CLIVE OWEN on 'THE INTERNATIONAL' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
January 29, 2009
In the corporate crime thriller The International, persistent Interpol agent Louis Salinger (Clive Owen) and Manhattan assistant district attorney Eleanor Whitman (Naomi Watts) fight to uncover the insidious misdeeds of the International Bank of Business and Credit, a financial powerhouse involved in a laundry list of illegal activities meant to further its stranglehold over world affairs. Following a series of leads that takes them around the globe, the duo unearth the disturbing realization that the IBBC's influence is seemingly omnipresent and undeniable.
The International features a myriad of visually charged scenes, from stunning architecture in Berlin to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. But amidst the film's international locales and its depiction of an amoral underworld of business, there is a single sequence that stands head and shoulders above the rest: the shootout at the Guggenheim. Set in the famous Manhattan art museum, this surprisingly action-packed climax boasts an epic amount of crossfire carnage, with Clive Owen's character improvising alliances and tactics on the fly as assassins assail him from all corners.
In this interview, Clive Owen talks about working on the movie, from the setting up the spectacular shootout at the Guggenheim to filming on the rooftops of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar.
MEDIA: What was involved in creating the shootout at the Guggenheim? Was that the roughest scene to film?
CLIVE: It was the most physical, and it took a long time. And it was always going to be a huge scene in the movie. Even from the very first time I sat down with Tom to talk about the movie, he said, "It's not going to be an action film, per se, but when there is action, I want it to be incredibly intense and very explosive"--the Guggenheim being, obviously, the biggest set piece. And it just took a long time to film. There were two sets built. The first one was of the rotunda almost to scale. The studio in Berlin wasn't big enough to hold that, so it had to be built elsewhere. And the lobby was built as a set, and then we got in the real place. So that scene bled through the whole movie. And it was incredibly well planned and put together. I mean, we were walking around the Guggenheim months before shooting, Tom talking to me, how he envisioned the scene. We were walking up the rotunda and had the whole thing really exquisitely planned out. And I remember the first full-blown rehearsal, gearing up to start shooting the film, with stunt guys and everything, and we just mapped it all out. You got a very strong feeling at the end, "If he comes anywhere near this, it's going to be an amazing sequence." The thing about it is it's not just "get everyone in there and let's shoot out the Guggenheim." It's ever developing. It's like you go in there and things keep changing and developing, and it gets crazier and crazier, but there's always this forward momentum. And I just think, having seen the film, that it's one of the most exquisitely realized scenes I've been involved in.
How do you think this intense, prolonged action sequence fits in with the rest of the movie?
The thing about the Guggenheim that was important was that it didn't seem out of context with the rest of the film. You don't want to suddenly go, "Now we're going to do this amazing, big shootout in the Guggenheim." It had to keep in with the rest of the film--you know, it had to feel like it belonged in the movie. And that's why I think he did it so brilliantly. Because it's hugely entertaining. And to trash the Guggenheim to that extent...There's no going in there at the end. It feels like a movie, but it's in keeping with what's gone before, you know? It feels like it belongs there...In the wrong hands, that sequence could have just looked like it was suddenly, "There's a big flashy shootout." And it doesn't feel like that.
What were some aspects of your character that were important to you to develop?
The one thing for me, playing the character, that was very important was that there was no vanity. There's no time for self-reflection. The guy's only looking one way, and that's outwards. He's obsessed. He's a passionate, obsessive character. There's no vanity there. And it was important--the way I looked clothes-wise, the way my face looked--that I always looked like I wasn't caring about ego...And he doesn't care about what he's putting out in any way. And it's not typical for a lead character in a movie. But it was important that the clothes looked down. Because there's no time to be thinking about how he's presenting himself because he's so obsessed outwardly.
Another quality of your character is that he suffers from tinnitus. Is that a metaphor for something specific?
I don't know. In this film, it [had] to do with sort of where he was at, really--of how fragile he is, and how committed and stressed he is. And it was a good character thing.
There's a certain bond between your character and Naomi's, but it never devolves into a token romance. How do you feel about their relationship?
I've always loved [it]. The relationship within this film was very mature, smart. We didn't slip into the cliche of "now we're going to get together." But there's an attraction there. They're very close in the movie, and you feel in another time and place, they are the kind of people that could have got together. But it's not. They're committed because of their work ethic and what they're about, and their sense of justice. And that was always very maturely and intelligently handled.
This film was shot in a wide variety of cities, including New York, Berlin, Milan, and Istanbul. What did you think of the many diverse locations?
Well, I don't think I've ever traveled so much on a movie as this one. And all the locations were great. Really amazing locations. I mean, the end of the movie, which is on the roof of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, was originally scripted as "they go down an alleyway and there's nowhere else to go, so they have this showdown." So Tom's in Turkey looking for this alleyway, and the location manager says, "Let me show you this." And he takes him in the Grand Bazaar, through a shop, out the back, up some steps, where this incredible world was revealed--whole network of pathways on the roofs of the Grand Bazaar. No one's ever shot up there before. And I remember he called me, he said, "You will not believe the location I've just found for the end of the movie." And New York's got a great atmosphere, both on the streets and, obviously, the big Guggenheim sequence. Taking over that big square in Milan...We took that over for two weeks. And then most of the film was shot in Berlin, which is really interesting architecturally. So I think the locations play a huge part in this film.
We understand that for the chase scene in Istanbul, you ran through the streets with a gun amidst a real crowd that might not have known you were doing a movie. How did that all go down?
I was given a gun and a security man who kept a reasonable distance away, and we shot for a day or two of me just tearing through that Grand Bazaar with a gun in my hand. And the scary thing is, if that was London or New York, people would have freaked. And [in Istanbul], people would notice it and they'd react, but it was shocking how we did that. I mean, some people were genuinely thinking that we were being a bit crazy. They were, "You've got a gun in your hand, anything can happen." But it was a very exciting way to shoot it, to just get in there and mix it up with the real crowds.
How much of your character's stuntwork did you do yourself?
I'll always do as much as [possible]. But at some point, it becomes unsafe, and I'm perfectly willing for somebody else to step in and do the dangerous stuff! [laughs] I'm not one of those actors who runs around going, "I've got to do it all! I've got to do it all!" I will do as much as I can for it to be believable, and I want to do as much as I can, but I've no qualms. If someone says to me, "This is now getting to a dangerous level," I'll go, [gladly deferring to stuntman] "That's what this man's paid for!" [laughs]
After all these years of acting, you still seem very excited about the job. What do you do to help keep yourself from getting burned out?
You know, maybe a few years ago, I'd go into a situation where I maybe do three films back to back, and I realized I really hate that rhythm. I think you've got to have appetite, and to jump from one film to the other...One, it doesn't give you enough time to prepare properly, and two, you get tired, and that's not good. And the rhythm for me the last couple years in these films has been proper gaps between, where there's been time to talk and prepare and get in the right place. And I've also been blessed. You know, Tony Gilroy and Tom Tykwer are amazing talents--like they're both as good a director [as] I could dream to work for. And that juices me up, because I know that the people I'm working for have incredible taste, and there's a confidence going in that you're going to be very well looked after, and that there's a good chance that the film will turn out well. So that keeps me very juiced.
On the flip side, what was the worst audition you've ever experienced?
[ponders] The worst audition I ever went on...There were quite a few. The days of when I used to come to LA on the back of some tiny film that had a tiny distribution...Going around and doing the rounds then was pretty tough. Because you were meeting the assistant of the assistant of the assistant who asked you questions like, "Do you play goodies or baddies?" Or the common one was, [slightly dismissive, condescending tone] "So you do a lot of theatre..." [laughs] And it was pretty soul destroying, I must admit.
Any plans to return to theatre?
I've been thinking about doing a play, but I haven't got one that I'm desperate to do. You know, to do a play I'm going to play for seven years...Again, I'd really need some appetite. Like I don't want to just do a play just for a change--I want to really want to do it. And there isn't anything that I've been offered, or a play up my sleeve, that I'm desperate to do. But if the right thing came along, yeah, I would do it then.