We all know Clive Owen as a top box office name whose career is filled with action and adventure roles. However, you can still find him in smaller roles, like that of a grieving father in Miramax’s new release The Boys Are Back.
In the film, Owen plays an Australian sports writer whose wife dies of cancer, and he’s left alone to take care of his six-year-old son. He also brings home his son from another marriage to live with them, utilizing the controversial parenting technique of very few rules and letting the kids choose their own actions.
Greg Brenman, who produced the film along with other indie hits like Billy Elliot, took some time to chat with Film School Rejects about the production.
Brenman first discovered the story when he found out writer Simon Carr was interested in having his autobiographical book being developed into a movie. “We were very fortunate to get on board at that early stage,” Brenman told Film School Rejects. Brenman, who knew Carr through a business relationship, said to him, “We’re gonna give you some strange advice. Sell the film rights to us. We love it.”
From this point, Brenman and company began the seven year process of developing the film. The first hurdle was getting a star like Clive Owen locked into place, but not because of lack of interest. “It wasn’t difficult to get his interest because once he read the script, he absolutely loved it and wanted to do it,” Brenman explained. “What was difficult was getting his availability and matching it with [director] Scott Hicks’ availability.”
Initially, Owen couldn’t do the film because he had a backlog of projects. However, once his schedule cleared up, he basically became a member of the development team, and they all faced new obstacles. “The challenge was we had a six-year-old boy. We couldn’t work all hours of the day, and we certainly didn’t want him to be too exhausted,” said Brenman.
Brenman, who had worked with kids on Billy Elliot, saw the casting of a young actor to play six-year-old Artie as the “make or break” move. They conducted an exhaustive search and eventually found Nicholas McAnulty, who was able to handle the emotional role. “Here was a boy here who wasn’t acting. He could role play and be in the moment,” Brenman said.
Ultimately, to make the film work, the production team were careful with how they approached McAnulty’s scenes. “It’s counter productive having them on set for too long on any one day,” Brenman explained, so they always had two or three cameras rolling for each of his scenes. “We could only run scenes two or three times, if you’re looking for that little gold dust moment. It’s not going to come on the nineteenth take because that little boy will be on the floor, having a tantrum.”
As much as the human characters were important to the film, so was the location of South Australia. Under the eye of Australian cinematographer Greig Fraser, the film highlighted a lesser known Australian landscape rather than the familiar desert or rainforest. “We felt that South Australia in its vineyards and rolling hills is where a British person might end up,” Brenman said. “It just seemed to kind of make sense.”
Brenman pointed out that while the parenting techniques shown in the film are controversial, the emotion behind a family that loses a wife and mother is real, and he’s heard positive feedback from men who have been through this. Even though few parents would use these techniques, Brenman said that it makes sense in this situation. “I can see why Simon Carr did do it. He realized that the perfect wife and perfect mother had died. And he realized that he could not replace her.”
The techniques are reckless, Brenman admits. “There is a lot of love attached to it. There’s more recklessness than neglect. Remember that this is a guy who’s going through his own grief.”
The Boys Are Back is now available on DVD from Miramax.
Check out this full audio interview at Fat Guys at the Movies.