Clive Owen is walking through Highgate Cemetery in North London, a few hundred yards from his house, in one of the city's leafier suburbs. It's a fresh June day, and Owen, having recently completed a movie, has a lazy family summer stretching before him. But right now the British actor is contemplating mortality in a sprawling, run-down Victorian graveyard. "How much does it cost to be buried here?" he asks. Had he posed this question in 1839, when the graveyard was established, the answer would have been about three British pounds for a biggish plot. Nowadays you're looking at £12,000 to £15,000.
A short while later, over coffee at a nearby café, Owen will weigh this. "Not too expensive," he says. "I wouldn't mind being buried in there."
The stroll around the graveyard seems fitting, as Owen can sometimes appear a little moody. But the 44-year-old star of Sin City, Children of Men, and Inside Man has a sound reason for feeling a little below par today: He's just stepped off a plane from China, where he was attending a screening of Duplicity at the Shanghai Film Festival. Jet lag doesn't handicap Owen the way it might a pretty boy like Robert Pattinson. In fact, the heaviness apparent in Owen's eyes and the roughness of his stubble enhance his signature look. As he walks past the elaborate tombs of writers and actors (Karl Marx, Sir Ralph Richardson, and Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, are buried here), the moist gravel marks his box-fresh gray sneakers. Parts of the graveyard are overgrown with foliage, but Owen plows on regardless, eventually coming to a clearing, where he examines a tomb that sits beneath some overhanging trees. He reads out loud: "John and Elizabeth Owen of Lower Clapton, London."
Distant relatives, perhaps? "Oh yes," Owen jokes. "We're everywhere!"
The actor has lived in this upper-crust suburb for almost 20 years, but this is only the second time he's crunched the paths that snake through the cemetery. He recalls just a single grave from his previous tour, back when he was a drama student: that of the bare-knuckle fighter Thomas Sayers, whose bones are faithfully protected by a mournful dog carved from stone. On this visit he takes his time, stooping to read the lively inscriptions. "Look at this one," he says. "Emma Wallace Gray, died 20th of October, 1845, in the 19th year of her age, from the effects of fire, her dress having accidentally ignited 10 days previously."
After finishing the tour, Owen stands in the main courtyard and watches as a lame fox saunters around, oblivious to the human beings nearby. "I've got loads of them in my garden," he observes. He makes a mental note: "I've got to bring the girls here," he says, referring to his daughters, Hannah, 12, and Eve, 10.