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  • Feature: The International

    Thu, 12 Feb 2009 14:58:36

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    Naomi Watts describes the working relationship between her character and Clive Owen's in the conspiracy thriller The International by saying, "They rely on one another and trust each other, although she operates very much from an above-board background. She doesn't want to get too crazy."

    That's because Watts plays a by-the-book Manhattan assistant district attorney, while Owen is an angry Interpol agent who has been getting nowhere playing by the rules. They team up to get the goods on a shady multinational bank that's not above using murder to keep its secrets safe.

    Possibly the most surprising thing about the movie is that romance never blooms between the leads, although director Tom Tykwer did shoot a scene where they almost kissed. "The great thing about Tom is he's so focused on authenticity that he probably just didn't feel it rang true, and it was awkward, so he decided to get rid of it," Watts explains.

    As a mother of two whose first child was born only three months before Watts began filming her scenes, she notes that balancing career and family is "an endless struggle. Your family is something that you'll always have to put first, or will want to put first. While I'm someone who doesn't want to give up my work—I love what I do—I will have to consider things carefully and how it will affect the family."

    'They rely on one another and trust each other,' Watts says of her character and Owen's.

    Although she says she was "quite happy" not to be involved in any onscreen gunplay, Watts points to a high-body-count shootout in the Guggenheim museum as her favorite scene in the movie. "I have to say that the Guggenheim scene is pretty amazing, and I'm not one to like a lot of gunfire," she says. "But it's just spectacular, the set and the tension."

    Owen says the running gun battle took months of preparation and a long time to film, but ended up being "one of the most exquisitely realized scenes" in which he ever has appeared.

    "The very first time I sat down with Tom to talk about the movie, he said, 'It's not going to be an action film, per se—but when there is action, I want it to be incredibly tense and very explosive,'" Owen recalls.

    In one of the most potentially dangerous scenes to shoot, Owen ran among hundreds of non-actors in Istanbul brandishing a firearm. "We shot for a day or two of me just tearing through the Grand Bazaar with intent, with a gun in my hand," Owen says. "Some people genuinely were thinking that we were being a bit crazy, that you've got a gun in your hand and anything can happen. But it was a very exciting way to shoot it, to just get in there and mix it up with the real crowd."

    For Owen, getting the audience to go along with a character who is that driven meant never letting up on the intensity of his performance. "It's a paranoid political thriller, and the guy in the middle of it all is railing, saying, 'You've got to believe me, you've got to believe me!' You have to put that into every scene that you do, because you've got to drive it."

    Owen describes the rumpled, sleepless but relentless character he plays as one who is so committed to nailing the bad guys that "there's no vanity, there's no time for self-reflection. The guy is only looking one way, and that's outwards. He's obsessed."

    Equally obsessed was director Tykwer, whom Owen describes as "a workaholic." During consecutive day and night shoots for the Guggenheim sequence, Tykwer always tried to be on set. "The work ethic of the man is unbelievable," Owen says. "At times I was genuinely worried, thinking 'he won't keep this up.' But amazingly, he did."

    "Even though I had an amazing second-unit director who I loved working with, I ended up being there most of the time," Tykwer confirms, adding that he wouldn't have been able to sleep, anyway. "I could never just walk home and know that other people are still shooting my film. I mean, it's ridiculous. I don't know how that works, how you can have dinner somewhere and know they're shooting. If they're shooting, I want to be there. It's my movie."

    As for keeping romance out of the picture, Tykwer says Owen's and Watts' characters have "a very strange, particular chemistry" that he loved. "The reality is that when we meet somebody, usually one of the two is in a relationship, you just don't jump on each other," he says."If you see Clive and Naomi, you go, 'They have to be a couple, because they're so perfect.' They're like the most perfect couple. And that's what I loved about it: the undercurrent that they know it, but she's married…bad timing."

    —James Dawson

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    Tags: Tom Tykwer, Clive Owen, Naomi Watts

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