Despite his easygoing air and everyman sensibilities, Clive Owen is not your average bloke—just remember he has a Golden Globe at home in London and a brilliant 20-year career in Hollywood. This month, the husband and father stars in the new season of The Knick while trying his hand on Broadway…who ever said 50 was easy?
Clive Owen, the British heartthrob with an intellectual bent and a dash of the rapscallion—thanks to the still-lingering impression of his breakout role in the 1998 film Croupier—can make men and women alike swoon.
But on a late summer day, the afternoon before he’s about to start rehearsals for his Broadway debut in a revival of Harold Pinter’s Old Times, the 51-year-old Owen (who has been married to actress Sarah-Jane Fenton for 20 years) seems just like a regular, visibly anxious guy—in a markedly well-fitting casual suit and Bottega Veneta sneakers—who’s feeling the pressure from his first day at a new job.
When he was younger, he always dreamed about working on The Great White Way. “New York and Broadway seemed romantic to me,” he says. But when asked, on a hunch, if he’s scared of returning to the boards, Owen takes a breath and freely admits, “Yeah.”
“It’s been a very long time since I’ve done a play—14 years,” says Owen, who has appeared in productions at such esteemed London theaters as the Young Vic, Donmar Warehouse and the National Theatre. “I have to reawaken. It’s a different energy, theater, and I haven’t tapped into it for a long time. But it’s both fear and excitement.”
Owen has a warning for fans and audience members who come to see the Roundabout Theatre Company-staged show, known for its elliptical dialogue and narratives: Try not to ask, “So, what’s it about?”
“It’s not literal,” he says. Pinter’s plays “are stranger and more abstract than that. He refuses to over-explain his work. But the language is phenomenal. The rhythms are fantastic. It’s strange and sexy and provocative. It just feels very English to me. And the idea of me as an English guy doing Pinter in New York felt right.”
New York tends to be Owen’s home away from home these days, thanks to his latest hit drama, Cinemax’s The Knick, which begins its second season in October. On the show, directed by Steven Soderbergh, he plays Dr. John Thackery, a drug-addled physician in very early 20th-century New York City who must innovate complicated medical procedures at the understaffed Knickerbocker Hospital.
“The beauty is, I get to play a greatly drawn character that’s really well-written,” he says. “And you add in this addiction, which means there’s always so much to do. Every scene, there are things to play: How high is he? Does he need drugs? Where is he on the equilibrium? And that makes it so interesting.” Season one ended last fall with Thackery trying heroin for the first time. Season two, Owen explains, “gets wilder.”
Of course, just because he’s conquered the cable TV realm doesn’t mean he’s also an avid viewer. “The only thing I’ve watched every single episode of is Curb Your Enthusiasm,” he says, praising the cult comedy created by beloved curmudgeon Larry David. “It’s so funny. It’s a show about how excruciating life can be sometimes. I sit through most of it going, ‘No, no, no.’ But I relish it at the same time.”
It’s perhaps not the most expected choice for a man who seems to embody the suave qualities of say, a modern 007. Instead, he, like all of us, has an inner Larry David. But Curb Your Enthusiasm is also the quintessential send-up of Hollywood show business, a world in which Owen, who resides in London, gets to dip his fancy-sneaker-clad toes into every now and again. Surprisingly, the actor has shot only one film in Los Angeles. “Years ago, when I was very young,” he says, somewhat cryptically, adding: “I don’t talk about that film.”
Did “that film” happen to also star Halle Berry? “Yeah,” he says, with a knowing chuckle.
He has reason to laugh: The English Midlands native has come a long way from the critically panned The Rich Man’s Wife, a 1996 blink-and-you-missed-it psychological thriller.
“When I first started, if [a British actor auditioned] for an American movie, you were always going up for a bad guy, and then it kind of opened up,” Owen recalls. “The whole film market is so much more international than it used to be. People can be from anywhere now. It wasn’t like that when I was young.”
Still, Owen has managed to have a long and varied career. Projects like Croupier, Mike Nichols’ Closer, Sin City, the futuristic Children of Men and now The Knick have illustrated the full range of his acting chops, cemented his heartthrob status, and turned him into a sartorial model for stylish men everywhere.
“I’ve always liked clothes,” he says, adding that he selects all of his outfits himself rather than working with a stylist. “I could never have someone tell me what to wear. Not in my life, no.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t occasionally embarrass his teenage daughters, Hannah and Eve. “I once wore—which I loved—a green velvet jacket to some event and my kids were appalled,” he recalls. “It looked great. They were young. They didn’t know.”
Hannah plans to follow in the family business: She was just accepted into the foundation course in acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which Owen himself attended in the 1980s. “She’s going to have a little look: It’s two terms, and then she’ll take stock and decide if she wants to apply full time to drama school,” he says.
So there’s still time to stop her yet?
“I wouldn’t,” he insists, laughing that hearty Clive Owen laugh. “She’s actually really good, and I’ve had too good of a time.”
Written by Marshall Heyman
Photography by Randall Mesdon
Styling by Julie Ragolia