CLIVE OWEN

In the ‘Knick’ of time

Los Angeles Times - - THE ENVELOPE - cal­en­dar@latimes.com

What’s been the most unique as­pect to mak­ing “The Knick” with di­rec­tor and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Steven Soder­bergh?

He doesn’t shoot episod­i­cally. I’m used to shoot­ing out of se­quence on movies, but the re­al­ity of shoot­ing [10 hours for Sea­son 1] is — I had to steal this idea from him: I have a big white­board at home to keep things in or­der.

What drew you to work­ing on the show?

It was just one of those scripts. It didn’t feel like any other pe­riod thing I’d read be­fore. [Thack­ery] is so out there. He’s not a lead char­ac­ter who takes peo­ple by the hand and brings them around. And both Steve and I clicked be­cause he’s brave in the way he shoots and wants to push things, and I felt we were both fear­less in how far we wanted to push it. There’s some­thing ex­cit­ing in see­ing how bold you can be.

Speak­ing of bold, whose idea was the mus­tache — and do you keep it be­tween sea­sons?

I’d read in a book about the doc­tors of the time where a woman de­scribes kiss­ing a guy and notes how strange it was that he didn’t have fa­cial hair. Ev­ery­body had it. I chose this [nar­row] shape be­cause I wanted some­thing a lit­tle ar­ro­gant, be­cause he’s got a very big ego. As for keep­ing it, in the old days you’d have to wait for rushes clear­ance, but now that there’s dig­i­tal, the minute we wrapped — the sec­ond — I went up­stairs and shaved it off. It’s a pas­sage of some­thing in me to get rid of it.

It’s re­duc­tive to sug­gest Thack­ery is “good” or “bad,” but as a lead char­ac­ter it makes a state­ment that he can be so off-putting and so ad­mirable at the same time, doesn’t it?

That’s mu­sic to my ears. It is a high- wire act at times. The one thing Steven said to me is: “We don’t want to be nos­tal­gic.” It was tough to live in those times. The past is of­ten done in a po­lite ver­sion of it, but for a lot of peo­ple life was ex­tremely tough.

Yes, most TV shows that take place in the past, even when they’re “gritty,” soften char­ac­ters so that they of­ten seem oh, so pro­gres­sive, in the name of mak­ing them lik­able.

When we did the press for the first sea­son, the one thing ev­ery­one wanted to talk to me about was [racism]. “How can you say those lines?” What’s im­por­tant is to rep­re­sent it prop­erly, the way peo­ple would. The eas­i­est thing in the world would be for me to be the most for­ward-think­ing, lib­eral guy, but that’s not real. What I did say was, “Let’s not make him a stupid, dumb racist.” It is shock­ing, but it should be shock­ing.

You’re go­ing to make your Broad­way de­but in Harold Pin­ter’s 1971 play, “Old Times.” Ner­vous?

It’s the first play in over a decade I’m do­ing, so I’m a lit­tle scared. Ter­ri­fied, and ex­cited, but that’s a good way to be.

You don’t seem to have shaped a ca­reer in a plot­ted-out way. Have you ever con­sid­ered get­ting mer­ce­nary about the roles you choose to fur­ther your ca­reer?

No. I’ve al­ways just run along with my in­stincts, re­ally. I’m of­ten very ex­cited if it’s dif­fer­ent from any­thing I’ve ever done, or it’s a par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing thing or an area I haven’t ex­plored. I get ex­cited by things that are not nec­es­sar­ily the safe op­tion. The best ca­reer move is re­ally to just try and be good.

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

CLIVE OWEN of “The Knick” ap­pre­ci­ates risk-tak­ing.

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