A suave, darkly handsome actor reminiscent of the young Sean Connery in looks and charisma, Clive Owen first came to international attention with his sinuous, understated portrayal of the amoral protagonist of Mike Hodges' Croupier (1998). A flop in Britain, where Owen had long been a staple of various BBC TV series, the film was a sleeper hit in the States, its success duly generating a flurry of interest in the relatively unknown actor who lent the film its seductive intensity. A product of Coventry, Warwickshire, Owen got a bumpy start in his chosen career, living on the dole for two years after he left school. Fortunately, respite arrived in the form of an acceptance to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1984, and following his graduation from RADA, the young actor joined the Young Vic Theatre Company, where he performed a number of the classics.
Owen broke into TV in 1986 with a guest appearance on the series Boon, and subsequently made his film debut in Beeban Kidron's Vroom (1988), a road movie co-starring David Thewlis and Diana Quick. More television work followed in the form of Chancer, a popular miniseries that cast Owen as its heroic protagonist. The actor also found himself increasingly busy with big-screen performances, turning in a complex portrayal of a man involved in an obsessive and incestuous relationship with his sister (Saskia Reeves) in Close My Eyes (1991). Owen received one of his biggest roles to date in Sean Mathias' 1997 screen adaptation of Martin Sherman's Bent, a Holocaust drama in which Owen starred as a bisexual concentration camp inmate who falls in love with a fellow prisoner (Lothaire Bluteau). Although the film earned a substantial degree of critical acclaim and boasted the talents of such luminaries as Ian McKellen and Mick Jagger, it failed to garner much commercial notice.
Owen finally broke through to an international audience with Hodges' Croupier, earning almost unanimous acclaim for his portrayal of a struggling writer who becomes caught up in an intricate scam after taking a job in a casino. He subsequently starred as a prisoner who takes up gardening in Greenfingers, a comedy that also starred Helen Mirren and had its premiere at the 2000 Toronto Film Festival. The actor also remained active on the stage, even as his screen work thrived, starring in the original 1997 London production of Patrick Marber's highly feted Closer, and performing alongside Rachel Weisz and Paul Rhys in Sean Mathias' acclaimed revival of Noël Coward's Design for Living at London's Donmar Warehouse.
The new millennium saw Owen appearing in an eclectic range of projects. In 2001, he starred as the only recurring character in BMW's Hire series of ambitious short films by directors such as Ang Lee and Guy Ritchie and also appeared in Robert Altman's acclaimed Gosford Park. Following a memorable supporting performance opposite Matt Damon in 2002's popular The Bourne Identity, Owen moved up to a starring role as an international relief worker who has an affair with Angelina Jolie in 2003's Beyond Borders. The next year, he took on the title role in King Arthur, Antoine Fuqua's non-fantasy retelling of the legendary story, with then it-girl Keira Knightley as his Guinevere. Both Beyond Borders and King Arthur failed to garner much of an audience, with the latter especially disappointing in light of its 120-million-dollar budget. Despite buzz about the possibility of Owen taking over the James Bond role in the iconic series, his prospects as a Hollywood leading man seemed to be faltering.
Also in 2004, Owen appeared stateside in a smaller-budget U.K. film from Croupier director Mike Hodges called I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, about a former gangster investigating the mysterious death of his younger brother. Starring an impressive cast that included Charlotte Rampling, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and Malcolm McDowell, the film was well-received by critics but relegated to only small arthouse exposure in the States. Later that year, Owen appeared in the big-screen adaptation of Closer, directed by Mike Nichols and co-starring such big names as Julia Roberts, Jude Law, and Natalie Portman. In 2005, Owen joined an even more star-studded cast with a role in Robert Rodriguez' adaptation of Frank Miller's comic Sin City, and he would also star opposite Julianne Moore in Savage Grace and Jennifer Aniston in Derailed.
His biggest success to date came in early 2006, when he played the criminal mastermind behind a savvy bank heist in director Spike Lee's first blockbuster genre picture, The Inside Man. He would follow that with Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, a futuristic thriller where Owen plays a man protecting a pregnant woman at a time when no human beings have been born in nearly two decades. Owen also took a part in Shekar Kapur's Elizabeth: The Golden Age, a sequel to his Oscar nominated biopic Elizabeth.
Owen would spend the following several years enjoying his leading man status with films like Killer Elite, Shadow Dancer, and Blood Ties.