Clive Owen plays a man devastated by the death of his wife in Scott Hick’s three hankie drama The Boys Are Back. He has no time to mourn or take stock; he must care for the sons he virtually neglected while building a career as a TV sports announcer.

Suddenly he must deal with his son’s grief, try to navigate his own and rebuild their lives. He hasn’t a clue how to do that. Their home falls into squalor and the boys head off the rails and act out due in part to his reluctance to put any rules in place. It’s a heartbreaking situation.

“I’d argue that he tries everything,” says Owen. “He tries very hard not to go into that situation. I think the whole thing is from a guy’s perspective, and I’m a parent. I’ve got two girls, and a day with dad is different then a day with mum, in any family, it just is. Obviously he takes it too far in this movie in theory, he’s fallible, and he’s like everyone else. He’s trying to do the best he can.”

Owen is subdued as he relates his emotional journey preparing to make the film. In one scene his young son asks if his mother will be dead by suppertime.

“Every time I read that in the script I cried. I cried! Imagine saying to one of your kids, “Your mum’s not going to be around for much longer” It kills me every time I even think about it. It was one of the reasons I wanted to do the film, I found it so upsetting, and that’s the beginning of the film, it was very, very affecting. I cried every time I read it, and it’s just there, it just upsets me, I think about it. There’s this one scene where I go walking and I get very upset over this thing, and Scott was very sensitive. When I got upset, he just kept rolling.”

Clive’s take on fatherhood on the next page …

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“A lot of what the film goes through and explores, you must never forget that the young boy and him are grieving. Whatever goes on I don’t judge him because I go “He’s grieving” and grief is messy, it isn’t clean and together, it’s hard and it’s dirty, and it’s emotional and it’s complicated. There’s a little moment later on in the film, but the little boy says “grandma was really upset wasn’t she?” and I say “Yeah, she misses Mummy, we all do” I mean they’re in this terrible grieving situation. It’s a process.”

Owen says spending time with his family is his top priority. He doesn’t have any film work on the immediate horizon, although there are a few things “flying around”.

“I remember when I first started acting. The whole thing where you have to be comfortable with not knowing what’s next. That’s what this game is. It does not know what’s around the corner. I concede that it is a huge privilege to be in a business where the next film will open you up to a whole new world. But I don’t know what it is at the moment. And the idea of knowing what I’m going to do for the next however number of years, well, I’m not crazy about it. In acting it can be a whole world, a whole life, a whole new experience that’s out there. At the moment I don’t know what that is. It’s exciting.”

For now, Owen’s looking forward to spending extra time with Hannah and Eve. He says they have special daddy only days. “We hang out, we go walking on the heath, or we go to the movies, we make it as fun as we can. I love talking to them, when I can get them to talk. I say “How was…” and they say “Fine” and “But what…” “…fine”. But I love when I get them talking about the ins and outs of what they’re feeling about school and stuff. It’s just the best. I value those times.”

And what about the prospect of young suitors knocking at their door?

“Ohh, please I’m terrified. It’s coming fast, and I’m not ready for it.”

And does this cinema heartthrob see the irony in that?

“I’ve got a bit of time left. Don’t get me thinking of that already!”

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