Boys Are Back: Clive Owen plays Joe Warr

Clive Owen plays Joe Warr in “The Boys Are Back,” which is being released September 25, 2009 by Miramax.

Scott Hicks was acutely aware that, much like Shine had, this film’s entire essence would hinge on a singular performance – that of the actor playing Joe Warr, who had to all at once be falling apart, raging against the darkness, indulging in black humor, covering the finals showdown at the Australian Open, and re-connecting with his sons on the most primitively playful level. It would take an intense performance from a highly skilled actor and Hicks thought early on of Clive Owen, who had never taken on a role quite like this one, but clearly had the depth to do so.

Owen first grabbed international attention in Mike Hodges’ tough, smart, modern noir, Croupier, playing an aspiring novelist who gets caught up in a heist scheme at a London casino – and deftly revealing his struggle to remain coolly detached even as he is seduced deeper and deeper into trouble. Soon after, Owen was awarded the Golden Globe® for Best Actor and an Academy Award nomination for Mike Nichols’ adaptation of the Broadway play Closer. As Larry the doctor, Owen played a man driven by desire yet yearning for intimacy and the The New York Times cited his “emotional self-exposure” as one of the film’s most powerful elements. More recently, Owen led the savvy bank robbers in Spike Lee’s departure thriller Inside Man and drew widespread critical praise as the world-weary, accidental hero of Alfonso Cuarón’s shattering dystopian fantasy, Children of Men.

More recently, Owen’s seductive intensity lit up Tom Tykwer’s thriller, The International, and Tony
Gilroy’s spy-versus-spy romance, Duplicity, reuniting him with Julia Roberts. Even though he had never played someone like Joe Warr – a family man whose journey in THE BOYS ARE BACK takes place almost entirely under the skin – Hicks intuited that Owen would get to the bare core of the role. “Clive has a tremendous strength on screen, a great stillness about him that speaks of under-the-surface emotions. He is enormously subtle in his expressiveness so much of his performances comes from his eyes and the thoughts that radiate out of them, which make him very compelling to watch,” says the director. “He is also someone who clearly enjoys life and has a great sense of himself and, again, that radiates out of him. And like anyone who is at the top of his game at that level, he makes it all look easy.”

Owen was drawn to how the story seemed to weave the fabric of our everyday family lives into something illuminating. “It’s a very beautifully written script and every time I read it, I was practically in tears,” he comments. “The idea of losing a partner and being left with the children is devastating, and leaves Joe trying to navigate the ups and downs of being a single parent, as well as trying to recalibrate what their family life is. It’s all very complicated. Grief is complicated.

Parenting is complicated. And I thought this script explored that as well as any I’ve read and that’s why I wanted to do this movie. It’s a really compelling mining of what parents feel.”

Equally intriguing to Owen was Joe’s personality, which makes his struggles with trying to set his family back on course even more evocative. “Joe is a very fallible character,” observes Owen. “He’s not naturally very good at family life and this is a crazy, upside-down, volatile time for him. There are moments when things get really out of hand and he does make some big mistakes, but ultimately, you see that he’s trying to do the right thing in his own way.”

From the start, Owen was 100% committed creatively, joining Hicks and Cubitt in probing conversations about the screenplay. “I spent longer with Clive going through this script than any other actor I’ve ever worked with. His attention to detail is painstaking,” says Hicks.

Recalls producer Tim White: “I remember Clive sitting down in a windowless hotel room with Scott, Allan, Greg Brenman and myself and spending 8 hours just talking about the nuances of his character. We all walked away feeling very privileged to have an actor who was that devoted and who brought such a considered, insightful approach to taking this character from the page to the screen.”

On the set, Owen had an exhilarating experience, working, in a complete turnabout from his
recent romantic comedies and action thrillers, almost entirely with two child actors. “I think the spirit of the movie lies in the children and how they perceive the world and how unpredictable they are,” comments Owen. “I found it really interesting as an actor because kids really test you, since they’re not exactly acting themselves. They’re not conscious of what they’re doing, while adult actors obviously are. So it’s challenging and also very exciting because every day you have the raw, real thing coming back at you.”

Observes Brenman: “Clive became the ideal Joe Warr because he made Joe his own. You see
him being cantankerous, difficult, lacking sensitivity, yet also being extremely vulnerable and really learning to put his kids before his own feelings. In bringing all of that out, Clive made the journey of the film even more moving.”