Clive Owen is best known for films such as Children of Men, Closer, for which he won a Golden Globe, and Croupier. As part of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival he took part in a question-and-answer session yesterday moderated by The National's Ed Lake. Despite his reputation as a movie hard man with a dry wit, the actor revealed an unscripted enthusiasm for renewable energy after a visit to Abu Dhabi's city of the future, Masdar.
EL: I understand that you took a tour of Masdar.
CO: I did, yeah.
EL: How did you find it?
CO: It was hugely impressive. It was very exciting, actually. Honestly, it was like looking at a city from the future. It's very exciting because all the sort of work they're doing there, the pooling of the resources and the brains and the information, in terms of the world of renewable energy, which is obviously a huge concern for everybody at the moment. It looks like it's going to become hugely important for everybody because they've got the biggest sort of solar power-area there in the world. They're just pooling all the sort of people who are very brilliant in this area. I think the thing is, about that whole area, is every country is developing their own thing but it hasn't been united and it seems that what they're trying to develop there is ... you know, they're setting up an institute, they hope to have 800 students in a few years there, all working towards the same aims. And I found it was very exciting.
EL: Is that how you find environmental issues in general?
CO: I think the whole world is at the moment. I think everyone's become very, very conscious and it's something that everybody is aware of and everybody understands the importance of. And I just think it's really brilliant to be spending serious money in that area, and also just bringing people together. It just means that hopefully everything will advance quicker, because if people aren't working alone and they're pooling everything that they know, then things will advance quicker. So I found the place to be hugely exciting, and it would also make an amazing set for a science fiction movie (laughter), because it literally is like a city from the future.
EL: Any plans to put together a science fiction movie of your own?
CO: I have thought of directing at various times, yeah, but it's a very different rhythm from acting. I love acting, but when you direct a movie it's a minimum of two years, really, and the whole getting the film up and getting it ready to be made, it's a long process, then you shoot the film, and then there's a long, long process of editing and putting the film out. An actor can do three, four films in that time. So although I do think sometimes about directing, it would have to be a piece of material that I was passionate enough to want to just completely stop the acting for a while and completely just concentrate on that, and I haven't really found that yet, but it is something that interests me.
EL: As an actor, I guess, you kind of explore fairly fully the big-three media. You started out at as a stage actor, and then Britons will remember you fondly from the Chancer TV series. Do you have preferences about which medium you like?
CO: I trained in the theatre. That was my passion from a very early age - I did a school play when I was very young and fell in love with theatre and with acting. I trained at the Royal Academy, which is three years of full theatre training, and that was where everything started. But if I'm honest, I prefer film and I love film. I haven't done a play for a while. And I think it's great to do theatre, it's a very different discipline for an actor and requires different skills and a different energy and it keeps you very fit as an actor doing theatre, but there's something for me about the collaboration of making a movie that I really adore. I love the fact that it's the coming together of a group of very talented people and there aren't any rules, and it doesn't necessarily mean it will work; there's something very elusive about making a good film. You can put a great script with a great director and great actors and it can be an awful film. And I don't know why that is, nobody really does. There is something about the way the fusion, the collaboration, takes on its own energy that makes a film work or not, and I find that very exciting. I love working with talented people, be they a brilliant operator, a brilliant costume designer, you know ... that's what I love about making movies.
EL: Do you find that you can watch your own films? Is it a comfortable experience for you?
CO: No. It really isn't, especially the first time. The first time's pretty awful, to tell you the truth. I'm not one of those actors who likes to watch everything I do and look at myself in that way. You kind of just commit to it and do the thing. For me, film's very much a director's medium. Actors serve the material and serve the director.
EL: You're the paint, so to speak.
CO: I strongly believe that. I've worked with actors who should be directors because they want to take control of the project, and I think that's the director's job. So I try to work with directors I really respect and want to work with, and I find, you know, the most exciting relationship for me is the relationship with the director. But it's not because I want to help him direct the film. It's because I want to understand his vision well enough to know how best I can provide what I do within it. And you know, acting can be a very subtle thing, so you want to be in tune with your director. And that for me, when that relationship is going well, is the most exciting thing.
EL: Are there roles for you in your career that you kind of remember particularly fondly? What do you think are the parts you've had the most fun with or done the best job with?
CO: I've had such a good time. I've enjoyed myself on so many films, I feel like I'm very fortunate. I kind of look back and think that there were key breakthroughs, really, that happened. I mean, very early on I did a TV series called Chancer, when I was very young, which became a very big hit in England, and that kind of opened things up for me, really. And that was followed by a good sort of eight years of, you know, small British films, television, theatre, a mixture. Then I did this very small film which was hugely important in terms of my career called Croupier, which was a tiny film, didn't get released in England, was destined to go straight to TV and then got this very small release in America. [It was] championed in America, and got amazing reviews, and I came out of it very well. And suddenly this new whole film thing opened up from a very small movie, and that was hugely important in terms of it was the first thing I did that made an impact in America, really. And Closer was a big thing for me as well. That was because I knew the material very well. I'd been in the original production of the play and I loved the material, and got the opportunity six years after doing the play at the National Theatre.
EL: How is it being a British actor in Hollywood, and where's home?
CO: I've always lived in London, and I love London. I feel very lucky because I think, when I first started, if you were going for American movies the only parts that English guys got were the bad guys. That was all they wanted English guys for. The idea of an English guy playing a leading role in an American movie was sort of not really there. But it's opened up, and I think that's probably to do with the fact that international market becoming so important, and now I think movie stars can almost come from anywhere. It's like film is now a big international medium, and that must be to do with the fact that a lot of money is made outside of America on movies now. So I just feel very fortunate that I'm around during this time, because it doesn't seem the same as when I was young.
* The National
For more coverage of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, visit www.thenational.ae/abudhabifilmfestival