Clive Owen for “King Arthur”

British star-on-the-rise Clive Owen wants to make it clear that he is not in talks to be the next James Bond. In seemingly good spirits while talking to the media about the non-Camelot take on King Arthur, in which Owen has assumed the title role, Owen is clearly getting fed up with journalists’ questions surrounding rumours that he is in talks to be the next 007. “It is a complete rumour and I don’t know where it comes from. I think that Pierce Brosnan is a fantastic Bond, who has really invigorated the whole franchise, has made that company a lot of money and they should be banking it in saying ‘he’s our man’ until he steps down. So let’s just leave it at that!” Nor does Owen aspire to be the next Bond. “I really don’t think about it,” Owen says emphatically.

Even though Owen has been a working actor since the late eighties, considerable succeeded eluded him until 1998’s Croupier started to put him on the map. More recently, The Bourne Identity and the recent Beyond Borders gave Owen international exposure, and with the release of King Arthur, one can say that for this 39-year old Brit, it’s uphill all the way. Owen is modestly philosophical about his success. “I am just hugely grateful and feel very lucky. It is when you least expect it. Croupier had such an unusual, weird history, it made an impact here and suddenly I was introduced to an American audience, so since then I have been offered a lot of movies.”

Owen says that he loves the challenge of playing a variety of characters, another reason why James Bond remains relatively unappealing. “That is the deal you make if you take on something like that,” Owen explains. “The one thing I have always done and wanted to do is to keep everything and all options open and keep it as varied as possible. I have three films that are all coming out this year, including King Arthur and Closer directed by Mike Nichols. I like to keep mixing it up and you know that if you take on some huge franchise thing like Bond, then the deal would be that that you couldn’t be so diverse and fresh.”

So it was with no sense of trepidation that Owen stepped into the armour of King Arthur, but this hardly the Arthur of Richard Harris or his predecessors. Owen was immediately drawn to this version of the classic character “because it was such a radical take on the whole story and I didn’t feel any of the weight of responsibility for it.”

In this edgier, more realistic King Arthur, set in around 450 A.D, the Roman Empire is crumbling, and the British Isles are thrown into a loose anarchy as errant knights are entrenched in years of territorial battle. Then, one would-be king emerges to unite them, Arthur, with his concept of a Round Table of united knights.

Owen defines his Arthur, a character rooted in a more historical reality than the more fantasy-based versions of the story, as “a guy who has very strong beliefs and the challenge for him is that he has to change. That is, the arc of the journey is his whole belief system which is changing, as well as the world and Rome. He has enormous faith and that faith is also being challenged.”

Owen says that he found it difficult to identify with the character on any personal level, nor is it important to do so with any character one has to play. “I don’t think you necessarily identify and believe in the motifs of the character, but you have to want to play it and want to commit to the lines. I think I am more attracted to characters with a subtext, whatever that is and they don’t necessarily have to be virtuous, but they have to at least be human.”

Shooting King Arthur might have been physically tough for the actor who had never ridden a horse before, but at least, since the film was shot in Ireland, Owen was at least able to take advantage of the night life that country had to offer, he smilingly admits. “I would be lying if said I didn’t get a little taste and it is true that the Guinness in Ireland tastes different.”

To prove his consistent diversity, Owen has just wrapped the new Robert Rodriguez film Sin City, which he enthuses was “a fantastic experience. I think he is so talented and a one man operation. He has got his own studio, lights, operates, and composes the music, so why does anyone else need to turn up? “

And Owen is also part of the star-studded cast of Mike Nichols’ Closer, an experience Owen is understandably relishing. “I think I said to Mike halfway through the movie: If I just keep doing this for the rest of my career that would make me happy.”

Maybe he will direct the actor in his first Bond movie?