Clive Owen: Chasing Down the Thrills in ‘Shadow Dancer’

What thrills “Shadow Dancer” star Clive Owen? It’s not skydiving.

Clive Owen is on a bit of a thrill ride. His Brooklyn set crime thriller “Blood Ties” opposite Mila Kunis competed at Cannes last week. Then this week the news hit that he dragged director Steven Soderbergh out of “retirement” for an upcoming Cinemax series, “The Knick.” And now Owen’s Northern Ireland set thriller, “Shadow Dancer,” opens theatrically today.

Owen, 48, plays an MI5 agent charged with running a former IRA activist turned informant (Andrea Riseborough) in the 1990’s. Of the British actor’s performance in this “gripping thriller,” THR critic David Rooney said, “Owen is at his best in these coolly intelligent man-of-integrity roles.” So true!

A thrill a minute – but within reason

“The thing about ‘Shadow Dancer’ for me,” Owen told Yahoo! Movies, “is that it has thriller elements but first and foremost it’s a human drama. It has a very strong opening sequence about enlisting this girl [to inform on her radical Irish family]. It ultimately becomes about the human beings within the story, struggling to remain human in a tough time in a tough place. We’re not manipulating the audience. It’s much more about the people involved.”

The intricate period spy movie has a kinship with cerebral and intricate espionage dramas like “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” Owen agrees: “It’s not fast breaking. It’s not over-explaining. But there is an audience for that kind of intelligent storytelling without the energetic fast cutting to which we’ve become accustomed. I’m much more into a steady pace. If you’re in good hands with a director it’s worth taking the time.”

Thrills: Yes. Skydiving: No.

Owen doesn’t consider himself a thrill-seeker by nature. “I’m not generally. No,” he said. “I’m only daring at work. That’s where I get my thrills. I’d never do anything like skydiving.”

Will Owen play doctor with Steven Soderbergh in “The Knick?”

“It’s early days,” Owen said, parsing out details about the Cinemax series with Soderbergh recently reported by Yahoo! TV. “We are definitely talking about it. It’s a hugely daring and exciting project. I would play a doctor at ‘The Knick’ if we do it.” Of its setting at Manhattan’s Knickerbocker Hospital in 1900, Owen said, “It’s an amazing period both in medicine and New York.”

English Teacher, Novelist, Criminal, Spy? Owen is an Actor. Period.

Owen plays an M15 agent in “Shadow Dancer,” novelist Earnest Hemingway in “Hemingway and Gelhorn,” an English teacher in “Words and Pictures,” and a criminal in “Blood Ties.” Given all these alternative professions, what would Owen have been if he hadn’t succeeded as an actor? “That’s a scary question for me,” Owen confesses. “I did a school play when I was thirteen and I made a decision then this is what I have to do. It was a compulsion. I feel very lucky because just knowing what you want to do is a big thing. And having it pan out I feel very lucky.”

Bond Denied

It’s Hollywood legend that Owen was in the running to take the martini shaker from Pierce Brosnan as James Bond – but that the part went to his British rival Daniel Craig. Owen dismisses the possibility: “It was all a rumor but there was never anything real about it. No.”

TV or Movies: it’s Not an either/Or Proposition

With the TV movie “Hemingway and Gelhorn” opposite movie star Nicole Kidman behind him, and the prospect of a series on Cinemax with “The Knick,” Owen recalls two decades of TV experience. He got his first big break on the delicious British TV show “Chancer,” which ran for two seasons from 1990-91. Of that show about a charismatic con man, the actor said, “I was only a couple of years out of drama school. I’d done some theater and small film. That was my first lead.”

Owen denies having made a conscious choice between movies and TV. “I’ve been doing mainly movies. I didn’t want to become a TV actor.”

That said some of the best roles are now found on TV. “I wanted to do different, challenging things,” said Owen, “but the writing and the projects on TV at the moment provide the opportunity to tell a story in much more depth. In some ways, television is taking much more risks because they can be risky. They can take stories in different places and different directions, but for me the same things apply to theater, TV and film: the quality of the writing and the director comes first. That’s really the key to it.”

See Clive Owen in the theatrical trailer for "Shadow Dancer"...