Scott Hicks, the Australian director responsible for the Academy Award-winning Shine, returns to his native country for the adaptation of Simon Carr’s bestselling memoir. The Boys Are Back deals with a recently widowed father of two boys who has to come to grips with fatherhood. Academy Award-nominee Clive Owen stars and gives the best performance of his career as a loving father who, with little guidance other than his instincts, opts for a chaotic, Boys’ Own-style existence with his sons. I sat down with the actor recently to discuss his latest film.
That is not your typical role. What was it about this character that made you want to commit to it? It is different. I was very attracted to it because it’s a movie that really is exploring the ups and downs of parenting. And I am a parent, I have two girls. It is a huge problem of mine, but I’ve always considered it very separate. I go off and make movies and I come home and I’m a father, and I have that sort of very full experience at home.
It was a script that I was incredibly touched by-the examination of single parenting. I was devastated when I read those opening scenes of him telling the boy that his mother might not be around much longer, and I thought that was deeply upsetting and really moved me. I thought it was a very exquisitely written exploration of a father and two boys trying to make their way.
It’s funny, because a lot of people have said that it’s a very different film for me, but I never plan it that way-I never make choices in movies thinking of genre or what kind of role it is. It is literally an instinctive response, the career, and then there are days I do look back and see all the films together and notice patterns. I didn’t think it was some huge departure. I was very taken with the script.
I read an interview that Scott Hicks gave where he said he’d never worked with an actor so much on a script before. I indeed like to do a lot of work before I start shooting. I like to be very clear and to discuss with the director anything that feels to me it’s not working. Scott and I just work very closely together. We were both very passionate that it wasn’t going to be a sentimental film, that the film had to feel real, and the incidents were real, and that we’d all be working to achieve that. It was just really about honing and talking and making sure that the thing played and the physical beats were right. And the all of it felt as real as possible.
How challenging was it to work with the younger boy in the movie? He didn’t have any experience, right? It is challenging, yeah, and it was one of the bigger attractions in doing the film. I was very excited about the idea of working with a boy that age. But I was also very nervous. As someone who spends a lot of time on these characters, I like to prepare and go through certain things that work. But when you’re working with a child that age, you’ve got to keep up with him; you can’t go in with too much planned.
He’s a very talented, very skilled young boy, but he’s kind of reacting. It’s not a conscious thing he’s doing. It’s not a honed skill. I have to be sensitive to that, because I’ll be doing something different, and the film rests on you believing the relationship and all the ups and downs of father and son. So it just meant that I had to lose the way I’m used to working, and I was excited by that because it was challenging me in a way, and I really did enjoy it.
Do you feel you’re a better actor because of the experience? Yeah, I think it’s true. I think that the thing about a child of that age and acting is that it is spontaneous. What they will do is unpredictable because they’re so in immediate and so present. As an actor, you’ve got to keep loose and be sensitive to that. And it did take me to a place that I might not have gone.
Did making this movie change your relationship with your daughters? I don’t know if it changed my relationship with my girls, but certainly my relationship with my girls informed a lot of the script for me. I felt that in lots of scenes, I’ve been in similar situations as a parent, and so it would help me understand the place my character’s in, and help me make sure it felt right. But I wouldn’t say I run a strict household at all. I mean, I’ve got the lowest status in my house by quite a long way. But I’m certainly not as loose as Joe. I do the washing up.
But there is a totally different dynamic in this movie with the fact that it’s all boys as opposed to your experience in a house full of women. It’s a very simplistic thing-the physical energy is a big difference. Boys have got more physical energy to get out, and I think that is a huge dissimilarity. It would be a totally different film if I were bringing up two girls. With boys, it is much more sort of a physical energetic relationship.
The Boys Are Back is now playing in Santa Barbara theaters.