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Clive Owen ('The Boys Are Back')

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Clive Owen ('The Boys Are Back')

Rex Features

A formidable big screen presence since his breakthrough in Croupier, Clive Owen has become the preeminent Brit Hollywood A-lister. His latest film, directed by Shine's Scott Hicks, is the heartbreaking drama The Boys Are Back. Based on Simon Carr's book, it tells of Jow Warr, a father who struggles to connect with his sons Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) and Harry (George MacKay) after the death of his second wife (Laura Fraser). DS caught up with Clive to find out more about the film.

Would you have been able to play this role the way you did if you weren't a father?
"Not the way I did it I don't think, no. It was a big part of doing the film. I haven't, thankfully, experienced the huge loss that this young boy and his dad experienced but I did relate to a lot of the scenes of parenting. It was the reason for wanting to do the film, it's a big part of my life and I haven't really explored it in my work. I was also interested and confident about pushing the times where it wasn't easy, because I've been there. I was confident of pushing it to a place where people would say, 'He's not being very nice to the boy there', or 'He's not very likeable'. I was confident parents would relate. This is what happens when kids are that age and go into their tantrums."

Things you fear that you might experience must have gone through your mind when you were doing this?
"Everytime I read the scene where I say to the little boy, 'Your mum may not be around much longer,' I used to cry. Just the idea of having that conversation I found really upsetting. Sitting down with a kid and saying that is deeply upsetting."

Was it important not to cross the line into sentimentality and make the audience feel manipulated?
"We've all seen versions of this film where the mum's going to die, he cries and I cry, we hug and the camera pulls away - it's all very moving. It is a moving film but not in an obvious way. It's the incidentals, I love the unpredictability of the boy's responses. It's what it would be like for a kid that age. He's too young to fully formulate the impact of all this and it makes it all the more moving for that. We were a long time in getting the film up and running and in that time we were very keen that it wasn't going to be sentimental."

Did you spend a lot of time with George and Nicolas beforehand to forge a bond?
"The young one, especially. I got out to Australia early and all through rehearsals there was Clive and Nick time scheduled in, which was we go off and do something together. It was important, he had to trust me. It's important that he felt safe when we were doing some of the tougher scenes that he didn't think it was me going weird on him."

It's one of the key points of the film because you have to get the casting of that role right.
"Huge. And to get a 6-year-old kid with that much in a film. He's a central, big lead character in the movie and it was a huge part. It was a big step finding him."

Joe has very relaxed parenting rules, do you subscribe to his thinking?
"No, not as loose as him. It's pretty radical his approach to parenting. It's doomed to fail, you can't let things go that far. I think there's something to take from his theory about parenting, about listening to kids and being available. It's kind of radical because it needs a radical response to what's happening. He hasn't been at home much and suddenly they need a crash course in each other. It kind of comes out of that, I think."

What was it about Scott Hicks that made you want to work with him?
"From the first meeting with him I felt he was the perfect person for this project. His sensitivity, his delicacy, his intelligence... you look at this film, and you look at that boy at the end and go, 'Wow, what a natural'. The kid, what a find. It takes enormous skill and patience to bring that out of a kid that age, he's 6 years old. It's a real credit to Scott that he pulled that out of him. It's a film about the nuance of relationships and when you look at all Scott's films that's a huge strength."

Scott has described you as very grounded - has all the attention you've had over the years ever gone to your head?
"No. I appreciate what I'm doing and would never take it for granted. I'm sure it helps that when I was very young I had a taste of success by being in a TV series. I felt like I had a period of adjustment where I had a look at it all and it wasn't until quite a while later that things really opened up in movies. I kind of had experience and I realised that the most important thing is not to take your eye off the work. There are distractions and I think that's one of the dangers if you get success when you're very young. Ultimately, what you have to do is deliver when it's required. That is the be-all-and-end-all."

You're an executive producer on this film, do you have any desires to do more behind the scenes?
"The producer thing came about because I was involved right from the very beginning - years before we got it together. Also, it was a way of protecting our vision for the film. I just felt, because I was a key ingredient early on, I wanted to protect that vision. I'll produce if I think there's a reason for it, I would never say, 'Give me a producer credit'. It's got to be for a reason and I used it for this film."

The Boys Are Back debuts in UK cinemas on January 22.

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