The Boyfriend of the Week

May 29, 2003

About, oh, I'd say three or four years ago, someone emailed me to suggest a new guy. A guy I'd never actually even heard of. A guy that, really, NOBODY had actually even heard of. She suggested I check him out, though -- said she was convinced he'd be the Next Big Thing. And for research, she pointed me towards a little-known film about croupiers called, um, "Croupier."

My initial reaction to her email was a "Who?" followed by a "What the heck is a croupier?" The word "croupier" to me has always and probably will always evoke images of little kids in steamy bathrooms coughing up one lung or the other. Because I am not French, do not think like Frenchmen, and am not actually even able to say very many nice things about the French, my initial reaction to that French term is not, "Ah, croupier. From the French term 'croup' for 'one who rides behind another on a horse.'" Instead, I think, "Ah, croupier. From the dialectal 'croup' for 'kid croaking up a lung in a steamy bathroom.'" You see? Though I think the French have a lovely language and also give them credit for knowing a lot of good things about cheese, I do not automatically assume a word ending in "ier" is a French term and suddenly go all Jacques Chirac on its arse. Instead, I'm much more likely to think, "That sounds like a word Buffy would make up." Croupier - you know, like, a comparative term used to describe a very bad cough. A cough that's even croupier than that other kinda cough. Ya follow? Okay, maybe ya don't.

However, never one to trust her own instincts, and certainly never one to trust Buffy's, I made a quick check of the dictionary and brought up a different definition for "croupier." You know, the real definition. And what it actually means is "an attendant at a gaming table who collects and pays bets." From the French term "croup" for "one who rides behind another on a horse" -- the second chair, essentially. The assistant.

Ah, gaming tables! Gambling! Vegas, baby! My kinda movie! Bring it on!

No, actually, I'd be lying if I said I immediately ran right out and rented "Croupier," despite my affection for all things slot-machine and Nevada. Especially because, for one thing, a quick look at the movie's description told me there would be no Elvis impersonators to be had. But a few months later, I was lost in a video store with nothing to rent, and I stumbled across that movie on the shelf. I thought, "Oh yeah, that flick about the kid with the bad lung! Ha ha, just kidding" and then grabbed it and headed to the check-out stand.

Two hours later, I was hooked.

No, damn, that's a lie too. I'm 0 for 2 now, aren't I? Starting this one off very badly. The truth is, I watched "Croupier" and enjoyed it okay (*shrug*) and thought, "Good actor, bad chin." Then I returned "Croupier," and promptly put Clive Owen out of my mind.

Until a few years later, when he popped up again ("Gosford Park"). And then, wow, that's weird, he popped up again ("The Bourne Identity"). And man, that is a guy who looks great in wire-rimmed glasses, don't you think? And also, did you hear that accent? I mean, I never really noticed the accent before. Ooh, and did you see how tall he is? And how interesting his face is? Kind of rugged and gentle looking all at the same time, don't you think? It's the chin -- I love that chin!

Plus, wow, he's a very commanding actor, wouldn't you say? I mean, when Clive walks into a frame, it's very hard to look at anyone else. Even though he's nearly always playing a soft-spoken, background kind of character, there's something that makes it really impossible to ignore him. Like, say, his shoulders. And his little smile. And also, how great he looks with 24 hours worth of stubble on his cheeks.

Yowza. I mean, Y-U-M.

So, after "The Bourne Identity," I started to look into Clive's work, digging up a few other things he's done that I've missed. A lot of Clive's stuff is foreign (Brit) and not easy to get here in the United States of a Totally Amazing Lack of Culture At Times. But, I did luck into two things that particularly intrigued me. The first was the premiere installment of the "Second Sight" series he did for British television, in which he plays a DCI named Ross Tanner who is investigating the murder of a teenager when he discovers he has an ocular disease that is eventually going to cost him his sight -- serious business for a man who relies on that sense in particular when crime-solving. The other was a movie called "Greenfingers," which was described to me as being about a bunch of murderers in prison who develop a passion for gardening. Wait, say that again? Prisoners and pansies? Killers and chrysanthemums? Convicts and cauliflower? Inmates and impatiens?

And yes, it IS as bizarre as it sounds. But it's also quite delightful, and co-stars Helen Mirren, who is a woman I would watch do just about anything. Rent this one. It's terrific.

Oh, wait, I forgot another movie of his I've seen -- the likewise terrific (but also terrifically depressing) film "Bent," which is about a gay man taken to Dachau (a German concentration camp during WWII). When he gets there, he lies and claims to be Jewish, figuring that would be safer. But then he falls in love with another prisoner who is proudly and openly gay, and as a result, he gradually begins to learn the importance of being honest about who you are -- even if that honestly is going to cost you your life. Brilliant and also very, very sad.

Now, in all three of those movies, as well as in "Bourne" and "Gosford," Clive plays the exact same character. I mean, yeah, his character has a different name and also usually fairly different motivations. But each character's personality is almost totally identical to all the other's. Which leads me to suspect that that personality comes very naturally for Clive, because it is actually his personality.

In some cases, this kind of identical performance thing happens because the actor actually can't act or, at the very least, doesn't really want to act, or doesn't think acting is necessarily required. They play themselves in every film, and if you like that self, you like the movie. If you don't, you're driven mad by every little gesture and grin. Some very, very famous and well-liked actors fall into this category -- but there are others who, while also falling into this category, have a little something extra that makes them absolutely impossible to dismiss because of it. Cary Grant leaps to mind as a member of that latter group. Yes, Cary Grant always played the same Cary Grant character -- the lovable, charming goofball. But there was something about Cary Grant that made that character totally intoxicating, regardless of the quality of the film around him. And Clive Owen, for me anyway, is much the same.

They're very different, obviously -- you won't see Clive Owen doing Cary Grant-like physical humor, for one thing (at least, I can't picture it). But their charisma is comparable. They're both guys that intrigue. They have that extra Thing about them that, obviously, totally defies adjectivization. At least for me. At this precise moment. Approximately twenty minutes before my coffee break and caffeine fix.

Anyway, all this explains why it would make me extremely happy if I could only find some more of Clive Owen's older work here in the States. More of the "Second Sight" series. Some of his other television stuff. But I'll be damned if I can dig much more of it up. I came, I saw, I totally failed miserably. Lucky for me, however, Clive is slowly beginning to merge into mainstream American movies, which means seeing his future work may not prove to be as difficult as seeing his past work. But, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. First, let's talk past.

Clive Owen was born in October, 1965, in Coventry, Warwickshire, England. His father was a country and western singer, but he walked out on the family when Clive was only three. He was raised by his mom and his stepfather, and is the fourth of five brothers. Initially, it looked like Clive was headed down the fast-track to academia -- he was an excellent student with a brilliant mind. But all that changed when he was cast as the Artful Dodger in a school production of Oliver. The moment he set foot on stage, he became obsessed with the idea of becoming a professional actor. At age 13, he joined a youth theater, and by the time the O-levels came around (English academic tests), he had let his studies fall so far away that he managed to pass only one.

Despite this set-back, one of his teachers saw his potential and attempted to push Clive into continuing his studies at a drama school. But Clive had already been figuring out that you either were an actor or you weren't, and no amount of education and schooling could ever change that. That philosophy in tow, he decided school was useless and dropped out to seek real work in the acting world.

The next two years were pretty dismal for Clive. He found it nearly impossible to find any work and gradually began to lose contact with his theater group. But in 1984, he decided maybe he'd been wrong about the whole school thing. He applied, and was accepted to, the presitigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and when he graduated a few years later, he began to get theater gigs left and right. In 1988, Clive made his debut in film, in a movie called "Vroom." But it wasn't until he scored a starring role in the television series "Chancer" that he really began to be noticed. Before he knew it, the show was a huge success and Clive Owen was practically a household name. But the fame brought with it the usual things -- reporters invading your privacy, tabloids making things up about you, paparazzi stalking your every move -- and those things drove Clive absolutely batty. Plus, he began to worry that if he didn't change roles soon, he'd end up typecast in "Chancer" type roles forever. So, he left the show, and went back to hunting for film roles.

Slowly but surely, Clive began working in films, starting out with small roles, and then eventually bursting into such critical successes as "Croupier" (a flop in England, but a big hit here in the States) and "Gosford Park." He was also in critical disasters like "Privateer 2" (which, actually, I'd love to see as it appears to be a really awful sci-fi movie -- my favorite genre!), but they didn't seem to do much damage to his career, fortunately for us. Having escaped from the flash fire of early fame, Clive has worked hard to earn genuine respect through a series of challenging roles -- and that persistence and patience seems to be finally paying off. Yay!

Up next for Clive are three films. The first is called "Beyond Borders" and is described as "an epic tale" about a renegade doctor (Clive) whose impassioned pleas for help with his relief efforts in war-torn Africa get Angelina Jolie so het up she embarks upon a "journey of discovery" that involves danger, romance, and probably a lot of kissing scenes. Doctors, Africa, kissing - three things I tend to like in a movie.

After that comes "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead," directed by Mike Hodges ("Croupier"). I couldn't find out much about this one (didn't actually try very hard, though, I'll admit), but it appears to be a thriller and costars Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who I get a gazillion requests for a week these days. Okay, that's another lie. It's more like two or three. Finally, in 2004, comes "King Arthur," with Clive playing the title role (hurrah!). For more information about all three of these, check out Clive's IMDB page (see links below).

All in all, it looks like the next two or so years will bring us a lot of Clive Owen exposure, which makes me happy as a clam. An expression that's really never made much sense to me, come to think of it. But anyway, before I sign off for the week, I did want to extend a belated "thanks!" to the fan who first brought Clive to my attention. I can't remember who you are, but you were sure right. Merci buckets, mon amie. Tres bien!

MacGyver Factor Score: 98.695% Points off for being married, even though I'm married too which hardly makes this deduction seem fair. But, honestly, I just couldn't help but be disappointed when I heard that news. Sometimes it doesn't bother me. This time, major bummage. Can't explain it. A vast number of points back, however, because he made such a delightful little movie about gardening ("Greenfingers"). He's not really a gardener, and neither am I, but he managed to make that little film one that I will happily watch over and over in the future. And there's nothing I love more than finding a movie like that. Thanks, Clive!

Update (5/30): 80 gazillion people have already emailed me to tell me I forgot to mention Clive's role in a series of BMW commercials. Yes, I am aware of them! But didn't have room to talk about every movie this guy has ever made, you know? For those who are interested, there's a link below that takes you to a page where you can watch them. They're pretty fun, and one is even directed by ex-Boyfriend Ang Lee!

Boyfriend-Related Links

Clive Owen On-Line
Clive Owen fan site
Clive's IMDB page
The BMW Short Files

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