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Playing the inept, reluctant hero in Children of Men suits Clive Owen just fine – but he feels he owes his young son a less adult role next time, he tells Philippa Wherrett in Venice, where Alfonso Cuarón’s latest film had its world premiere.

Clive Owen has the sort of GQ good looks that make women sigh. Leaning back in his chair, his legs crossed at the knee, dressed in a pale blue opened necked shirt and sharp navy blue suit, Owen looks relaxed and at ease. Yet something about the set of his grey blue eyes in his tanned face reminds you of James Bond’s easy charm and athletic capabilities. Makes you think that if paratroopers stormed Venice’s Excelsior Hotel, he’d leap into action and save the day. He is, after all, Clive Owen, who plays can-do heroes in all his films. Until now.

Theo, the hero Owen plays in his latest movie, Children of Men, is at best a reluctant hero. At worst Theo is a “disenfranchised character who doesn’t see the point of anything. He lacks all sense of hope, is full of cynicism,” explains Owen. Not exactly typical hero material. “Alfonso was very clear about wanting this very inept hero. The last thing he wanted was a conventional leading man for this movie. Actually we laughed quite a lot during the whole process at Theo and how pathetic he was,” says Owen. Theo is rendered all the more pathetic by his choice of footwear early in the film – thongs or, as Owen called them, flip flops. “It’s a stroke of genius really because there’s no way I could be conventionally macho and heroic if I was getting around in flip flops.”

It’s ironic Owen ended up playing a hero who is the antithesis of James Bond. Before Daniel Craig was officially announced as the new James bond, rumours were flying that Owen was in the running for the role, even though he never auditioned and claims he was never “officially” offered the role. “There was a lot of talk around, but I took this part. Alfonso kept giggling at me on the shoot “How can anyone imagine you playing James Bond with Theo peering pathetically around the corner, shaking?”

Then why choose to make Children of Men? “It’s not interesting to play a hero, somebody who’s going to say what they think and save the day. Nor is it interesting to play a villain who’s twiddling a moustache and everything he does is nasty. People aren’t like that and I don’t get excited about the idea of playing that,” explains Owen.

"highly original, super talented, one off director"

The other attraction for Owen about Children of Men was director, Alfonso Cuarón, who Owen credits as a “highly original, super talented, one off director”. Owen, who came on board very early in the piece, “when the script was quite an every-changing animal”, didn’t have to audition. Cuarón and Owen met in London. “I was drawn to Alfonso,” says Owen. “I’ve been a huge fan of his for a very long time. I think he’s a very special filmmaker, so I was very excited about the possibility of working with him.”

Children of Men is set in the not too distant future in Britain. Women everywhere in the world have lost the ability to get pregnant. There are no children in the world. The youngest person is 19 years old. With no children, there is no future. The world has lost hope and is gradually self-destructing. Economies are collapsing and illegal immigration is rife, as countries close their borders. Theo is comfortably numb to the world’s troubles, until he’s kidnapped by an underground anti-government movement, and meets Kee (Clare Hope-Ashitey). She’s pregnant and the rebels, headed by Theo’s ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), are trying to get Kee to a sanctuary at sea, where The Human Project is rumoured to be working to give mankind a future. Theo reluctantly agrees to help and when things go pear-shaped, Kee looks to Theo for help.

The screenplay, written by Cuarón (Y tu mama tambien? and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and his writing partner, Timothy J Sexton, is based on P.D. James’ science fiction novel, The Children of Men. The story has been changed to include issues the world is grappling with in the present day – migration, terrorism and democracy as a political catch-cry – making the movie more science fact than science fiction. What Owen calls “the ultimate low tech vision of the future.”

But Cuarón wasn’t interested in making a conventional science fiction movie. Children of Men may be a bleak view of the future, but “it’s a realistic vision about the present” says Cuarón. Sexton credits the bleakness of the story to where they wrote it. “London in the middle of winter is a great place to imagine the end of the world, because it’s cold and miserable and the sun never comes out.”

According to Cuarón, Owen’s ideas helped mould Theo’s character and were intrinsic to the writing process. “Alfonso was incredibly open and collaborative. It was a creative journey that we were going on together”, says Owen, who at one point hung out in New York with Cuarón for a couple of weeks, where they talked endlessly about the story. “I can’t speak for Tim, but I consider Clive to be one of the great co-writers of this script,” says Cuarón.

"life in general never quite made sense to me until I had kids"

Perhaps because he’s just starred in a film where children don’t exist, Owen, who says “life in general never quite made sense to me until I had kids”, is keen to make a film his children can watch. Aged 9 and 7, they are starting to give him a really hard time about not having seen a film he’s starred in. And Owen doesn’t want them watching Closer or Derailed. “I take them to see every kid’s movie that comes out. They just so want to be able to go and celebrate me in a movie and make sense of what I do,” says Owen. So don’t be surprised if the next film you see Owen in is Spy Kids 4. Just because he didn’t get the James Bond gig, doesn’t mean Owen can’t play the hero.

Published October 19, 2006

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Clive Owen in Children of Men

Children of Men – Australian release, October 19, 2006

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