How did two of Britain’s most contrasting actors forge an improbable friendship? ShortList’s Lee Coan finds out
Clive Owen and Jason Statham seem implausible mates. On screen, Owen broods and smoulders while Statham screams and smashes. Off camera, Owen is a dad, a Highgate family man into things such as cheese and parks, whereas Statham recently bought Ben Stiller’s Hollywood mansion and is dating a world-famous lingerie model. They are cut from markedly different cloths — Statham perhaps cutting his cloth with his teeth, while on fire, machine-gunning terrorists. Despite all that, here they are, telling us how much they love each other’s work and company.
They have just completed SAS thriller Killer Elite together, and suddenly they’re the happiest couple since Scorsese and De Niro, Cameron and Clegg, Paul and Barry Chuckle. Who are we to doubt them?
Had you ever worked together before Killer Elite?
Clive Owen: No, no, I’d never actually even met Jason before shooting this film, believe it or not.
Jason Statham: If you did your research, you’d have worked that one out, mate.
CO: I first became aware of Jason’s work with the Guy Ritchie films… I really enjoyed those. Since then I’ve followed Jason’s career. I was impressed with the way he came out of those movies and carried his career on to a whole other level. That’s not easy. Now he’s up there with the biggest of the US action stars. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather work on a film such as this with.
There are public perceptions — Jason as an action hero, you, Clive, as a serious character. What do you think of those perceptions?
CO: It always surprises me when people talk about films and say, “Oh, this is a departure for him,” or, “This is typical Clive Owen, typical Jason Statham.” For me, there has never been any plan about being perceived in any kind of way. I just do films when I like the script. And, to be fair, I tend to do varied scripts.
JS: I certainly don’t try to buy into perceived ideas of what me and Clive are. I just know that getting to work with Clive is an amazing opportunity for me. We have a great fight scene. In most of my films, I’m normally fighting stuntmen and that’s about it. Here, I’ve got a real character that I’m up against. That makes all the difference.
CO: I have to say, I liked fighting Jason. I do like shooting fight sequences. You get in the moment, and there’s something very enjoyable about it. When you’re doing big dialogue scenes, you always look back and think, “I could have done this, I could have done that,” but there aren’t many options when you’re punching someone. So you just kind of get into the moment and enjoy it. It’s finite. Satisfying.
Did either of you get hurt fighting each other?
JS: Did we hurt each other? [Laughs] Is this your first interview about movies, son? [Laughs] I can’t go around hurting Clive — that would be silly, wouldn’t it? We have to create an illusion that we’re fighting for real. Think about it. The smart thing to do would be not bash each other around the head too hard, so you’re not coming in the next day all bandaged up, unable to smash anyone around the head that day. It’s all about the illusion.
CO: You do the fight scenes in short bursts, and you want to make them as intense as you can. There’s a lot of adrenaline pumping through, and you end up feeling a bit sore when filming ends. I do, at least. I’ve never been seriously hurt in any of the action stuff that I’ve done, but there’s no question that even after a little grapple you do more damage to yourself than you think you’re going to do.
Robert De Niro plays a former-SAS man in the film. Were either of you intimidated by him?
CO: Yup. For me he’s up there with the greatest film actors of all time. I only filmed one scene with him and that was right at the end. It was short, but he was still amazing. He’s the main man of his generation.
JS: Listen, he’s Robert De Niro. Make your own assumptions. It was very hard work shooting this movie. It was a lot of weeks, and everyone gave a little bit extra. When you’ve got men such as Clive Owen and De Niro, and this amazing story, you just want to do it justice. Make a good film. All that pushes me that extra bit.
What about the SAS guys — did you hang out with them to research your roles?
JS: I didn’t. I think Clive maybe did. He kept going on about it, anyway.
CO: Yeah, I know a couple of ex-SAS guys who work in security and I spoke to them, and then we had another SAS guy come down to the set for me. The most fascinating thing about talking to these guys is hearing about the selection process they’ve been through to get in. They choose the best of the best, bring them all together and then drag them through hell. Just the smallest amount of them make it. It’s so tough. I’d have been the first one slung out of the selection process. Before Jason. Way before Jason.
Are real-life SAS guys what you’d expect them to be?
CO: I always find that the hardest people in life are always quite surprising. It’s always the quiet, laidback ones. These guys, they’re very self-contained, calm, quiet, but obviously they’ve seen things that we can’t even imagine.
Clive is forever linked to one day playing James Bond. Which of you would make the best 007?
JS: [Laughs] I’d love to be Bond. Anyone who said they wouldn’t would be insane. If you’re a guy, you’re insane if you don’t want to be James Bond. It’s the ultimate. The ultimate for any actor in the UK.
CO: For me, that talk was a long time ago now. And that’s all it ever was — talk. I love keeping things as mixed and varied as I can. I could see Jason playing that role, actually.
What were the best and worst things about shooting Killer Elite in Australia?
JS: We were in our element Down Under. Australia is a great place to film. We didn’t have much spare time — I was filming six days a week, and I think I shot 12 days straight at one point. But I loved it. When the good things come together, it makes a nice change.
CO: It was weird because we recreated a Seventies council estate in the middle of Melbourne. When I first went out there, I thought it was an impossible task, but then suddenly I was walking around a rough English Seventies council estate like I was a kid again. The crew did an amazing job with that.
How do you feel about working so far away from home?
CO: I’m fine if I’m working hard. What I don’t like is lots of days off when I’m on the wrong side of the world. Then I start to get tetchy and start asking myself, “Oh, God, what am I even doing here?” I’m a big fan of London — I’ve lived there since the Eighties — and I’d never wanted to live anywhere else or be away too long. I miss it when I’m away.
JS: You miss your home, your family and friends, of course, but at the same time when you’re so far away you can focus. No distractions.
CO: I used to really miss football when I was away on a shoot like this one, but now you can get any game live pretty much wherever you are in the world. And I kind of miss missing it now.
Finally, you have very famous faces these days — can you still live ‘normal’ lives?
CO: I can. I definitely can, actually. There’s no question that being recognised is a part of my life, but I can live with that. People just come up to me and say, “I saw that film you were in. I really didn’t like it.” Great. “Can I have your picture?” Other than that, I feel that I can go about and do what I like. If you carry yourself in the right kind of way, it’s pretty easy to just enjoy yourself. Do what you want. Which is usually doing not a lot. Quiet time.
JS: I’ve got a pretty normal life. I like to live spontaneously. I ask myself, “What do you fancy doing?” and it gets done.
Killer Elite is at cinemas nationwide from 23 September.