City 2. Have you seen it yet?
CO: No, I haven't.
IH: Are you excited to?
CO: They've been talking about Sin City 2 since Sin City 1, and I have no idea. I know Frank, but I have no idea where the state of play is on making that. I mean, it literally has been talked about for years and, at various times, people have said there's a story with Dwight in, but I know literally as much as you do.
IH: That's why it's big that he's finished.
CO: Well, I've yet to see who's in it and who's going to make it and the rest of it, so as I say, you know more than me. I didn't know it was finished.
IH: How do you stay juiced about what you do -- not jaded?
CO: A few years ago, I got into a situation where I maybe did three films back-to-back, and I realized I really hate that rhythm. I think you've got to have appetite, and to jump from one film to the other: 1. it doesn't give you enough time to prepare properly; and 2. you get tired, and that's not good. The rhythm for me -- in the last couple years, in these films, there have been proper gaps between where there's been time to talk and prepare and get in the right place, and I've also been blessed that Tony Gilroy and Tom Tykwer are amazing talents. They're both as good a director as I can dream to work for, and that juices me up because I know that the people I'm working for have incredible taste. There's a confidence going in that you're going to be very well-looked-after and there's a good chance that the film will turn out well, so that keeps me very juiced.
IH: Did you used to worry if you don't take a job, who knows when the next one will come? Now you're more secure in your career...?
CO: It's slightly that, but it's also about being really tough when it comes to...you might want to do that film, but going from that film straight to that film where they've already started shooting and you've got to get on a plane and go, you're not going to be ready enough to do it justice, or you're going to be... I'm just saying no, I'll dictate the rhythm. And the rhythm is if that's the way it is, I can't do it. There is a privilege in knowing that there are things around I'm being offered, so it's not like if I turn that down, there's going to be nothing else there to take its place, but I think it's certainly important to me, in the way I work, that I have time before a movie begins -- that I don't jump from one to another. I'm not very good at it.
IH: What was the worst audition?
CO: There were quite a few. The days when I used to come to LA with a very small little film, like I'd come on the back of some tiny film that had a tiny distribution, like Close My Eyes or Bent, going around and doing the rounds then was pretty tough because you were meeting the assistant of the assistant of the assistant who asks you questions like, "Do you play goodies or baddies?" Or the common one was, "So, you do a lot of theater..." It was pretty soul-destroying, I must admit.
IH: Sin City...and Shoot 'Em Up felt like a comic too. Are there any other graphic novels or comics that interest you?
CO: No, I wasn't really familiar with graphic novels until I did Sin City, and then I saw Frank Miller's work and was blown away by it. It's so cinematic, his drawings. So I went into that because of what I saw of his work, and Robert Rodriguez and the rest of it. Shoot 'Em Up I did because it was so crazy and original, but there is no graphic novel that I'm desperate to do.
IH: Any plans for stage?
CO: I've been thinking about doing a play, but I haven't got one that I'm desperate to do. I haven't done a play for seven years. Again, I'd really need some appetite. I don't want to just do a play just, "Oh, I'm going to do a play for a change." I want to really want to do it, and there isn't anything that I've been offered or a play up my sleeve that I'm desperate to do, but if the right thing came along, yeah, I would do a play.
IH: What about directing?
CO: I think about directing, but again, it's such a different rhythm from acting that there is no script that I've suddenly gone, "I would love to direct that." I do flirt with the idea of directing, and I just would need to find something. The rhythm of a director is a two-year cycle as opposed to a few months for an actor.
IH: The International was longer, right?
CO: Yeah, but if you saw the state, Tom Tykwer is a workaholic who was literally, at one point during the movie, drawing the Guggenheim sequence, was shooting night and day shoots with second unit, going from one set to the other set and then back again... I mean, the work ethic from him is unbelievable. At times, I was generally worried, thinking he won't keep this up. But amazingly, he did. He ended up looking a bit like Louis Salinger, but…
IH: Bob Hoskins said directing was like being pecked to death by 1,000 pigeons every day.
CO: No, I think directing, ultimately, all comes down to taste in all aspects of what a film is, and the coming together of it. I think Tom Tykwer has got exquisite taste.
IH: Is International in the tradition of '60s European movies?
CO: It was, very much. All we talked about at the beginning was those '70s movies -- The Parallax View, All the President's Men -- which were intelligent, well-researched, people railing against corporations or against the system, -- both entertaining but also informative, and that was always the template for this film.
IH: How much do you do your own stunts?
CO: At some point, it becomes unsafe and I'm perfectly willing for somebody else to step in and do the dangerous stuff. I'm not one of those actors that runs around going, "I've got to do it all." I will do as much as I can for it to be believable, and I want to do as much as I can, but I have no qualms. If someone says to me, "This is now getting to a dangerous level," I'll go, "That's what this man is paid for."
IH: Do you do anything green?
CO: Yes, I'm actually doing a lot of renovation, and we are very much into looking for the most responsible way to do it.
IH: Solar panels?
CO: Exactly -- all of that, yeah.
IH: Do you know what's next?
CO: No, I don't. I'm unemployed.