In The International, banks are the enemy, and Clive Owen, a determined Interpol agent, is out to bring down the worst of them. The talented thesp with the distractingly deep voice sat down at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons recently to chat about the role and, because I needed to know more, the movie's greatest achievement -- a lengthy, carefully orchestrated gun battle at New York City's beautiful Guggenheim museum. For my money, it's the best reason to buy a ticket to the flick.
What is it about The International that made you say, "Hell yes," after you read the script?
The thing that attracted me to it was it felt like those '70s paranoia pictures. It was intelligent, it was well-researched, it was based in facts, but at the same time, it was obviously a big, exciting international thriller.
It also turned out to be a lot more topical than it was when you started shooting it.
I think it's amazing how timely it's become, because we finished the script a year ago and they were working on it for two years before that. Since we've locked the picture, what happened to banks around the world [makes us look scarily prescient]. The film ultimately does ask questions about whether banks use people's money appropriately, and if they're completely sound institutions.
The Guggenheim shoot-out is a technical wonder.
I think the Guggenheim sequence is one of the most exquisitely executed sequences I've been involved in. Months before shooting, [director] Tom [Twyker] and I walked around. He had the whole think mapped out, and showed me how he was going to shoot it. I remember when we did the first rehearsal with the stuntmen, you could tell how great it was going to be. And Tom executed it brilliantly.
Can you discuss what it was like to execute such an elaborate symphony of violence? I think people will be talking about it for a long time.
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. Then 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. We were walking around the Guggenheim months before shooting, Tom talking to me about how he envisioned the scene; he 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 because 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 it's always this forward momentum I just think I haven't seen in a film.
Your character is also more realistic than we've come to expect from an action hero. You genuinely feel his terror, and even feel the impact when he gets struck.
That's why I'd argue that this character isn't a traditional action character. For me, it's important when you're doing a sequence in the Guggenheim, it's like doing a big dialogue sequence. It's my job to help the audience understand what my character is going through. At that point when the shoot-out starts in the Guggenheim, the character would be terrified, that simply. You can do it in a movie kind of way and try to look cool with your gun, but I'm more interested in conveying what it would be like to be in that situation; that's my job as an actor.
The International also manages to rise about the typical action-thriller in that your character doesn't end up in bed with the female lead, played by Naomi Watts.
I always loved that the relationship within this film is a very mature. We didn't slip into the cliché of, "Now we're going to get together," but there's still an attraction there. They're very close in the movie and you feel in another time and place, they are the kind of people who could've gotten together. They're committed because of their work ethic, and what they're about, and their sense of justice. That was always very maturely and intelligently handled.
Duplicity is literally from a time when I was turning down a lot of scripts, and [writer-director] Tony [Gilroy] sent me the script. I finished the last page, and immediately called my agent and said, "This is the one. Get me this one. This is dynamite." It's some of the best dialogue I've ever read in a film. It's about a couple corporate spies that join together to scam their companies. At the same time, they're having an affair, but they don't trust each other because of what they do. They keep thinking at any point the other one's going to have the other one over. So it's just each scene was incredibly fun to play.