Duplicity: Interview With Julia Roberts


In “Duplicity,” Tony Gilory's screwball comedy-thriller, CIA officer Claire Stenwick (Julia Roberts) and MI6 agent Ray Koval (Clive Owen) have left the world of government intelligence behind for a scheme to cash in on a highly profitable cold war raging between two rival multinational corporations.  Their mission is to secure for themselves the formula to a product that will bring a fortune to the company that patents it first.   For their employers–industry titan Howard Tully (Tom Wilkinson) and buccaneer CEO Dick Garsik (Paul Giamatti) nothing is out of bounds.  When the stakes rise, no one knows who is playing whom, and the trickiest part for Claire and Ray becomes how they play each other.  As they each try to stay one double-cross ahead, two career loners find their plan endangered by the only thing they can't cheat their way out of: love. 


After he helmed his critically acclaimed 2007 debut, Michael Clayton, writer/director Tony Gilroy decided to return to the arena of corporate dirty tricks–but this time with an eye toward romance.  He created a story filled with twists and turns, using the backdrop of a cutthroat race between rival titans vying to be the first to bring a miracle product to market.  The heart of the story, however, is the emotional warfare between a pair of romantically challenged, strong-willed lovers who happen to be on either side of the corporate battle, or so it seems.


Of his research and inspiration for the story's setting, he shares, “The statistics of corporate theft are somewhere between $50 and a $100 billion every year.  There isn't a major corporation on the planet that doesn't have a competitive intelligence department with some form of either defensive or offensive intelligence gathering, which are basically spy units.” 


The filmmaker designed a cold war between two giant corporations in which the spies are actually trying to dupe their employers.  He constructed an intricate web of deceit between the rival magnates, and he inserted agents into the mix whose love is as high stakes as the scheme itself. 


How Do Scorpions Make Love


We meet Claire and Ray through a series of flashbacks that track their relationship, beginning with their first encounter in Dubai in 2003 and taking us through the plotting of their big heist in Manhattan of today.  When he imagined the couple, one curious question kept coming to the filmmaker's mind: “How do scorpions make love”  Gilroy elaborates: “I wondered what happens if two people fall in love who are both professional liars.  It's really hard for them; who else is there for them They're their own species.” 


The first time they meet, then-MI6 operative Ray is simply a mark for CIA agent Claire.  She seduces him at a consulate party in Dubai, drugs him and then ransacks his room to steal Egyptian Air Defense codes.  Elaborates Gilroy's production partner, producer Jennifer Fox, of the setup: “Claire leaves Ray with this smile on his face.  He's both completely taken with this woman and incredibly frustrated.  He needs to find her.  They meet again in Rome, have a lost weekend and decide to work together and leave their jobs with the CIA and MI6 and go private, to cash in and have one big giant score that will allow them to be together.


Casting the Caper


When he created his main characters for “Duplicity,” Gilroy imagined the two lovers as unable to be honest about anything, especially their feelings.  He needed to find performers who were believable as spy rivals and romantically complicated. Julia Roberts and Clive Owen were the perfect pairing.  Roberts was asked to come onto the project and play Claire Stenwick, Burkett & Randle's assistant director of counterintelligence (secretly reporting to Omnikrom). 


Clive Owen was brought on as Ray Koval, an ex-MI6 agent who now serves as Claire's contact officer (i.e., handler) at Omnikrom. 


Hollywood Glamour


About their on-screen pairing, Fox notes, “Duplicity is reminiscent of a certain kind of glamour from films of the past, and so it was terrific such glamorous movie stars at the center.  Julia and Clive have the kind of chemistry that no costume design, production design or location can provide.”


Effortless Julia


Though he's written for and directed a who's who of Hollywood talent, Gilroy admits casting Oscar winner Roberts as his leading lady made him a bit nervous.  “You get past your first, 'Oh, this is Julia Roberts and I'm working with her,'” he laughs.  “You watch her working, and it's effortless.  She's such a veteran and so smart about what the camera means to her.”


Roberts has spent the past several years raising young children and starring in successful ensemble pieces.  Duplicity marks her much-anticipated return to lead in a film.  The actor was fascinated by Claire and the fact that she was so romantically lost while so laser focused on her mission in work.  Too, she looked forward to working with her “Closer” co-star Clive Owen once again for the caper.  


From this season's The International to such thrillers as Inside Man and The Bourne Identity, some of Clive Owen's most notable roles have delved into suspense and theft.  He came to Duplicity through the friendship of another one of Julia Roberts' leading men, George Clooney.  Clooney introduced Owen to his Michael Clayton director and recommended him for the role of Ray Koval.  “I'd written for Clive in the first Bourne movie, but I hadn't met him,” says Gilroy.  “I'd been watching his work and thought he was just amazing.  When George introduced us, I went right away for him for the film.” 


Cary Grant's Charm


After reading the screenplay, the man whom Fox describes as full of “Cary Grant charm and charisma” was eager to work on the project.  “I finished the last page of the script and grabbed the phone and called my agent and said, 'This is the one.  This is the script,'” remembers Owen.  “I had a very huge, strong, instinctive response.  I thought the writing was brilliant and was very keen to get involved.”


Rhythm's All There


Working with Roberts again was a carrot for Owen, as was being directed by the man who envisioned the source material.  “One of the huge attractions for me to do this film was to get the opportunity to say this kind of dialogue with Julia.  It's so well written that, in some ways, you don't have to make that many decisions as an actor.  You have to sit in it like a very comfortable car and just drive it, because the rhythms are all there.  It's a joy when you've got that kind of language to play with, and to play it with someone like Julia, who is fantastic with this type of material.”


On partnering with Gilroy, Owen commends: “He writes brilliant dialogue.  It trips along, and it's got great rhythm.  It feels natural.  Within three pages of reading this script, I was excited by the dialogue and couldn't wait to go to work.  It's all there in front of you, and it's very clear what's required.  The advantage of a writer/director is that he's on set and can explain his initial impulses when he wrote the script. That's a very nice thing for an actor.


“At the end of the day it's funny, it's witty, it's very buoyant and it's unusual,” he continues.  “It's a guy and woman who are in love, but they argue a lot and they mistrust each other, as well as being crazy about each other, and that lends to a really entertaining experience for the audience.”