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Clive Owen puts Jason Statham in a choke hold in 'Killer Elite.'

Britain’s ever-reliable Clive Owen definitely holds his own when he stars opposite Jason Statham in the new action spy thriller Killer Elite, which has just has its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival.

Owen plays a British soldier/assassin out to thwart a mission led by a special-ops agent, portrayed by Statham, to kill three former British Special Air Service soldiers.

I caught up with 46-year-old Clive Owen the night after Killer Elite‘s world premiere. We discussed the film (which opens September 23), the demands of playing action roles, and his career strategy — or lack of it.

TOM BROOK: Well to begin with, what makes Killer Elite stand apart from other action thrillers do you think?

CLIVE OWEN: I think it’s not just an excuse to do big action set pieces, there is a storyline behind it, it’s quite a complex story, set in the 70s. It’s kind of a spy movie that’s a real spy movie. So, I think generally I wouldn’t call it an action film. There’s some great action in it, but it kind of comes out something else.

TB: And how familiar are you with certain elements in the film? Did you know much about SAS operatives for instance?

CLIVE OWEN: Strangely, I do know a couple of guys who now work in security which a lot of those guys do, and we did have a guy who was attached to the film who had been in the SAS for 30 years, who was a pool of information.

TB: You display a tremendous physicality in this movie – in a way, is that just as hard, or is it perhaps harder than doing some subtle drama film?

CLIVE OWEN: I approach those scenes in the same way as I would approach a dialogue scene. They’ve got to be believable. They’ve got to make sense. They’ve got to be logical. And then you perform them as intensely and as strongly as you can. You know in some ways, you do a dialogue scene, there’s always a different interpretation. There’s a very fine line doing action. It’s very clear what your objectives are each day. You have to hit certain beats, you have to get certain angles, and there’s something quite satisfying about that.

TB: As you get older, doing action films is going to become more and more of a challenge, will you actually miss that do you think?

CLIVE OWEN: No. I keep myself pretty fit, and at the moment I still enjoy doing them.

TB: Is there in any sense a desire on your part to redefine yourself as an actor, to get into a genre of filmmaking that you’ve never stepped into before, like saying being in a musical or something like that?

CLIVE OWEN: It’s not like an absolute sort of, “I want to go out there and keep doing that,” but I just instinctively am just always changing the stuff I want to do. I just respond to the material, and a whole variety of material. Like you would if you were doing plays in the theatre, you play different parts. And so, my career is just a series of choices. When I look back, I think it is quite diverse, but that was just an impulse to the material and wanting to work with the director.

TB: Are you ever, though, strategic about your career, I mean you have quite a profile in Hollywood, have you ever thought, well I’ve got to do this particular movie, in order to get more currency in Hollywood?

CLIVE OWEN: No, never, I think it’s a very dangerous game, I think the best career move is to be good, and to be good you can be in a small film, or big film, or any film. I think it’s important to have an appetite to want to play the part. And then just be good is the best career move, be as good as you can.

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By Tom Brook