Old Times

Interview with Actor: Clive Owen


Ted Sod, Education Dramaturg, spoke with actor Clive Owen about Old Times and his role as Deeley.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 08: Clive Owen is photographed at the summer Television Critics Association for Portrait Session on July 8, 2014 in Beverly Clive Owen

Clive Owen

Ted Sod: Why did you choose to play the role of Deeley in Harold Pinter’s Old Times? What do you think the play is about?

Clive Owen: I've been thinking about doing a play for some time. I was really just waiting for the right thing to come along. I love this play; I think it might be Pinter's best play. I think it's just a great piece of writing, and I love the part of Deeley. I was very encouraged by the fact that Doug Hodge, the director, had worked with Pinter often and seems to understand his work very well. It took me a while to say yes because I hadn’t done a play for so long that I had to be sure that it was the right one to do.

In terms of what the play is about, I think it’s one of his more elusive plays. I honestly think you could ask a number of people who have read or seen this play what the play was about and they would say different things. I've read reviews from past productions, and people are forever commenting on how difficult it is to really pin down what the play is about. To me it's primarily about two things: how human beings remember things that happened a while ago and how we reshape those memories according to the way we want to remember them. It's also a play that is fueled with a sexual jealousy. That seems to be a big theme in Old Times – what went on before this couple became a couple – what they did, how they behaved. The beauty of it is that it is wide open to interpretation, which means every time you do a production of a Pinter play, the people coming together create something original.

I feel that our version of Old Times will be different from anybody else's, and it should be. The play is beautifully written, and the rhythm and structure is so clear that, at the end of the day, we will make decisions in the rehearsal room and connect to things that I am sure will have an effect. The play will have its life. If we just commit to it, it will resonate.


TS: Does the play have personal resonance for you?

CO: I wouldn't say so particularly, no. I do think that Pinter is quintessentially English. I feel excited by that. There's an underlying anger within Pinter and a seething quality that I find to be quite English.


TS: Is it a challenge to come back to the stage after working for so many years in front of the camera?

CO: For sure it is, yes. It was a big decision because of that. When I started acting, it was only to do theatre. I wasn't really interested in doing film or television. I joined a youth theatre, and I trained at RADA. Then my career took the course it did and I ended up for the last ten to fifteen years doing primarily film—working in front of a camera. Of course, I'll be nervous by going back on stage, because it's been a while—but there's also something exciting about reawakening the thing that set me alight to begin with. It's why I became an actor. The idea of going into rehearsal for weeks has reminded me how much I loved it, how much I was inspired by it. I'm nervous but very excited at the same time.


TS: When you were doing stage work or studying at RADA, did you ever work on a play of Pinter's before?

CO: No, I haven't, actually. Over the years I have been asked a number of times to do Pinter plays. I have to say, this is one of my favorites and one of my favorite characters. It was great that this play was put in front of me at this time. I’m beginning to work on Old Times now, just reading it. Pinter's structure, rhythms, and the way he puts things together—it’s very clear why he does what he does. There's a real muscularity about it. It's so precise and so thought through. Sometimes his sentences are odd—it’s not the easiest or most natural way of saying something – but once you mine it and get on top of it, it's really clear why he's positioning the words in that way. There's strength and a precision of meaning in his words, and that is really exciting to begin to work on.

Clive Owen in rehearsal for OLD TIMES.

Clive Owen in rehearsal for OLD TIMES.

TS: Do you think that's because he was an actor himself? Do you think he understood what actors need? He’s become notorious for the Pinter pause.

CO: I think there's an element of that. I think he writes great parts. I think his plays are full of conflict.The characters are always in conflict, which always creates good drama. I feel, when you read his work, that the pauses and silences he's written become really clear. I've seen interviews with him where he talks about the famous “Pinter pause.” He explains what a pause and a silence are used for. People get a bit obsessed by it, but to me it's a very clear indication of a change in thought or a pull back on the rhythm. It seems very clear to me why he's written them into his scripts.


TS: You spoke about reading the play in depth. What other preparation do you have to do for a role like this? Do you have to do research or do you just wait until you get to the room and work with the director?

CO: Obviously that's the crucial bit, but I go back and look at the history of Pinter and try to find out as much as I can. He doesn't really say too much about his plays. I think he's a great believer in the plays speaking for themselves. He's not going to over‐analyze them. Also, his plays have an effect because of where they sit. It's not about black and white. Often he's working in a very murky gray area. His plays aren't literal, they're much more abstract than that. I've found out as much as I can about him. I've watched some old movies of Pinter. There's nothing in terms of research and background to the parts. It's on the page. It's really just about reading a play over and over so that ideas come to you.


TS: Have you ever worked with Eve Best—or Emily, as she's sometimes called—or Kelly Reilly before?

CO: No, I haven't actually.


TS: Have you ever been directed by Doug?

CO: No, not at all. I met Doug and talked to him about the play. It feels that he really does understand Pinter probably as well as anybody. The fact that he's done a lot of Pinter plays, the fact that he worked with Pinter, is very reassuring to me.


TS: Can you tell us what you look for from a director? What is it that you like to get from a director?

CO: Inspired, really. It's a very difficult question. It's not always obvious things. It's really just to be supported and inspired. I think the best directors get the best work out of actors by making them feel good and making them feel like they can do anything. How you get to that point, I don't know, but that's the objective. I worked with the great Mike Nichols. People always talked about how brilliant he was with actors. You just wanted to do it for that guy, but also he was great at making you feel like you could do anything. When an actor is in that position, they’re wide open, and that's where you get the best work, really.


TS: Do you have any advice for young people who may be thinking about a career as an actor? Is that something you're willing to share?

CO: The only thing I would say is: If you are thinking about it, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. We live in a time where people want things so quickly. When I started acting, I always had the idea I was in it for the long haul. I wanted to make a career out of it. I loved what I was doing. The idea of making a living out of it—something that I could do for a long time—was really attractive to me. It seemed to me that the best way to do that was to work hard and make sure I was doing it, always, for the right reasons. The choices I've made, they're all related to work, and doing work that I felt was important and fulfilling. That's carried me all the way through. We do live in a time where people get things very quickly. It’s all so immediate. If I was advising anyone young who was going into acting, I would just say, it's all about the work. Everything else that comes with acting is not as important as actually getting down and doing the work.

Old Times begins previews September 17 at the American Airlines Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2015-2016 Season, Old Times

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Interview with Director: Douglas Hodge


Education dramaturg Ted Sod discusses Old Times with Director Douglas Hodge. 

Doug Hodge

Douglas Hodge

Ted Sod: American audiences know you primarily as an actor, but you’re also a director and a composer. How and why did you decide to direct for the theatre?

Douglas Hodge: In England, I’ve had a more balanced career directing and acting. It can be quite difficult to juggle the two careers. When I left RADA, I was absolutely set on directing, but I kept being offered acting jobs. Michael Grandage had the idea that I should be his first Associate Director at the Donmar, and I continued going between the two. The lead‐in time for a director is huge. You have to commit to directing a year’s time ahead, with casting and designing, and it’s not always easy if you are doing a TV series like “Penny Dreadful.” When I did Cyrano for Roundabout, I was originally supposed to direct and play the title role, but I quickly realized that was madness and we called in Jamie Lloyd, who directed me in Osborne’s Inadmissible Evidence. When Todd Haimes asked what I wanted to do next at Roundabout, I said, “I want to direct.”


TS: Do you prefer directing?

DH: It just tends to be that the grass is always greener. If I’m doing a movie, I suddenly think, Oh God, I wish I could just get a play script I could get my teeth into. If I’m doing eight shows a week in a West End musical, I think, God, how lovely it would be to be in a TV series right now.


TS: Tell us about your history working with Harold Pinter.

DH: We met doing No Man’s Land. Nobody had dared to do another production of No Man’s Land, because it was done originally by Gielgud and Richardson. It was Lady Antonia Fraser, Harold’s wife, who said, “Harold, if you play the part Richardson played, you can finally get that play back on again, and people won’t be so frightened of it.” Harold, having not written for fifteen, sixteen years—he’d had a block—started acting again. He and I and two others were sharing a dressing room at the Almeida.

We were both nervous. It was a great leveler in some ways because he was more accessible to me than if he’d just been the writer sitting at the back of the theatre. We became firm friends during that run. And he started to write again. He wrote Moonlight. About three quarters through the run of No Man’s Land, he said, “Listen, there’s this new play I’ve written, and I want you to have a look at it; there’s a part in it for you.” I did Moonlight at the Almeida and the West End, and then I did Betrayal, The Lover, The Collection, and The Caretaker. I also directed Victoria Station, Dumb Waiter, and all the sketches.


TS: I’ve read that you consider Pinter a genius.

DH: There is nobody like him in terms of his exactness, rigorousness of thought, and the volatility of his mind. He certainly was a difficult person to get along with. There was this whole volcano of ruthless and frightening emotions that he lived in. And when you act his parts, you become aware of that. I think in terms of me calling him a genius, which is not a word I use lightly, I would say that he’s one of the top three writers of the last 100 years of the theatre ‐‐ unparalleled really.

I think that the nature of his genius was he had this extraordinary ear for the musicality of the East End Jewish area that he grew up in, a neighborhood that had its own sense of humor, rules, violence, aspirations, and political bias. His ear for that was so acute that he heard it as once removed. When you do his work, it can sound just like a piece of music. Other times, you realize it is completely organic. The theatre was his very lifeblood and his absolute soul, really. I’m not sure that anyone of his ilk remains. There will never be another like him. There are many people that he’s inspired and who sound like him, but I look around and I don’t see anyone with such a devoted idea of what theatre can be and how it can change lives.


TS: What are the acting challenges of Pinter’s language?

DH: Essentially you need to fill your storehouse with enormous emotions—murderous, psychotic emotions—to the point of almost breakdown, in the backstory of the character, and then you step on stage and you’re as polite as you can possibly be. You manage all those deep feelings with short sentences. There is great feeling underneath it. The language he’s using is just literally the tip of an iceberg. He encapsulated a way of communicating that was exactly the way people were speaking at the time, and still are, to some degree. A broken untrusting fractured currency of language. He had an untrammeled access to his subconscious. He was never afraid to allow poetic moments.

Kelly Reilly and Clive Owen in rehearsal for OLD TIMES.

Kelly Reilly and Clive Owen in rehearsal for OLD TIMES.

TS: Why did you choose to direct Old Times?

DH: It was one of the few plays that I’d never seen of his, and I knew that it was a play that is close to Todd Haimes’s heart. When Roundabout was in a precarious financial situation, Anthony Hopkins turned up and played Deeley in Old Times and it was a success. Pinter said at one point, “I want to get rid of the doors and windows, and to break out of that.” And I think Old Times, which he wrote in three days, is the moment where he started to break new ground and write pieces that were truly experimental, evocative and poetic, works that were different from The Caretaker or The Homecoming.


TS: Do you think audiences will see this as a contemporary play or a period piece?

DH: It was written in 1971 and it will be played in 1971, but the theme is jealousy for your lover’s past. And in many a relationship, I know that can surface like a terrible monster. I think it’s very relevant – the issues in it about memory and time and the structure, too, are all modern.


TS: I’ve read at least twenty different interpretations of this play. Did you do any research into those interpretations?

DH: I read all those interpretations, and I don’t think any of them are wrong. I think that they all exist as the reverberations of a natural piece of poetry or a dance piece that you might see. You could come away from seeing Old Times and say, “It meant this to me,” or “I got that from it.” And it wouldn’t be a wrong interpretation. What I do feel though, is that academic interpretation, in the end, diminishes the piece. The production that I would love to direct is one where we make very specific choices and the play becomes a launch pad for your own imagination. The audience is able to think, God, this could be me talking to my lover now, or it could be my parents’ lover here, or it could be...”

The play is about memory and recollection, so I’ve done research about memory and how it’s perceived. I think Harold himself believed that there is no past, that the past is eternally present, and becomes more present. And the more emotional the moments that we have in the past are, the more present they are. There’s a wonderful quote by Mark Twain—and I’m paraphrasing— “I’m old enough now to only remember the things that never actually happened.”


TS: What traits did you need from the actors you’ve cast?

DH: Kelly Reilly is playing Kate, who is a wonderfully sensual being. I think everything comes from her shyness— she has the most immense power and is able to look out the window for a long time and just dream. Kelly has all of those qualities; she has this great, exotic, strange beauty—a real bird of paradise. There’s a quietness about her, an almost unknowable quality.

Eve Best has this enormous strength and power, I think. She has a tremendous authority on stage and is equally sexy and wonderful in my eyes. After she had done The Homecoming in New York, Pinter said, “Listen, there’s a role you must do in Old Times – Anna – please play it one day.” So when we offered to her, she said yes within fifteen minutes.

For Deeley, I knew I needed someone who knows the vernacular and has brave authority. Someone sexy and elegant, but who also has a rough diamond edge of violence and emotion to him. Clive Owen is the first person I talked to. He read the piece and immediately called me up and said, “What does it mean? Do you think it means this? Is it this interpretation or is it that?”


TS: Do you have any advice for a young person who wants to direct?

DH: You’re there to let the play out and enable every single department to do the best work they’ve ever done. That’s a thrilling way to direct and to live your life.

Old Times begins previews September 17 at the American Airlines Theatre. For more information and tickets, please visit our website.

Related Categories:
2015-2016 Season, Education @ Roundabout, Old Times, Upstage

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From the Artistic Director: Old Times


OT-0003M-StandardArtFiles_640x640The first ever Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s Old Times, directed by Douglas Hodge begins previews September 17 at the American Airlines Theatre to kick off our 50th Anniversary season.

Doing the work of Harold Pinter in this celebratory season is incredibly meaningful for me. When I first became the Artistic Director of Roundabout, I knew that I wanted to expand on the definition of “classics” that we’d been following. I’ve always been happy doing work from Shaw, Ibsen, Chekhov, and their peers, but as time went on, I saw a need to bring more modern classics into our repertoire. The first name I thought of was Harold Pinter, and I feel so privileged to have worked with this great man late in his career. I found Harold himself to be much like his plays – surprising, a bit scary, and completely inspiring.

What appeals to me in Pinter’s work is the way that it refuses to be pinned down. Not only does each actor, director, and designer develop a new interpretation, but each individual audience member brings a unique perspective to the table. Much like a piece of dance, whatever you take away from the experience is right, in that it reflects what the play said specifically to you. I think people can feel intimidated by Pinter because they think they’ll have the “wrong” answer to the meaning of the play. But there’s truly no such thing. In the world of Pinter, the landscape is always shifting, memory can’t be trusted, passion can flare to violence at any moment, and “wrong” and “right” are simply irrelevant.

We are incredibly lucky to have Douglas Hodge directing this revival, which marks the play’s first return to a Broadway stage since its premiere in 1971. After performing with the playwright himself in a production of Pinter’s No Man’s Land, Doug went on to perform in and direct several more of his plays, getting to know the man behind the icon along the way. Now, Doug has said that he feels Harold at his shoulder, thrilled in the knowledge that one of his greatest plays will be seen by a new audience.

And the importance of that new audience cannot be underestimated. Pinter’s distinct writing style was part of the movement in the 1950s that ushered in a new phase in theatre history, blowing out the doors and windows of the classic drawing rooms. And as Doug has quite wisely expressed, we’ll only open ourselves up to finding the next Harold Pinter if more theatregoers have the chance to see this kind of work for themselves and feel the sense of rebellion that vibrates within it. We don’t yet know what the next era of playwriting will bring, but we can certainly inspire creative minds by showing them what a bit of revolution brought to the stage nearly half a century ago.

I couldn’t be happier to have Old Times launching our 50th Anniversary season at Roundabout, and I hope that you will share your thoughts on this production by emailing me at I can’t tell you how greatly I value your feedback each season. Please keep it coming.

I look forward to seeing you at the theatre!


Todd Haimes
Artistic Director

Related Categories:
2015-2016 Season, From Todd Haimes, Old Times