Born October 3, 1964, in Keresley, Warwickshire, Coventry, England; married Sarah-Jane Fenton (an actress), 1995; children: Hannah, Eve. Education: Earned degree from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, 1988.
Addresses: Agent —Creative Artists Agency, Inc., 9830 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212-1825.
Actor in films, including: Vroom, 1988; Close My Eyes, 1991; Century, 1993; The Rich Man's Wife, 1996; Bent, 1997; The Echo, 1998; Croupier, 1998; Split Second, 1999; Greenfingers, 2000; Gosford Park, 2001; The Bourne Identity, 2002; I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, 2003; Beyond Borders, 2003; Closer, 2004; King Arthur, 2004; Sin City, 2005; Derailed, 2005; Inside Man, 2006; The Children of Men, 2006; Elizabeth: The Golden Age, 2006; Sin City 2, 2006; Shoot 'Em Up, 2006. Also appeared in a series of short films for BMW as "The Driver," 2001-02. Television appearances include: Boon, 1988; Capital City, 1989; Chancer, 1990; Class of '61 (movie), 1993; Century (movie), 1993; The Return of the Native (movie), 1994; Sharman, 1996; Second Sight (movie), 1999; Second Sight: Hide and Seek (movie), 2000; Second Sight: Kingdom of the Blind (movie), 2000; Second Sight: Parasomnia (movie), 2000. Stage appearances include: Romeo and Juliet, c. 1988; Closer, 1997; Design for Living, 2000; A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, 2001.
Awards: Golden Globe award for best performance by an actor in a supporting role, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for Closer, 2004.
After nearly two decades of film work, British actor Clive Owen finally attained a more international level of stardom thanks to a string of— quite literally—killer roles. Darkly handsome and adept at emitting a deadly cool demeanor, Owen seems to have become Hollywood's go-to guy for villain-casting, and there has sometimes been rumors that he would become the next actor to take on the classic James Bond role. Owen instead segued into more diverse acting jobs, such as a 2005 pairing with Jennifer Aniston as two adulterous business executives hoping to evade their blackmailer in Derailed, and opposite Cate Blanchett's Queen Elizabeth I as Sir Walter Raleigh in the period drama Elizabeth: The Golden Age, slated for 2006. "It's whether you're nurturing or protecting an image, that's the key," he asserted to Chris Jones in an interview for Esquire. "And I'm not. I'll deliberately mess it up.… I'm just a working actor. I always want my options to be open. I always want to do something different."
Born in 1964, Owen grew up in the Coventry area of England's Midlands. He was the fourth of five sons in the family, but his father, a country and western singer, left when he was three, and Owen only met him once, as an adult. His mother remarried, and their household was a conventional, working-class British one of the era. Owen's interest in the performing arts was sparked when he was cast as the Artful Dodger in the musical Oliver! at the age of 12; from there, he joined a Coventry Theatre youth group and stayed with it through his teens.
At Coventry's Binley Park Comprehensive school, Owen earned good grades, but seemed to lose interest in academics as his desire to perform grew. He nearly flunked out at one point, and a sympathetic teacher helped him strike a deal that would allow him to retake some necessary exams while studying toward the further tests he needed to qualify for university admission. Recognizing where his interests lay, the teacher also suggested he think about applying to drama school rather than a university. "But I was a very prickly kid," Owen recalled in a Times of London interview with Alan Jackson. "I genuinely believed it was something you couldn't be taught, and gave her my little speech to that effect. It ended, 'And even if I were to want to go, there's only one, isn't there?'" He named the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London, a school whose alumni roster includes John Gielgud, Harold Pinter, and Kenneth Branagh. Entrance is limited to a select few, and in 2005 the tuition and fees were more than $20,000 a year. His teacher dismissed the idea, reminding Owen that he came from a working-class background, and suggested a smaller London school for drama instead. But Owen managed to win the necessary interview for consideration, and his teacher bought him the train ticket.
In the interim, personal issues caused the hotheaded Owen to leave home and drop out of school altogether. When he learned that he had been accepted at RADA, he announced that he would not go. For the next two years, he survived on unemployment benefits, appeared in a few local plays, and earned extra cash as a pool hustler. Finally, he reapplied to RADA, and was granted admission. He was there at the same time as Ralph Fiennes and Jane Hor-rocks, two Britons who went on to enjoy notable careers, and excelled at the school. Just before he graduated in 1988, he was involved with a workshop for a new play, and when one of the stars—Gary Oldman—fell ill once the play was running at the Royal Court Theatre, Owen was asked to step in for Oldman at the last minute. His stint lasted a week, and won praise from drama critics as well as calls from agents eager to sign him.
Owen made his film debut in a 1988 movie called Vroom. Its novice director, Beeban Kidron, would later go on to direct the second Bridget Jones movie, The Edge of Reason. Owen then won a plum role in a new British television series called Chancer. It ran for just one season, but was a tremendous hit with critics and viewers alike. After playing a shady yet somewhat magnetic car dealer, Owen suddenly found himself a regular target of the notoriously overeager British tabloids. Still young and of a somewhat impetuous mind, he reacted to the intrusive speculation about his personal life rather badly, and gave quotes that made him appear arrogant.
After Chancer ended, Owen took a daring role in a film by British playwright Stephen Poliakoff, Close My Eyes. The 1991 drama co-starred Saskia Reeves as his sister, and the two become involved in a torrid affair that threatens her marriage. In a New York Times review, film critic Stephen Holden found that their "love scenes, and later their fight scenes, have a visceral energy that seems so spontaneous there are moments when one feels almost embarrassed to be caught watching."
Owen spent the next few years doing some forgotten British films before heading to Hollywood, where he was cast as Halle Berry's lover in The Rich Man's Wife, a 1996 film. It earned terrible reviews, and Owen returned to England to take on yet another somewhat daring leading role as a gay man in a Nazi concentration camp in the film version of an acclaimed stage play, Bent. But his career took an unusual turn with Croupier, a little-seen 1998 British film that suddenly began gathering terrific buzz in Hollywood when it was released in the United States in the spring of 2000.
In Croupier, Owen played a dejected writer who returns to his former job as croupier at an underground London casino, and becomes involved in a deadly web of blackmail and murder. There was even some talk of an Academy Award nomination for him in the Best Actor category, but it turned out the film was ineligible because it had aired once on Dutch television. "Owen conveys a sharp, cynical intelligence that rolls off the screen in waves whenever he widens his glittering blue eyes," noted Holden in the New York Times —though Owen's eyes are actually green—and compared him to several other current Hollywood leading men, but asserted "the actor he most strongly recalls is the young Michael Caine, who purveyed a similarly offbeat blend of iciness and affability" back in the 1960s. Interestingly, Croupier was also a surprise hit for its veteran director, Mike Hodges, whose last solid box-office hit had been Get Carter back in 1971, with Caine in the title role.
Hollywood seemed once again interested in Owen, and he returned for the obligatory rounds of meal-meetings with studio executives and producers. A few years earlier, the same experience had been soul-crushing. "The minute they'd go, 'Well, hey! Clive Owen!' I'd know they knew nothing about me," he recalled in the Times of London interview with Jackson. "When they'd say, 'So you do a lot of theatre!' I'd know they hadn't seen a single thing I'd done." But after the Hodges movie, his status suddenly improved. "My history in Hollywood begins with Croupier, " he told Lynn Hirschberg in a New York Times Magazine profile. "Before that, they hadn't built a radar strong enough to detect me. That movie changed my career."
Solid Hollywood roles were still slow in coming, and so Owen returned to the small screen in Britain with a quartet of Second Sight films, four gripping crime dramas about a detective who is losing his eyesight. He also appeared in Greenfingers in 2000, as a prison inmate who takes part in a national gardening competition, which was based on a true story. Beginning in 2001, Owen also starred in a series of well-crafted short films commissioned by German luxury automaker BMW under the group title The Hire. Each of the eight films was directed by a different star director—Guy Ritchie, Tony Scott, and John Woo were among them—and featured Owen as the anonymous "Driver" of a BMW spiriting away or otherwise aiding an imperiled passenger. Ritchie's wife, the pop star Madonna, was Owen's co-star in one of the shorts, titled Star.
Owen, reportedly, was the first cast member chosen by director Robert Altman for his star-studded film- Gosford Park, which was released in 2001. Owen played a servant at a lavish English country house that is hosting a long weekend of esteemed guests in the 1930s. In the 2002 thriller The Bourne Identity, he had a scant few lines of dialogue but maintained a gripping screen presence as an assassin sent to kill Matt Damon's Bourne. Critics singled out his brief role in that film, but wrote more scathingly of his lead in a 2003 drama, Beyond Borders. This movie co-starred him with Angelina Jolie as a humanitarian-aid physician, and was given a sound drubbing by most critics for its preposterous plot and tinny dialogue. A title role in the epic, $100 million King Arthur also failed to win over audiences; again, reviewers faulted this film on several fronts, but lastly for Owen's portrayal of Arthur.
Critics were more forgiving for Owen's part in Closer, a 2004 film that also starred Jude Law, Julia Roberts, and Natalie Portman, and was directed by Mike Nichols. The project was taken from a play by Patrick Marber, and Owen had been in its original cast when it debuted at London's National Theatre in 1997, though as the other male lead in the adultery-fueled drama. In the film version, he played Larry, the dermatologist who woos Anna, Julia Roberts' character, and does memorable verbal battle with Dan, Jude Law's character, in one of the final scenes. "Owen is stupendous as Larry," asserted Entertainment Weekly reviewer Lisa Schwarzbaum. "Tearing into Larry's viciousness, his competitiveness, his basest, most sex-driven animal selfis the throbbing motor with which Closer surges ahead; he's a galvanizing force."
Closer won Owen his first Golden Globe award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, and he was also nominated for an Academy Award for it as well. He went on to appear in a comic-book adaptation, Sin City, in 2005, with another all-star line-up of Hollywood talent. Subsequent film projects on the deck for Owen included a sequel to Sin City as well as a long-awaited screen adaptation of the P.D. James novel The Children of Men, slated for 2006 release. The film is set in a future where human reproduction has stopped, and the youngest person on Earth, an 18-year-old, has just died. Julianne Moore's character suddenly conceives, and Owen is the bodyguard sent to protect her. He was also set to star opposite Denzel Washington in Spike Lee's bank-heist drama Inside Man, also set for a 2006 release.
Known as a rogue and a killer on-screen, Owen leads a quiet family life with wife Sarah-Jane Fenton, whom he met while playing Romeo to her Juliet in a London stage production in the late 1980s. Married since 1995, they have two daughters, Hannah and Eve. The girls, he has noted, are far too young still to see any of their father's movies, and the often preternaturally calm villains he usually plays in them. "The idea of goodies and baddies has always fascinated me," he reflected in the interview with Jones in Esquire, "and what people consider to be a goodie or a baddie, because I've never seen any of my characters as baddies.… In reality, we're all made up of both. And it's much more interesting for me to play a character who has conflict, who's grappling with something, who isn't perfect."
Entertainment Weekly, December 10, 2004, p. 63.
Esquire, March 2005, p. 132.
Guardian (London, England), August 26, 1999, p. 17; June 9, 2000, p. 7.
New York Times, February 21, 1992; April 21, 2000.
New York Times Magazine, September 19, 2004, p. 172.
Observer (London, England), July 11, 2004, p. 14.
People, November 10, 2003, p. 137.
Times (London, England), January 13, 2001, p. 14.
— Carol Brennan