Clive Owen on Shoot ‘Em Up


Clive Owen is no stranger to action, but in Michael Davis’ Shoot ‘Em Up, his gun skills are put to the test as he has to protect a baby from Paul Giamatti and his mob of killers. Anyone who sees it will probably wish even more that Owen got the gig as Bond (not to take away from Daniel Craig, who’s also great). Speaking of which… Now that the Bond rumors have been squelched, are you glad people aren’t pushing you in that direction?
Clive Owen: First question. (laughter) I’m glad people aren’t asking about it anymore. Yeah, as you know, it was all sort of media speculation and of course, it’s good not to be fielding these questions right now.

CS: Did you have to do any special training for the physical demands of this character?
Clive Owen: It was physically really, really demanding. I had to get very fit for it, and throughout the whole movie. You’re shooting an action movie, so you’ve got to move fast because there’s so much to do, so much coverage to do those sequences. You’re doing 30 to 40 set-ups a day, and a lot of it’s very physical. I just trained and made sure I was in physically good shape.

CS: Was there a lot of special effects work involved here or did you really try to do a lot of this in-camera?
Owen: No, I mean, Michael is action obsessed. He loves action movies; he studies all the big sequences, and his theory is that in action movies it works better if you see the guy doing it ’cause it makes you feel like you’re the guy in there doing it. If you keep going wide and sort of stepping away from it, you don’t feel like you’re in the thick of it. He said to me right from the outset, “I want you to do as much as is humanly possible,” so I knew going in that it was going to be physically tough on me.

CS: Was there anything in the animation when you first saw that you didn’t think Michael would be able to achieve in live action?
Owen: Amazingly, the action in the movie is very, very close to the animation. It wasn’t really that. It was more seeing the animation and going, “It would be great if we can do it like that, because it was so witty and full of verve. The great thing about Michael’s action is that it has such momentum. It’s always going somewhere. It’s not static shootouts. There’s always a feeling that it’s got a real drive and momentum.

CS: What was the most dangerous and demanding stunt you had to perform?
Owen: The wirework was the toughest; the freefalling from the plane. The reason is that wirework is tough anyway because you’re hoisted very high in the air, then they drop you at varying speeds. They’re spinning you and turning you and adjusting you. It’s because it’s often not natural, because you’re being pulled and turned and twisted by machines. Your body is being taken to places that maybe it’s uncomfortable with, so it’s physically very challenging.

CS: Michael mentioned that you did about four days of wirework in front of the green screen. What was that like and how did you get into that head of what was going on with just that green screen behind you?
Owen: I’ve done a lot of green screen, and there’s something very straightforward about shooting action, because your objectives are very clear. You go shot by shot to achieve the whole thing. You know very clearly, because everything is storyboarded, so each shot is like, “This is what we’re trying to achieve, just that little bit there where you spin or that little bit there where you turn.” Everybody’s very clear, and you go at it, you get it, and you move on. That, in some ways is a lot more straightforward than doing a three-page dialogue scene where there’s nuance, there’s subtext and delicacies. I find shooting action to be quite a satisfying experience because it’s clear what your objective is.

CS: How did they do things like the oil slick?
Owen: I’m on a cranked-up cable and when they say “Action” they go (makes motion of releasing the cable) and I’m dragged at a high (speed) across the floor.

CS: The tone of the movie works but it could have gone wrong, so when choosing to do it, how important was it to know that it had a director that understood that?
Owen: I think that when you sign on for a film like this, you’ve just got to commit. If you have those reservations, have them before you say yes, because if you have them afterwards, you’re in trouble. You’ve got to commit to it. This is an insane film; it’s crazy. The tone is so ridiculous and wild, so you think about that and then you sign on, and then you just commit, because if you don’t commit, then you could fall in the middle and you can really fall flat then.

CS: Were there ever any discussions about the Bugs Bunny references while you were shooting?
Owen: They were always in the script, and that carrot theme was always there. It was one of the challenges of the movie for me, to try to make carrots look cool. (laughs)

CS: Have you signed any sort of endorsement deal?
Owen: At least it’s healthy. (laughter)

CS: What is it with you and protecting babies between this and “Children of Men”?
Owen: Never mind protecting… delivering babies on camera. (laughter) That’s the shocking thing. That was just the way it panned out. It’s bizarre.

CS: Have you been in any situation where you’ve seen a pregnant woman and she sees you and sighs with relief that you’re there in case she goes into labor?
Owen: My wife… twice. (laughter)

CS: What was your favorite scene in the film? Monica said hers was your love scene.
Owen: The love scene is a highly original, very witty. I don’t think that’s ever been done before. There’s a lot of scenes that I really love. I love the big action scene in the apartment that just keeps going on and on and ever revolving. I love the car chase scene–I think that’s a really well-executed sequence with a great physical gag at the end.

CS: How fearless is Monica to work with? The script asks her to do some interesting things that she does.
Owen: “Interesting” is a good word. She embraced the project and the character whole-heartedly, and I think she did a great job in the film. She plays a pure sexpot, and there’s no one better to play that. Even with some of the craziest stuff, she was completely willing to go wherever it was required. All three of us, you’d be crazy to come into a film and start saying, “Actually, I’m not really comfortable with this.” (laughter) The film is very clear from the beginning, and you don’t come into this movie unless you’re going to embrace it, and say, “Let’s go wild.”

CS: What does Paul Giamatti bring to the table as your nemesis in the film?
Owen: Well, Paul is a great actor, and I was thrilled when he signed on, because for the character of Mr. Smith, which is this contained, sort of dry, one-liner, and you’re opposite Paul Giamatti, who’s just a fantastic actor who embraces it and attacks it with such vigor. It was just a perfect foil for each other, and I knew we were off to a very good start with that cast.

CS: You’ve played a lot of heroes and anti-heroes, but have you ever thought of going completely in the other direction and playing a straight bad guy?
Owen: To be honest with you, 100% good guy or 100% bad guy never really appeals to me, and I read them sometimes. Even if they’re fantastic, wonderful villains, when it’s one-dimensional, when there’s nothing else going on, it’s a bit boring for me to play. I dunno, it’s a bit uninteresting. I can play really evil nasty, but there’s only one thing to play all the time and for me, acting is never about playing one thing. It’s only interesting if there’s more than one thing going on in it. If there’s some sort of conflict, some sort of subtext really, so playing an out-and-out villain, unless it’s highly sort of weird and original. If it’s just “there’s the bad guy.” We see that in the first scene and he’s going to be the bad guy throughout the movie, it just doesn’t for some reason excite me.

CS: Even “Inside Man” wasn’t completely a villain I guess…
Owen: He was a good guy! He was a Robin Hood! (laughter) I mean he was getting something for himself, but he was good to the little boy. He was exposing something that he felt needed to be exposed.

CS: Is it more liberating for you to play characters where there aren’t any expectations of you?
Owen: Yeah, I didn’t think there’s any difference really, because I think whenever you play a part… I’m sort of producing and hoping to star in this Marlowe project–Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. We’ve got the rights and we’re developing the script. There’s an area that’s very daunting because the greats have played him, Mitchum and Bogart, but I won’t be going in there trying to do something that relates to them. You go in there with a fresh approach, so I never really worry about the history of a project. I wouldn’t do “The Big Sleep” (laughter) but I’ll do my interpretation of Marlowe, and hope it comes even within the same radar as Bogart.

CS: The movies you appear in always seem to be so original, so do you go out of your way to find original ideas like this?
Owen: That is certainly a thing that I’m really excited by, and that’s why I did this film. It’s why I did “Children of Men.” It’s hard to come across original films. I mean, all films to a certain extent are derivative of other films. You can always see influences in films, but a genuinely original film, you think, “I haven’t seen this before. I haven’t seen this movie.” And I thought that with this film. I read it and said, “This is an action movie with a really subversive, crazy, irreverent wit. It was fresh.” It was fresh, like wow. It was its originality that made me want to do it.

CS: You’ve worked with some vibrant young directors. How important is it for you to keep working with these kinds of filmmakers?
Owen: It’s all about that now. Scripts are obviously hugely important. There’s no point in getting a great script with an average director, ’cause it’s never going to be anything more than an average film. “Children of Men” was a lesson I learned. I think he’s an extraordinary director, and I love Alfonso [Cuaron], but when I read the script I didn’t have a strong reaction to the part, and usually I have to have that. But was so blown away by him and knew that he’s a very special unique, visionary director, so I embraced that film, going in thinking, “Well, I haven’t got my usual strong thing but I just want to go on this journey with him.” Some of those sequences you knew that they were hugely ambitious and daring, and there was long development sequences. He didn’t shoot some days and that takes such bravery courage to make a film that way. You need that in filmmaking to make visionary films. You need people who can go the whole way, and he’s one of those directors that does. I had one of the most satisfying experiences of my career and I’m incredibly proud of that movie, and it’s a lesson in following the director.

CS: You might not be able to put every movie Paul Giamatti makes into a boxed set because they’re so different, but it seems like most people would be able to watch every movie if they did a box set of Clive Owen movies. Do you see a line through your work and the characters you’ve played from “Croupier” through this?
Owen: Well, I’m in them! (laughter) I don’t know. I’d say the last three films I’ve done would be a very tricky box set: “Golden Age,” “Shoot ‘Em Up” and “Children of Men.” I think they’d all be take off to separate… I don’t think they’d really sit together in a box set.

CS: After playing Sir Walter Raleigh in Shekhar Kapur’s period piece “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” are there any other genres you’d like to try?
Owen: It’s said, often by people that I work with, that I should do a comedy, but “Shoot ‘Em Up” is a bit of a comedy. I’d love to do a Western.

CS: How invested are you in the success of a film after you’ve finished it and gone off to do another film?
Owen: I think every movie you do, there’s certainly a responsibility if you’re in the movie to go out there and try and encourage people to see it, and you want every film you do for as many people to see it as possible for obvious reasons. But there is a whole world of people who are paid and employed to position, market every film and I’m not one of those actors who opens movies and you put numbers next to my name. I haven’t got that kind of career, I don’t think. I dive around and I do different things, so it’s more important that when I see the film, I think it’s good or not, to me, not more important–regardless of what the film’s like–what it does in its opening weekend. I’d rather be in good films and then what will be will be.

Shoot ‘Em Up opens nationwide on September 7. Now, go and read our Interview with Paul Giamatti.