The Knick’s Clive Owen is ready to fulfil a promise to his wife
As soon as Clive Owen wraps up shooting on a season of The Knick (in which he plays John Thackery, a brilliant, yet drugaddicted, surgeon), the 50-yearold British actor goes through a very particular ritual.
“As soon as they’ve called cut on the final day, I go home and into the bathroom and shave the bloody moustache off,” smiles Owen, who says he removes the offending whiskers as a promise to his wife of 20 years, Sarah-Jane Fenton. “My wife can’t wait to see the back of the moustache — she hates it.”
Owen, who’s more known for his stellar film resume, was lured to the brilliant HBO drama — which is set in a New York hospital at the turn of the 20th century — because he felt he couldn’t turn the role down (he also wanted to work with acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh who came out of “retirement” to direct the series).
“I loved the challenge of it, because it’s a highwire walk,” Owen says.
“You know, the guy is a difficult character, he’s provocative, and you never know where you’re at with him. There are times where you kind of understand what he does and then you’re appalled by some of the things he does.”
Indeed, Owen’s Thackery, a cocaine-fuelled genius, is based on the legendary doctor William Halsted who, according to Owen, “consumed vast amounts of drugs while being brilliant”.
“He’s very smart, intellectually,” says Owen, “but he’s not so great when it comes to personal relationships, plus he’s whacked out of his mind all of the time.”
Owen’s Knick co-star Eve Hewson (who, as Nurse Lucy Elkins, has more than a few intimate scenes with him) says the actor’s charms are immediately apparent.
“Well, he’s very handsome. You just kind of go, ‘Aah’ when you see him,’” says the Irish actor, who is the daughter of U2’s Bono. (For the record, Owen jokes that he was “a bit worried” about getting a call from Hewson’s famous dad given some of the pair’s more risque scenes.)
“But once you get over his handsomeness, you realise just how good he is at his job. He’s so perfect for the role, and he has so much more work to do than anybody else. Plus, he’s English and he knows how to have a laugh and that’s great, too.”
Owen has made a career out of playing flawed men.
“So much more interesting than playing some straightforward, heroic, decent man.”
As such, he says, there are few films on his resume he will let his daughters, Hannah, 18, and Eve, 16, watch.
“My career is littered with stuff that isn’t appropriate for young people and there is stuff in The Knick you just do not want your daughters to see,” he laughs.
“But they’re now reaching an age where it doesn’t matter what I say. My eldest is now 18, and she tells me she hasn’t seen Closer, but I’ve got a feeling that might not be quite true.”
These days, Owen says family takes precedence over any role, which wasn’t always the case.
“I did a little run of film, film, film, and I began to realise this wasn’t good for any of us,” he explains. “And so I changed the rhythm and said no, and it was very empowering, because sometimes saying no is a really good thing. I’ve never felt I was missing out.”
Over the past year, he’s spent more time in New York (he still prefers to live in London, because he gets to “see more football”) due to commitments on The Knick and a return to Broadway after a 14-year absence from the stage. An experience, he says, which has thoroughly freaked him out.
“I was scared out of my mind,” he grins, pausing. “But, then again, it’s a good place to be — scary and excited.”
“My wife can’t wait to see the back of the moustache — she hates it” CLIVE OWEN ON HIS PROMISE
Clive Owen as Dr John Thackery, who he describes as a difficult character.