Film Review Magazine - July 2004 - Thanks to Rai and Gill

FIT FOR A KING

There's been much speculation about Clive Owen's movie career, in particular how James Bond-like he looks in a tux. Not many could've guessed that he'd turn up in a Jerry Bruckheimer summer blockbuster, though James Motorman discovers what made this respected actor choose a re-telling of the King Arthur legend as his latest venture

SANDWICHED between the release of two major historical epics - Wolfing Peterson's Troy and Oliver Stone's much anticipated Alexander - there is currently one other film that will do battle for the title of this year's Gladiator. Directed by Training Day's Antoine Fuqua, Arthur is also this summer's annual Jerry Bruckheimer production. Following the success of the Bruckheimer-led Pirates of the Caribbean a year ago, don't bet your armour against this one being another monster hit.

Reuniting him with his Priates female lead Keira Knightley – who plays Guinevere - Bruckheimer has yet again the exercised his talent for star spotting, albeit this time banking on a reluctant one. Playing King Arthur is the working class Coventry-born Clive Owen, the one-time lead in TV drama Chancer currently undergoing something of a career-renaissance. Already touted as a possible successor to Pierce Brosnan as the next James Bond, Owen became a minor star after Mike Hodges 1998 film noir Croupier became a cult hit in the US art-house circuit. Since then, roles in such diverse high-profile projects as The Bourne Identity abd Gosford Park – as well as this year’s I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, which reunited him with Hodges – has brought Owen to Bruckheimer's attention, offering him a potential cross-over to the A-List.

When we meet, the stubble-sporting star has been in Pinewood studios, putting the finishing touches in post-production to some of his lines in King Arthur. But the last thing you'll find is his ego inflated by all the attention that the new movie should bring. "I find it very difficult to get excited," says Owen, with typical reserve. "What happens will happen. It's lovely to keep as many options open as possible, and keep the possibilities open. For me, if you want to work with the best people... the best people can only give you the best parts if the Hollywood accountants say so. So it would be lovely to be in a film that made serious money, just in terms of what that could open up. Above and beyond that, all you can do is just go in there and do your thing."

Bearing in mind the inaccuracies in Bruckheimer's previous 'historical document' - Pearl Harbor - expect some creative licence taken with the Arthurian legend. Owen's Arthur is "half Roman, half British," says the star. "It's set much earlier than when King Arthur is usually set. It's not medieval. It's 500 AD. The Roman Empire is crumbling, they're pulling out of Britain. Arthur is a man who feels ` Roman, and has a lot of Rome, and that faith is beginning to crumble. He begins to question his identity and where he belongs'." Eventually, he becomes a man of his land and a man of his people.”

With a much grittier look than one might associate with the legend, the film - while dispensing with the magic if not with Merlin himself - sees Arthur run "a team of crack military knights, who are given a mission from Hell at the beginning of the movie.” That being, to rescue a family before thousands of Saxons descend upon them, and get them back to Hadrian’s Wall. In other words, it’s ‘Excalibur meets the Dirty Dozen’.

But what does it mean for its star? Owen, who turns 40 this year, says he is “less wary” than he was when he - having graduated from RADA - became tabloid fodder for a while, after the success of Chancer. "I was very wary to begin with and very thrown by it all. But I've had a long time and a lot of experience now. Some actors get off on all that, and some actors don't. For me, it's all about the work, and the rest of it you just have to deal with. I used to moan about dealing with it, but that was pretty naïve. It’s part of the whole thing with. I’m much more prepared and adept at dealing with it although that doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoy it anymore.”

Living in North London with his wife and two daughters, Owen is happy with his lot and has no intentions of uprooting to Hollywood. "I think it's easier dealing with most things in London as opposed to LA! It's a one-industry town. It's so status¬ driven and so much about where used to moan about dealing with you're placed. I think it would be easy to go mad very quickly there. All people want to know is how important you are, how much are you worth. There doesn't seem to be much else going on. At least living in London there's a whole life outside of just the industry."

Not about to sell his soul, Owen - who has just been cast in Robert Rodriguez's Sin City - has recently wrapped on veteran director Mike Nichols' Closer, a four-hander opposite Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Natalie Portman. Adapted by Patrick Marber from his own hit play about contemporary sexual mores, Owen had originally played the role earmarked for Jude Law at the National in 1997. "It feels like it might have even more impact on film, because of its intimacy," he says. "It's a series of very private scenes between couples. It’s all of the meat and none of thee stuff in between. It’s about people falling in and out of love – the real heart of relationships. It felt very healthy to work on something that was so rich in really great dialogue. I don’t think I’ve come across many things where I’ve looked forward to doing every scene.”

Although his star is in the ascendancy, Owen - the third of five sons raised by his mother and stepfather, a British Rail ticket clerk - is intent on remaining the devoted family man. "It's a case of making everything work as each film comes at you, and seeing where shooting and how best to make it work with my family," he notes. "The romantic idea is 'Come and spend the summer with me here where I'm shooting this movie – which is for 18 hours a day! They get to wait in the trailer – how fantastic is that for them?”

Still, when it’s a trailer fit for a king, it can’t be all bad.

King Arthur opens July 30. (UK)

ANTOINE FUQUA, director of King Arthur, was utterly determined to make a more realistic film version of the Arthurian legend. "I wanted to make a film that was based, as much as possible, on historical fact which is tough because a sword-and ¬sorcery film would probably make more money!

"We started with the historical belief that the Arthurian legend was, in fact, inspired by a half-British, half-Roman commander who fought against the Saxons. The whole film then put in historical context."

For Fuqua, the biggest challenge in updating the King Arthur story was balancing historical fact with entertainment value. "I was lucky because [producer] Jerry Bruckheimer wanted to do a different take on the legend," he says. "We had King Arthur [experts] on set to make sure everything was accurate but we've added Hollywood touches to make it entertaining. It's a film about political debate and military strategy and we offer a really interesting explanation for the possible existence of the famous Knights of the Round Table. There's a lot of evidence to suggest they really did exist."

Ireland was the perfect locale for Fuqua to try to recreate the look and feel of the Dark Ages. "We were able to reconstruct the classic Hadrian's Wall which was amazing," says Fuqua, before adding a warning shot to fans of the Arthurian tale, "Every idea that people had about the King Arthur legend is going to be turned upside-down when they see the film. Merlin's in the film, but he's a military leader, not a wizard. Guinevere's a great warrior - everything. I want people to see the film and believe in the King Arthur legend!"


image above from a great gallery of pictures from the Czech site OutNow - Thanks to Jirka

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