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Owen, Clive (1964-)


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A brooding, talented and increasingly versatile actor, Clive Owen also provides an interesting illustration of the benefits of not achieving stardom until later in life. He was born on October 3rd, 1964 just outside Coventry. After school, he attended RADA, and made his film debut in a leading role in Vroom (d. Beeban Kidron, 1989), alongside an impressive cast including David Thewlis and Jim Broadbent. He quickly proved his credentials as a charismatic period romantic lead in Lorna Doone (ITV, tx. 26/12/1990), which he then subverted by playing a young man in an incestuous relationship in Stephen Poliakoff's sensitive drama Close My Eyes (1991). The TV series Chancer (ITV, 1990) made him a recognisable face and name, and, as it became more twisted and bizarre, showed his willingness to take artistic risks.

A reunion with Poliakoff, Century (1993), was less successful, and his career seemed to slide towards more commercial projects. The role he became associated with most closely in the mid-1990s was the laconic private investigator Nick Sharman, firstly in the one-off drama The Turnaround (ITV, tx. 5/4/1995), and then in a spin-off series, Sharman (ITV, 1996). This was hardly worthy of his talent, any more than Hollywood roles in such forgotten projects as the Halle Berry vehicle The Rich Man's Wife (US, 1996) were useful for his career.

A more notable project was his 1994 appearance at the Donmar Warehouse in Noël Coward's Design For Living. He later collaborated with its director, Sean Mathias, for the underrated film of Martin Sherman's controversial Bent (1997), stretching himself for the first time since the Poliakoff films as a gay thrill-seeking Jew who ends up incarcerated in a concentration camp. He also revisited television with greater success in a series of films, Second Sight (BBC, 1999) as he played a detective, Ross Tanner, simultaneously affected by growing blindness and paranormal visions. He also made an enjoyable romantic lead in the light-hearted prison gardening comedy Greenfingers (UK/US, d. Joel Hershman, 2000).

However, the two projects which propelled him into the A-list were Mike Hodges' Croupier (France/UK/Germany/Ireland, 1998), and a series of short films made for BMW, in which he played a mysterious figure known only as The Driver for directors including Tony Scott, Wong Kar-Wai and John Woo. Croupier was released in the UK to fair reviews but box-office indifference, but, upon its eventual US release, was greeted with critical praise and much stronger returns. Most of the acclaim focused on Owen's charismatic, focused performance as aspiring writer-turned-croupier of the title, and it was believed that he would have been Oscar-nominated had the film not premiered on US cable television.

As a result of this exposure, his projects took on a higher profile. He managed to stand out amongst the large ensemble cast of Gosford Park (UK/US/Germany/Italy, d. Robert Altman, 2001), was enjoyable in a pivotal cameo as a super-assassin in The Bourne Identity (US/Germany/Czech Republic, 2002), and, in a reunion with Hodges, highly effective as a former gangster seeking revenge for his brother's death in I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (UK/US, 2003). Inevitably, there were a couple of lesser works: Beyond Borders (US/Germany, 2003) was of little interest despite or because of its lengthy gestation period, and King Arthur (US/Ireland, 2004) was widely viewed by critics as being a lacklustre, uninteresting pastiche of history, with Owen's performance regarded as unsufficiently charismatic.

The same could not be said of his brilliantly thuggish performance as the borderline unhinged Larry in Mike Nichols' adaptation of Patrick Marber's play Closer (US, 2004), for which he was Oscar-nominated, and won a BAFTA and a Golden Globe, amongst many other awards. (Interestingly, he had first played the other male part Dan, taken in the film by Jude Law, on stage). He was dashing and charismatic in the (intentionally) cartoonish role of Dwight in Sin City (US, 2005) and strong as the mysterious bank robber at the heart of Spike Lee's Inside Man (US, 2006). Tipped to take over the role of James Bond, he allegedly turned down the part for fear of typecasting. However, he made a tongue-in-cheek cameo in the recent 're-imagining' of The Pink Panther (US, 2006) as Agent 006, allowing a brief glimpse of what might have been.

Alexander Larman

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Thumbnail image of Century (1993)Century (1993)

1900-set drama about a young medic's disturbing discovery

Thumbnail image of Close My Eyes (1991)Close My Eyes (1991)

Alan Rickman stars in this drama about an incestuous love triangle

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