Clive Owen is James Bond

"No current English actor can present a patina of debonair charm while maintaining a threat of elemental danger in quite the way Owen can."

In a flurry of internet speculation mistaken for fact, Clive Owen was all but announced as James Bond. Fans began to wish him well. It was hard to think of a more logical candidate to inherit the 007 mantle. 6'2. Dark and handsome. A little rough around the edges (Owen with his broken nose looked like a man who had seen a few scraps in his time. 'A rough looking customer' to quote Fleming). More than that, an interesting actor with a unique style. He seemed more than capable of adding some innate darkness and complexity to the character, and appealing to purists never entirely won over by Pierce Brosnan. "Clive Owen is James Bond" screamed the fan art posters.

Fast forward to the present. Daniel Craig is James Bond and Bond fans of a certain bent (agenda?) are tripping over themselves to trash Clive Owen. Daniel Craig is now the greatest actor currently drawing breath - and thank God we didn't get that charmless block of wood Owen with his boring voice. Or something like that. This is one chorus of revisionist baa-baa that you won't find me singing in. I am, and always have been,a big Clive Owen fan.

"He has a brooding aura-innate grace mixed with potential volatility. Without saying a word, Owen projects internal conflicts, a man of existential turmoil that could erupt in violence, a kiss, or both."

                                                                          NY Times

Clive Owen spent much of his career languishing in the world of British television. In his twenties he became a small-screen heart-throb through the ITV show 'Chancer'. A private person, he seemed unlikely to become much of a star beyond the small-screen. But beneath the brooding pin-up exterior it was evident to those who know these things that young Clive had a certain something. That certain something would soon begin to open doors.

In 1991, Owen was cast to play the lead in Stephen Poliakoff's incest drama 'Close My Eyes'. A FilmFour production, 'Close My Eyes' harnessed Owen's brooding persona to an outwardly confident character who descends into anguish and confusion. Alpha-male with an aura of melancholic mystery, Owen presents a complex character with an inner-life. He is enigmatic and unpredictable. I don't use the term 'enigmatic' lightly. In 'Close My Eyes' Owen is unmistakably and extraordinarily enigmatic.

The promise of 'Close My Eyes' seemed to slip away until 1997 when Owen was cast as a gay concentration camp prisoner in a film adaption of 'Bent'. From bohemian playboy holding court at lavish parties, to emaciated slave labour living within his imagination to stay sane, Owen holds your attention with a subtle and emotional performance. "This can't be happening," he says in one of the film's key lines. Owen's understated and confined acting makes it all the more chilling. More naturalistic than theatrical, Owen is never conspicuously 'acting'. You always believe he is a 'real' person. Next would come his true 'breakthrough' role.

"He's badass,he's charming,he's an incredible actor. Clive Owen looks like he stepped out of an East End dagger fight onto a film studio, bringing a fresh stack of steely attitude to the screen. We are hip to the coolest British export since the Jaguar."

                                                                     Ask Men

Initially ignored on release, 1998's 'Croupier', was 're-discovered' enough to earn another theatrical run. Plaudits were numerous, not least for the lean, chilly leading man with the saturnine acting-chops and abandoned casualness. Perhaps the greatest unofficial James Bond audition ever, Owen became Bond for many the first moment he appears on screen. He is moodily detached, darkly charismatic, unpredictable and every inch a leading man. Soon everyone from Christopher Wood to Harry knowles would voice their support for him to become the new James Bond. 

Next 007 status and embryonic leading man credentials were further enhanced by his role as the 'driver' in a series of snazzy (and Bondian) BMW commercials. The ads made Owen a face outside of his native Britain and a Bond fan even cut a montage together from the films and put the James Bond theme over it. The man in the car looked like the most obvious person in the world to replace Pierce Brosnan. It seemed more a matter of when than if.

After more television work, Owen became the first actor Robert Altman cast for 'Gosford Park'. He then took a small role in the sleeper spy hit 'The Bourne Identity'. More BMW ads were followed by a superb performance in 'Croupier' director Mike Hodges' 'I'll Sleep When I'm Dead' and a lead role in the bland 'Beyond Borders'. The Jerry Bruckheimer epic 'King Arthur' didn't serve as the best Clive Owen vehicle ever but 'Sin City' made-up for it and an oscar nomination for his work in 'Closer' completed his astonishing rise.

Spike Lee picked Owen to play against Denzil Washington in 'Inside Man' and Alphonse Cuaron gave him the lead in the futuristic 'Children Of Men'. At some point Owen had actually become too famous and busy to desire James Bond anyway. He really didn't need the hassle and scrutiny.

Or the pay-cut.

Let's rewind a little bit. What if the planets had aligned? If Owen had been approached sooner? What would a Clive Owen James Bond have been like?

"Don't let anyone tell you other wise - Clive Owen is a movie star. People can talk all they want about his brooding remove but the Englishman radiates the insouciant charm, strange charisma and dark mystery of a McQueen, Bogart or Mitchum."

                                                                       LA Times

Physically, Owen would have been closer to Fleming's literary description than any of the previous James Bond actors. He is also closer to the collective image of the 'movie Bond' than Daniel Craig. The well known 6'2 Owen would have created a positive buzz for Eon from the start and that infamous press conference would certainly have been more of an event. I don't think so.

"Like Connery when he hits you, you stay hit." The words of Martin Campbell who would have called Clive Owen the best actor to ever play Bond. A bulked-up Owen may have been the most imposing actor to take the role yet. A believable action-man. A plausible ladykiller. The wherewithal to convey emotional complexity without smacking of heavy-handedness. Owen may have been compared to Timothy Dalton. The difference being, I think,that Owen would have had broader appeal. He might not have been everybody's ideal (could Owen have handled the humour? Double-entendres? No. Good understated humour? Yes.) He would certainly have gone in more around the consciousness of your average punter on a good wind of populist images.

OwenBond would have been restrained, edgy, dark and enigmatic. Aren't these Bondian qualities? And who better to bring them to the character than the actor who has made these very qualities his signature? I don't believe Owen could have played a 'rookie' agent in 2006. His signing would have neccesitated a more conventional film. The fact that there appears to have been no real move for Owen in 2004/2005 suggests that Eon were either never keen or considered him too 'established'.

The interesting thing to speculate on is what would have happened if Brosnan had departed in 1999 after three films. It could easily have happened. Dougray Scott claims he spoke to the producers back then so life without the Brozzer was clearly on their minds. In 2000 Owen was younger than Daniel Craig is now. How about a 2001 'Casino Royale' starring Clive Owen? Did they have the rights back then? I have no idea.

The right man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Let's raise a glass to Clive Owen. One of the best James Bonds we never had. Was the man himself ever really interested in the part? That is probably the most interesting question of all.

"I'm on the campaign trail this week. Can someone please tell the Bond film producers that it's high time Clive Owen stepped into 007's polished brogues."

                                           Rowan Pelling  (The Independent)

 - Michael Cooper


c 2006 Alternative 007