A couple weeks ago at the TCA press tour, I sat down with Clive Owen and Steven Soderbergh for a 45-minute discussion about their new Cinemax series “The Knick,” a medical drama set around New York's Knickerbocker Hospital in 1900.
Soderbergh directed the totality of the first season, which focuses on Owen's Dr. John W. Thackery, a visionary surgeon who augments his forward-thinking approach to his profession with additions to cocaine and opium.
As you might expect, it's a wide-ranging interview covering the show's journey to Cinemax, the approach to the occasionally harrowing medical rituals of the period, the pressures of doing five two-hour movies consecutively and the decision to use a trippy score by Cliff Martinez.
It's a great interview and it'll go up sometime next week, ahead of the show's August 8 premiere on Cinemax.
While the full Q&A will be posted, I wanted to whet appetites with a couple details from Owen about some of the external aspects of his character, details that already have people chattering, either based on the posters and trailers or, in the case of my Twitter feed, based on early screeners.
I'm referring primarily, of course, to that mustache.
“The mustache is because 95 percent of men of that period had facial hair of some kind,” Owen laughs. “In one of the books I read somebody describes kissing a guy without facial hair and how weird it felt. So there was no way… I needed some facial hair.”
But that's only a partial answer. Owen is a cinematic mustache veteran, sporting tea strainers in projects including “Killer Elite” and “Hemingway & Gellhorn.” Why was this somewhat feathery and thin mustache the right mustache for this project?
“Because I wanted to convey a little bit of arrogance,” Owen explains. “That's why it was the shape it was. I didn't want a big heavy thing. It needed to be something…”
Soderbergh interjected, “It's a statement.”
“Yeah. It's a statement and it's light and it's not…” Owen contemplated. “The trouble when you have a big thick heavy mustache is everything weighs down and that's not Thackery. So that was why it came on that shape.”
And if a performance has to be built from head-to-toes, that brought me to Thackery's distinctive white leather shows, which seem instantly perfect for the character, even if they don't necessarily seem period appropriate.
“The white shoes were Ellen [Mirojnick], the costume designer's, brilliant idea. And in my first fitting she kind of a little nervously said, “I've had this idea, I don't know what you think of it.” And I loved it instantly because there was something rock-and-roll about Thackery to me. I'm like, 'There is something about this guy…' In that first meeting I was so excited when Ellen came with the idea she had, particularly about the shoes, but also some of the other ideas about costume. Because I years ago have done period things and the costume designer is a little powerful and they say, 'Oh no they would not have done that.' And the brilliant thing about Ellen is you can do what you like. You're Thackery. You can wear and do anything. Because I said, 'Would it be okay if…' She's like. 'You're Thackery, you can do what you like.' And I wanted to be like the David Bowie of a hospital in 1900. So the white shoes were, I think on her part, a touch of genius.”
And had Owen been looking to return to the medium where he cut his teeth on British productions like “Chancer,” “Sharman” and “Second Sight”?
“Not at all and far from it,” Owen admitted. “The opposite actually. I did a lot of television when I was young. One thing I didn't really enjoy was playing the same part over and over. And it's one and that's why I got out and ended up doing this much sort of varied stuff as I could. You can't walk away from a piece of material like this.”
Look for my full Owen/Soderbergh interview next week.
“The Knick” premieres on Cinemax on August 8 at 10 p.m.