NEW YORK (AP) — Clive Owen was looking to do a play after a long time away from the stage. He just wanted the right one. The one he picked would make many other actors run screaming into Times Square.
The “Closer” and “Inside Man” star finds himself making his Broadway debut this fall in a revival of Harold Pinter’s “Old Times,” a heady brew of sexual tension and deceit wrapped in a thin, polite coating.
“It’s so full and complex that it takes everything you’ve got as an actor,” Owen said recently. “The calibration of it each time you do it is so delicate and nuanced that things can shift and change all the time.”
In the 70-minute “Old Times,” a game of power and possession is played out between a married couple and the wife’s former flatmate, whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years.
Owen plays the man at the center of the erotic triangle, alongside “Nurse Jackie” star Eve Best as the friend and “True Detective” star Kelly Reilly as his onstage wife.
Warning to those who like their plays to end with nice neat bows: This isn’t one of those.
“You end, hopefully, being very moved in lots of different ways but not with a satisfying, neat feeling,” said Owen. “You’re kind of left reeling a little. It’s not a neat conclusion. Life is not like that. Feelings and people aren’t like that.”
So not a great “date night” play?
“Depends what your idea of a good date is,” Reilly responds, mysteriously.
It’s the first time the three British actors have worked together and they look a little stunned by the material, which is infused with Pinter’s sparse, dark style and characters with internal fears and longings. Not much is what it seems.
“The choices are endless. They still are endless,” said Reilly, whose film credits include “Sherlock Holmes” and “Flight.” ”It keeps me awake at night, thinking, ‘Oh, I’ve got that completely wrong.'”
While it’s both Reilly and Owen’s first stab at Pinter, the Tony-nominated Best is well aware of the playwright, having appeared in Pinter’s “The Homecoming” on Broadway as well as in London.
The actress met Pinter over lunch in London shortly before he died in 2008. “When we met, he said, ‘Do you know my play ‘Old Times’? You should play Anna one of these days,'” she recalled.
She has this advice for anyone tackling Pinter: “Like any great piece of writing, it’s got a very strong musical feel. It’s our job really to play it as accurately as we can and not to inform it. You know, stay out of it.”
It just so happens that Reilly also met the playwright. She just didn’t know it at the time.
“I was in a bar. I had no idea. Too much red wine. And I was talking to some chap. He was fabulous. And then afterwards, somebody went, ‘Oh my god, you just spoke to Harold Pinter!’ I was like, ‘What?'”
This Roundabout Theatre Company revival of “Old Times,” which first arrived on Broadway in 1971, marks the third Pinter play in the last few years, following “Betrayal” and “No Man’s Land.” Owen credits Pinter’s success to the playwright’s ability to touch a nerve.
“If the heart of it wasn’t intelligent truthfulness, people would just think it was contrived and artificial and he wouldn’t be talked about the way he is,” he said.
All three actors have leaned on director Douglas Hodge, who worked with Pinter for decades. After all this onstage menace and emotional brutality, will these three actors ever work together again? They each laugh.
“Ask us in November,” Reilly said.