Clive Owen, dressed in a dark suit and tie, is coping with the annual Comic Con as best he can. "It's crazy fun", the British actor says, smilingly, as we chat at a corner table in San Diego's Convention Centre.
He may have missed out on playing James Bond, once a frontrunner for the classic role, but in his latest movie Shoot 'Em Up, Owen has the time of his life, as a somewhat innocent bystander who ends up trying to protect a baby while shooting it out with an obsessive hitman [Paul Giamatti] and his crew. Owen said it was director Michael Davis' overall vision that ultimately drew him in. "I mean, there was a huge difference in this script pitch because it was that animated thing that he'd done - a seventeen minute animated thing. I read the script and thought it was the wildest, fleshiest, funniest script and thought 'That is wild'. Then I see this animated pitch, you see the big action set pieces and you see his drive and the energy, as well as the physical weight. Then I rang my agent and said 'If this guy can pull this off, this could be just wild'."
The challenge for the actor was to find the right balance between the laconic, deadpan humour required of this 'Mr Smith' and the reality of the situations he finds himself in. "It's about just trying to deftly get through it. I mean the film is an unashamed shootout movie with wickedly fresh, witty action and it sort of delivers on that point. This stuff's made easier for me because he writes crazy little one liners and things." Owen sees parallels between Shoot 'Em Up and the classic Spaghetti westerns of the sixties. "I mean, right from the beginning with Sergio, the only close up and the carrot comes in just to completely mess with all of that, so there's an element of that." But that's where the similarities end, the actor insists. "I honestly think Michael's a very highly original talent and I think there's only him that can do that, because that film's got a wild irreverence. There was one point where we needed some extra stuff and the idea of anybody else trying to do it was ridiculous. I mean there's only Michael, it's his thing and I genuinely think he's a very individual, fresh talent."
Owen's international success was attained with the British film Croupier that established the actor as an international star. Looking back as how it all began, the actor admits he's surprised at the development of his career. "I think about what's happened since then and I think that's just extraordinary. I mean I think Croupier cost less than £2 million to make and then I think of all the people and opportunities that I've worked with since and I just feel very lucky," the laid back actor says. " I feel very fortunate and I've just had my eye on the work really. I don't really ever step outside - I mean I pinch myself all the time, because I get the opportunity to work with these amazing people and think 'Wow, I'm so lucky'. But I just focus on the work so I just focus on that." He certainly has no time to focus on those earlier rumours that he would be the next James Bond, and he says it was easy to survive the extraordinary hype because "it was all hyped-up rumour and it was all a sort of media thing, going 'round and 'round in circles."
It is clear, Owen says smilingly, that he has no regrets about not being offered the role. "I've been totally content and happy with the choices I've made and the movies I've made." Choices that are not all to do with mainstream Hollywood." I never think of it in terms of like whether it's a mainstream or whatever, but to do with the actual piece of work itself. I would never take a film thinking 'I'm going to do this film because I think it's going to be 'commercial' because for me, the best career move is to try and do something good and be good in it. It doesn't matter what it I, whether it be a 3 million dollar or 100 million dollar movie, if it's got good people involved and you think you've got a good chance of being good in it, that's the best career move you can make."
This is best defined by what's coming up next for the prolific actor, beginning with his portrayal of Walter Raleigh in the upcoming costume drama, The Golden Age, starring opposite Cate Blanchett. "He is an incredible character. I mean you could do five movies on him and you wouldn't do him justice because he was so incredible, from discovering the new world, he was a poet, a writer, a courtier, and he just had the most incredible life," Owen says, describing Raleigh. "Obviously this film isn't about just his life, but about his place within the sort of triangle of Bess, the Lady in Waiting, Elizabeth and him and it's about a relationship with Elizabeth and how in another time and another place that could have come to something but because of the situation they're in, it doesn't."
Owen says this new Elizabeth film "will be sort of fresh and relevant because Shekhar has such an amazing perspective. I thought the first Elizabeth film was an incredibly vibrant, radical take on the period film and this one follows in the same way." As to the film's level of historical accuracy, Owen says "It's never going to be completely accurate because it's all about just having a take on it. It is absolutely known that Elizabeth and Water Raleigh had a very, very close relationship and that she was furious when he ended up in a relationship with Bess, she threw them out of the court and all of that is in the movie but, how do you say it's fact. There are conversations and no one knows what those conversations were but it's pretty close."
Owen also confirmed he has signed on to star in Scott Hicks' first Australian feature since Shine, The Boys Are Back in Town, to be shot in Hicks' town of Adelaide. Based on a true story, Owen describes the character he is set to play as a "British journalist, sports journalist living in Australia, whose wife dies of cancer and he's left with his little seven year old boy. It's really about him and the little boy both grieving and creating this new family. Then he gets a phone call from his teenage son from a previous marriage in England who says 'I want to come out and get to know my dad', so suddenly the dynamic is him, his estranged teenage son and this little seven year old." The actor says he's dying to spend some time in Australia. "I am very excited and am going to make it a whole family experience because it's somewhere we all, as a family, wanted to go for a long time."
As for the much-anticipated Sin City 2, "They've talked about Sin City 2 since the day we finished Sin City 1 and I know no more than anybody." But he does hope to reprise his role in Shoot 'Em Up for a sequel if the film does as well as is anticipated. "I've talked to Michael at length many times. This is just the beginning and some of the ideas that guy has had would make this film look like a family film. He's told me some things about ideas he's had and they make Shoot 'Em Up look like a very normal film."