Don't let the intense smolder fool you. While Clive Owen is plenty dashing and somewhat formidable in person, standing tall and broad-shouldered at six feet two, he's more sly grins than piercing stares—the opposite of the tightly wound characters he's played in flicks like Sin City and Shadow Dancer, his new spy drama. The movie is, in some ways, the Bond film he never made (he was rumored to be Pierce Brosnan's successor before Daniel Craig stepped in, as noted in a prior Details interview with Owen). Set in the 1990s, the film follows an MI5 agent who falls for a comely informant (played by Andrea Riseborough) with strong ties to the IRA.
Curt but not cagey, funny but far from clownish, Owen, now 48, operates at a pace both brisk and relaxed. He also laughs more than one would expect, making it easier to visualize the comedy he says he has in the works. Here, the actor talks e-cigs, Armani suits, and how he's changed since Details last caught up with him.
DETAILS: In a past Details interview, you kicked things off with how much you loved smoking before you quit. Have you tried electronic cigarettes?
CLIVE OWEN: No. They don't look very appealing to me. I've smoked lots of herbals—whenever I do films where I have to smoke, I smoke herbals. It can be very dangerous, when I find myself at home looking at the script, smoking an herbal, and thinking, "This is dodgy." But I haven't tried the electronic cigarettes, no.
DETAILS: Speaking of bad-boy accessories, you've been known to shoot a few guns in your films.
CLIVE OWEN: Me?
DETAILS: Just a few. But Shadow Dancer is one thriller that doesn't require you to actually fire a gun. What are your thoughts on guns in general? Do you own one?
CLIVE OWEN: No. I wouldn't want to. Keep them in the movies, that's what I say.
DETAILS: The film involves the IRA and the later years of "the troubles." As someone who grew up in the U.K., did the impact of the topic strongly affect your decision to take this role?
CLIVE OWEN: Not really. I took the role because I loved the script and I wanted to work with [director] James Marsh. But I have strong memories of the threat of the IRA being very present when I grew up. That was just part of everyone's life, really. Lots of evacuations on the subway, and the IRA were on the news practically every night.
DETAILS: When I think of Clive Owen, I think "tough," but I also think "crisp, tailored suit." Do you have a favorite suit? Or a favorite designer?
CLIVE OWEN: Yeah, Giorgio Armani. I have a lot of different Giorgio Armani suits. He's the best—classic, timeless, elegant. I've been wearing him for many, many years now.
DETAILS: And what about fitness? Do you hit the gym regularly or only when you're prepping for roles?
CLIVE OWEN: My fitness regime is shaped around whether or not I have to take my top off in my next movie. If I do, I work out hard. And if I don't, I ease off a bit. That's the truth.
DETAILS: Some actors say they have trouble shaking off certain characters. Do you ever find past characters sneaking up on you in your daily life? Like, you're yelling in traffic and you realize, "Whoa, I was just doing Larry from Closer"?
CLIVE OWEN: Not really, but you do get flavors of characters that pop up now and again. Something reminds you of something, and you think, "Oh, God . . ." And it's something you did in a movie. So I get flavors of that sort of thing, but not full-blown characters.
DETAILS: You recently returned from the Cannes Film Festival, where your other new thriller, Blood Ties, made its debut. How would you describe the Cannes experience compared to other festivals?
CLIVE OWEN: It was a great experience, and to be there with [director] Guillaume [Canet] and [costar] Marion [Cotillard], it was the perfect launch for that film. I love Cannes. I'm lucky enough to have been there a few times, and I really like the way they do things. It's a great festival.
DETAILS: Guillaume is French; James Marsh is British; your Intruders director, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, is Spanish; and Kazuaki Kiriya, director of your upcoming film The Last Knights, is Japanese. Are you secretly trotting the globe for collaborators, keeping a checklist as you go?
CLIVE OWEN: [Laughs] I just want to work with good people, wherever they come from. It's a combination of me looking for them and them looking for me. It never really occurs to me much where somebody comes from. The film I did with Guillaume is set in 1970s New York, and he's French, and Kaz [Kiriya] is Japanese, and we shot a film in Prague. I just think people bringing influences from other countries is a good, positive thing.
DETAILS: Are we ever going to see you in a comedy?
CLIVE OWEN: You might, yeah. I'm talking about doing one now. I can't say much about it, but it would be my first out-and-out comedy, and I'm quite excited by it, because it's very funny.
DETAILS: Nice. Now for a few quick-fire questions. First one: What was your first car?
CLIVE OWEN: Ford Escort. An old one.
DETAILS: Favorite cocktail?
CLIVE OWEN: Vodka tonic. Simple.
DETAILS: Best bit of advice?
CLIVE OWEN: Well, I can tell you the worst bit someone once told me about acting: "It's all about likability." [Laughs]
—R. Kurt Osenlund is an arts and entertainment writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him at @AddisonDeTwitt.
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