Unlike many Hollywood hunks, Clive Owen is a solid family man. He met his longtime wife Sarah-Jane Fenton while playing Romeo to her Juliet at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. What's more romantic than that? The couple, who have been married since 1995, have two daughters Hannah, 12 and Eve, 9.
Boys are Back director Scott Hicks, who helmed the popular Shine, Hearts in Atlantis and the recent rom-com No Reservations, told us why he chose Clive to play his dad-in-distress.
"When I saw Clive in Closer (2004), I thought, 'that's what I want. I want someone who has that sort of stillness that is actually a mask for seething emotion because Joe is struggling to maintain despite his grief," Hicks said.
Owen, who has an extensive theater background, might come off as over-controlled or even controlling. Not so according to Hicks.
"What surprised me is that he was so easy-going. He's meticulously prepared. He came absolutely ready, totally focused but ready to enjoy himself, have a good time and make sure everybody else did too and that is a blessing. He was a sheer delight and made it fun".
Despite dealing with family tragedy, Clive's character Joe says clever and relatable things to his child like "Harry, did you just wipe your face with a dog?"
In a boutique hotel in West Hollywood, SheKnows met with Mr Owen, who is obviously proud of this sensitive, emotional yet funny film and especially of his young co-stars. Dressed in very dark blue jacket and pants, crisp white shirt and cute tennis shoes, Clive was the poster boy for casual elegance. Those intense, green/gray eyes lock with his interviewer as he earnestly answers questions...
SheKnows: How personal was this film for you, being a father?
Clive Owen: Very personal in terms that parenting has always been a huge part of my life. I've always considered it to be very separate from making movies really. I go off and make movies, I go home and I hang with the girls. This was the first script that really explored a big part of my life in that way and from a guy's perspective. I was very taken with it. I thought it was beautifully written, very accurate, very honest. It's sort of the ups and downs of parenting.
SheKnows: Was it attractive to you that the character had two boys whereas you have two girls?
Clive Owen: Yeah. We've seen lots of films with a guy and a small boy or a guy and children but the equation of a teenaged boy from a previous marriage coming into it, I thought sort of took you somewhere else. The dynamics became much more interesting. Because, you've got everything that (the teen) is carrying coming out to see his father. And then, he's got to connect with the little one. It's a very good way to explore quite complicated relationships within a family.
SheKnows: One of the reasons you are fascinating as an actor is that your choices are brilliant and all over the place (Clive laughs). Is there any method to that madness?
Clive Owen: No. You look at it afterward and put it all together and go 'oh my God!'. I trained in the theater and I'm sure that has something to do with it. I went in and played lots of different parts and that was the thing that excited me the most. That's what got me into acting. I suppose, when I do movies, the one thing that I don't want to do is repeat myself. I want to explore different parts of both me and what it is I do. This was just a film that ignited something in me. I'd never explored this. I was really excited at the challenge of working with boys or younger guys because that is a challenge. I'm an actor who likes to spend time with a script and prepare properly and you have to keep it much looser when you're working with a kid because, if you don't, he'll show you up to be acting because he's not. He's re-acting. It's very immediate. It's very real and there's something exciting about going in the same groove with him.
SheKnows: Did you meet with Nick (Nicholas McAnulty), the little actor playing your younger son, early to get some bonding going?
Clive Owen: Yeah. I made sure I got out to Australia nice and early. I took him out for days away from his parents, away from the film people. We went to wildlife parks. We went to Fun Faire. We went on our own and sort of said goodbye to everybody because I knew it was hugely important that he trusted me. The film had lots of fun times and some of the times were tough and I needed him to be able to trust me. When things were not very well (in the story) to not think 'why is Clive acting strange?' I needed him to always have faith that we'd always come back to the same place. The bond between us for the film was very important. You have to believe that we're comfortable and I'm his dad. Otherwise, you have no film.
SheKnows: He is on screen as much as you are. It must have been so important to get the right young actor for the role.
Clive Owen: Yeah. In the first meeting with (director) Scott (Hicks) I said, 'Find a great young boy and we've made a huge step towards making a good film because a lot rests on that kid'. It's a lot to put on the shoulders of a young boy at that age. I was thrilled when I saw Nick's tape. A lot of boys went on tape; lots of very cute, charming boys who would have been very moving and people would have liked but he was different. He was this bundle of unpredictable (energy) and the fact that he was so young. I think, two or three years later, it would have been a different thing. He was still in that sort of crazy, manic, obsessive phase that I think all kids are when they're very young until they get more conscious of everything.
SheKnows: But isn't it hard to harness that kind of little boy energy?
Clive Owen: We had to structure the film around his energy levels really because he was such a tender age (six) and in such an important part. You'd have to change ideas and change plans some days because he's tired or he's not on a good day and, for a kid of that age, you can't expect him to be. It's a very overwhelming environment, a film set. We just knew that he would infuse the film with real life and a sense of unpredictability and capturing that from him would really be the challenge of the film.
SheKnows: Nick and George (MacKay), who plays his teen half brother, have a great chemistry on screen as well. Did they spend some time together to bond?
Clive Owen: They did bond but George, the older boy, is such a lovely guy generally and Nick just fell in love with him and he's so great with him and it did help the film. George is a very, very fine actor as well. He's a very key ingredient because of the relationship he struck up with Nick and bringing all that alive. But, also, for a guy of his age (17), he's way mature beyond his years. His approach, his attitude, there's nothing accidental about what George does. There's nothing naive. He's very conscious. He just is a very fine actor already.
SheKnows: As a parent, how would you react if one of your girls had a party and trashed the whole house?
Clive Owen: Like that (in the movie)? Now that's trashed! I've got all that to come. We'll see what happens. My girls are too good to do that to me.
SheKnows: How do you think you would do raising kids alone? Could you do the laundry, could you cook?
Clive Owen: Oh yeah.
SheKnows: Would you "just say yes" to kids as your character does?
Clive Owen: I wouldn't. But, I would do the washing up. I've spent many days alone with my kids. It wouldn't phase me in the slightest really. I mean, when I have done it was only for a number of days at a time and I'm sure I wouldn't want to. I love having my wife around but it's not like I'd be thrown by being alone with the girls. I spend a lot of time with them.
SheKnows: Are your housekeeping skills anything like your character Joe's?
Clive Owen: Much better than Joe's. I'm actually pretty good at all that.
SheKnows: Should I let your wife know that and put it in print?
Clive Owen: (laughing) But I'm not a very good cook.
SheKnows: That's why there's take-out. Did you read the true-life memoir on which the film is based early on or just the script?
Clive Owen: I read the script first. I loved the fact that it was terribly moving without being over-wrought. The scenes didn't play out forever with people spitting out emotions everywhere but I found it very, very moving; very precise really. The scenes were small. Then I read the memoir which is much more anecdotal. It floats everywhere. It's remembering incidents. What I got out of the memoir more than anything was that humor was going to be very important. The emotions would take care of themselves in terms of anyone's going to find the idea of losing their wife or mother pretty devastating and is going to be naturally moving. But, just make sure that the film is also full of the wit and the good times and not afraid to be a completely full experience.
SheKnows: There is tragedy in the film but a lot of humor as well. What scenes were the most fun for you?
Clive Owen: It was a lot of fun and it was a good set. It was a very healthy set because there were kids around. Obviously a part of the film is tough and demanded a kind of concentration where there wasn't much mucking around. But, other than that, it was encouraged to keep it light and energetic because it was about capturing that kind of magic. There were a lot of scenes that weren't really structured. We just really moved quickly. For half of the pillow fight, Nick didn't know (the camera) was turning over (shooting). He's in it and we're having a good time. Running around the house throwing water bombs, he kind of wasn't aware of the whole thing. After his big tantrum in the car, he suddenly started eating crisps like that (indicates eating one chip right after another), and I'm like 'Roll. We need this'. It was fun and it was real.
An actor’s director
SheKnows: Can you talk about working with director Scott Hicks?
Clive Owen: It was a very, very healthy collaboration. We first started talking about the film quite a few years ago. He'd read it, responded and he sent it to me and I met him and I said 'I really like it'. But, through scheduling and all sorts of things, it took a long time to come together. But, we both stayed very loyal to it. We kept in touch and said 'we mustn't let this one go'. And, eventually, everything aligned and we made it. We had a very good time and I thought he was the perfect choice for this kind of film. There's a sort of delicacy and sensitivity, an intelligence about his work that would really suit an intimate piece like this.
SheKnows: What drew you to this project not only as an actor but a first-time executive producer?
Clive Owen: Well, the executive producer (title) is because I was involved at such an early stage. I was very involved in how the script was developed and how it changed. It was super radical but there was an awful lot of honing done over time; just taking out an sentimentality or anything that didn't ring true. So it was really to protect that, to acknowledge that we were going to go in and make this film together Scott and I and it was a very good collaboration.
SheKnows: How did your own experience with parenting and family life inform your performance in the film?
Clive Owen: It played into lots in terms of the situations we found ourselves in in the film. You can't help but pull on times that you've had with your kids. There was a lot of tweaking with 'that doesn't ring true'. Or 'it's not like that'. It didn't worry me to push the tougher times. All parents can relate to when their kids go into a funk and they've got nowhere to go and where do they go from here? How do you deal with a 6-year-old who gets into his little corner and doesn't want to come out? I really wanted to explore that because every parent will relate to that. We've all been in these situations so it did infuse quite a lot.
SheKnows: How was the shoot on this film? Beautiful South Australia country.
Clive Owen: The shoot was about nine weeks and we were in the most beautiful part of South Australia which is a very long way away from home for me. It took me 24 hours to get there. The house was a set that was built in the most stunning area. Literally, the shot at the end of the movie in the car was my drive to work every day. It was the most beautiful area. Apart from the heat and the flies, it was a very pleasant shoot.
SheKnows: What do you hope an audience will take away from The Boys Are Back?
Clive Owen: I've seen the film and I'm very proud of it. I think it's very rich, very full and it's terribly moving for lots of different reasons. I think it's a film that will have very strong resonances to all kinds of people. If you've grieved, if you've lost somebody it will be very powerful. If you've been estranged from your kids, it will be powerful or if you are a single parent. Parents will relate to it because that's what it's about really. Ultimately, it's about the ups and downs of parenting so I think it's a terribly honest depiction of that part of a lot of people's lives.
SheKnows: What's next for you?
Clive Owen: I'm actually not sure. There are a few things floating around but I haven't committed to anything yet.
SheKnows: Finally, give us your advice. What do you think is the most important parenting skill?
Clive Owen: (thinking) To love them.
I can't say it enough: the movie was amazing and Clive was so good in it. I definitely recommend it to everyone.