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Clive Owen - Biography

English actor Clive Owen is best known for his starring role in The Bourne Identity

Clive Owen smiling in a smart suit
Phoebe Tatham
Content Writer
Updated: 15 June 2023
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Who is Clive Owen?

Clive Owen is not the kind of man to lose his cool. The statuesque actor - he's 6ft 3in tall - is one of those performers to whom the word "smouldering" is applied with telling regularity. And the enigmatic restraint often displayed by his onscreen characters could be seen as reflecting the progress of his career a journey that has been more leisurely stroll than lively sprint.

The British actor first caught Tinseltown's attention in the indie hit Croupier. Despite initially not making an impact at the box office, its leading man's performance contributed significantly to the film's popularity. Indeed many experts say it could have led to Clive's first Oscar nomination, had the movie not been ruled ineligible on a technicality. 

In a remarkable testament to the performer's talent and charisma such a buzz grew around Croupier that studio bosses decided to re-release it. Movie critics responded by declaring the then 34-year-old was the next big thing. Clive had long before learned to ignore the excited predictions of an over-enthusiastic press, however. 

His career

He had found himself on the receiving end of similar hype eight years earlier when he played obnoxious City boy Stephen Crane in the TV series Chancer. Plaudits came his way again a few years later for the acclaimed incest drama Close My Eyes, but the movie also provoked enough controversy to keep A-list status just beyond his reach. His decision to play a gay concentration camp prisoner in Bent, before taking on the role of a bisexual in a stage production of Noel Coward's Design For Living, further fuelled reservations in the minds of casting agents. 

The inconsistent performance of his movies can't have helped much either - Gosford Park and The Bourne Identity both set the industry alight, while Beyond Borders and King Arthur bombed in no uncertain terms. When asked about his erratic relationship with the movie-going public, the actor responds with the same dry indifference one might expect from Croupier's Jack. "Nobody goes to see Beyond Borders or whatever? Well that's out of my hands," he says. 

"The fact is, I would jump at it today with the same appetite, because my gut tells me more than ever that it's not about making career movies or movies that look good. The most important thing is to do the work that you want to do that's how you grow as an actor." The remark would not surprise those who know him. Because although Hollywood has been seduced by Clive Owen, Clive Owen has not fallen head-over-heels for Hollywood. 

His dispassionate approach may stem from the fact that Clive knows a thing or two about life's hardships. In the tradition of Michael Caine and Gary Oldman, he was born - on October 3, 1964 into a working class household. His father, a Country and Western singer, moved out when Clive was a toddler, leaving him and his three brothers to be raised by mum Pamela. The handsome youngster attended a Coventry comprehensive before being accepted by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where he would cut his thespian teeth in a series of Shakespearian roles. 

His personal life

In 1988 he joined the Young Vic Theatre Company and landed the lead in one of the Bard's most famous works. Playing Romeo would prove a life-changing experience for the then 24-year-old who found himself falling in love with his Juliet - Sarah-Jane Fenton. They married in 1995 and went on to have two daughters, Hannah and Eve. From theatre he turned back to TV and the silver screen, with the potential of true recognition constantly close but elusive. 

A 2005 Oscar nomination for best supporting actor finally made Hollywood sit up and listen. His role in Closer, which also won him a BAFTA award, put him on the A-list map and earned him praise from some of the industry's biggest players. "He's very, very powerful," says his Closer co-star Julia Roberts. "I can't wait for everyone to figure out how versatile he is." George Clooney likewise thought he was "the big find", a movie star with a "sexuality and a masculinity that I think is really interesting". 

Clive followed up with box office hits Sin City, Derailed, Inside Man and the lead in futuristic thriller Children Of Men. Despite his ever-increasing profile, which in 2007 included an ad campaign as the face of Lancome's men's range, he prefers to steer from of the limelight whenever possible. "My life is divided between work and my family. I don't do anything else," he says. "For me it's all about the work, and when I'm not working, I just hole up with the family."

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