As Louis Salinger in The International, Clive Owen is a British agent who jets around the world with a gorgeous blonde on a mission to keep an evil global entity from destroying the planet to fatten their its bank accounts. The role sounds oddly close to the part many thought Owen was destined to play—that is, until , another blonde, Daniel Craig, was cast as James Bond. But Owen emphasizes qualities in his character that make him the opposite of Bond’s detached cool in a film that’s at once passionate and pessimistic about saving the world.
“He’s a guy that doesn’t eat properly,” says Owen. “He’s not slick. He’s not the cool cop, you know, tracking the bank down.” Owen’s Salinger would prefer beers to top-shelf vodka, and working on his case to dallying with lush femme fatales. Eric Singer’s furious script implies that Salinger is an obsessive prone to breakdowns. Here, he’s up against a multi-national bank that’s connected to politicians, arms dealers, and assassins—it’s a juggernaut that’s impossible to bring to justice, and a tense undercurrent of the film is wondering what will happen to Salinger when he realizes he might never win.
“Throughout the course of the movie, he literally travels around the world on an incredible journey and gets more and more desperate and focused and passionate and intense,” says Owen of his character, who is tempered by Naomi Watt’s’ even- keel New York District Attorney. “She’s much more level. She knows how to work the system better.”
“I was a huge fan of Tom [Tykwer], so I was very keen to do the film,” he says. The project’s second big allure was its all-star European cast, especially fellow Oscar-nominee Armin Mueller-Stahl, who plays a former Communist who’s whose principles have been corrupted by the sinister bank Salinger’s investigating. Says Owen of the venerable 78-year-old Mueller-Stahl: “He’s as good as any actor I’ve ever worked with—he’s phenomenal.”
What audiences are likely to take away from The International—besides paranoia and foreboding—is the vivid thrills of the film’s set pieces. The long, violent gun battle that riddles the Guggenheim with bullet holes is a standout—“It’s complete, wild chaos,” says Owen—as is a chase sequence that sprints over the roof top tiles of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.
“You can’t really control the environment,” Owen says of shooting the crowded action scene. “You just go into the real place and shoot it for real.” Which is simple if you’re shooting a romance, but exponentially harder if you’re racing through thousands of extras with a pistol clenched in your hand. Comforted by the bodyguard keeping tabs on his safety, Owen was able to enjoy the surrealistic quality of his work-day, saying: “It was pretty wild strutting through a very packed market with a gun in my hand, watching people’s reactions around me.”
The Turkish climax was shot during the first week of filming, but set the course for the entire production.
“There’s great momentum from the minute the film starts, because the minute the film starts, somebody dies, and there’s a guy saying, ‘“I know who did it; You’ve got to believe me,’” Owen says.
’s three-continent sprawl proved to be an added bonus. “When you’re in the same place month after month after month, you get so used to it that it’s harder to keep the energy up,” Owen says. “When you’re traveling, going to incredible places, they re-energize you.” Owen hopes the audience’s reaction will mirror his own, saying: "I just think it’ll be an incredibly full and rewarding experience.”