Tuesday, October 28, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Clive Owen faces challenges of role in 'Beyond Borders'

Special to The Seattle Times

Fans of British actor Clive Owen who are familiar with his work in the indie hit "Croupier" (in which his scheming leads to the death of his girlfriend) and "Gosford Park" (where he plays a valet turned murderer) may be surprised by his latest role: a humanitarian doctor in "Beyond Borders" who saves lives in Ethiopia, Cambodia and Chechnya.

Say it ain't so! Where's the moral ambiguity? The hard, enigmatic stares? Doesn't he at least grab a woman suddenly and kiss her unexpectedly — as he does to Kate Hardie in "Croupier" and Kelly Macdonald in "Gosford"?

Not to worry. It's all there — including the sudden, hard kiss of Angelina Jolie in the sweltering heat of Cambodia. In fact, it was the darker, compromising aspects of Dr. Nick Callahan that first drew Owen to the project.

"I literally finished the script, put it down, rang the agent and said, 'This is the one. If you can get me this one, this is the one,' " Owen said during a phone interview from New York, where he was attending the premiere of "Beyond Borders" earlier this week. It opened last Friday at several Seattle-area theaters.

"I found out later on that some people attached to the film had real worries about the character," he said. "They thought he might not be likable, they thought he was arrogant. They thought, you know, the leading man in the movie, he's going to be difficult for the audience to have empathy with.

"I played it not thinking about being likable. I just played his ultimate objective, which was keeping people alive."

His other roles have had similar professional streaks. Give poker chips to Jack Manfred in "Croupier," a high-powered rifle to The Professor in "The Bourne Identity," or even a fast car to Owen's unnamed driver in the BMW short-film series, and they all focus on the job at hand. Everyone else be damned.

British, professional, cool. Add tall, dark and handsome, and a frame that isn't unflattered by a tuxedo, and in the minds of most fans it adds up to one thing: James Bond. This summer the rumors have been flying — first that Owen wasn't interested in playing the secret agent, then that he was — but, according to him, he's never been approached. "It's all rumor," he says. "I read what you read."

Owen, 39, a member of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, first broke through in Britain with the BBC-TV series "Chancer," where he played a charming hustler who runs, of all things, a car factory. His breakthrough in the United States, "Croupier," almost didn't happen because the film wasn't distributed in Britain.

"Somebody once said to me that 'Croupier' wasn't released, it escaped," he said with a laugh. "It struggled to get out and somehow caught the imagination in America."

That led to the BMW film series, which he describes as "proper little movies," and where he worked with such acclaimed directors as Guy Ritchie, Ang Lee and the late John Frankenheimer. Owen is currently filming the title role in Jerry Bruckheimer's "King Arthur," due out next year, in which the Arthurian legend is set in real time — 500 A.D. — rather than mythological time. "Roman Empire collapsing, pulling out of Britain," Owen added.

Expect moral ambiguity.

Erik Lundegaard:

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company


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