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Clive Owen wanted to channel Humphrey Bogart in 'Monsieur Spade'

Clive Owen's "Monsieur Spade" premeieres Sunday. Photo by Jean-Claude Lother/AMC
Clive Owen's "Monsieur Spade" premeieres Sunday. Photo by Jean-Claude Lother/AMC

NEW YORK, Jan. 14 (UPI) -- Murder at the End of the World, The Knick and Gosford Park actor Clive Owen says he looked to late Hollywood legend Humphrey Bogart for inspiration when playing the titular gumshoe in the new AMC detective drama, Monsieur Spade.

Bogart famously depicted the character Sam Spade in the 1941 film adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's novel, The Maltese Falcon.

Premiering Sunday and set in 1963, Monsieur Spade finds an older version of the character far from his old stomping grounds of San Francisco and retired in France when the shocking murder of six nuns draws him back into the mystery-solving business.

Created by Scott Frank (The Queen's Gambit) and Tom Fontana (Homicide: Life on the Street), the show co-stars Cara Bossom, Denis Menochet and Louise Bourgoin.

Clive Owen attends the premiere of "Gemini Man" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles in 2019. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Clive Owen attends the premiere of "Gemini Man" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles in 2019. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI

"I am a huge Bogart fan, so when [Frank] called and said, 'I want to do this take on Sam Spade,' it was a super-quick 'yes,'" Owen, 59, told UPI in a recent phone interview.

"It's a really good, fresh way of reinventing a genre that if you're not careful can kind of fall into traps of things we've seen before," the actor added.

Clive Owen arrives at a photo call for the TV Series "The Knick" during the 9th annual Rome International Film Festival in 2014. File Photo by David Silpa/UPI
Clive Owen arrives at a photo call for the TV Series "The Knick" during the 9th annual Rome International Film Festival in 2014. File Photo by David Silpa/UPI

"To take him and move him a few years on and plant him as a fish out of water, he has still got this classic 1940s private detective atmosphere, but he is trying to live this very different life in a very quiet part of the south of France and then he is pulled back into his old ways."

Although he has been trying to avoid any drama in his own life, Spade jumps right in when he is needed, reactivating the investigative skills he spent years honing.

"He's obviously been trying to shake off that past life," Owen said.

"But all of those instincts kick in," he added. "He's kind of seen it all."

Spade belongs to a relatively small club of 20th-century, literary sleuths -- including Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe -- of whom noir film fans never seem to tire.

"There's a number of characters that make such an impression and they almost become a kind of genre of their own," Owen said.

"The Maltese Falcon, and Bogart as that classic private detective, has stood the test of time. It's something we still think of as a very cool character."

One of the reasons private eyes from bygone eras are more fun for actors to play is because they relied on their wits, grit and personality to solve cases, as opposed to modern investigators who depend on cell phones, computers and GPS to get their jobs done, according to Owen.

"The world was completely different," he said.

"If you're writing a crime thing now, there is a huge amount of it that is dealt with on the Internet and through communication," Owen added. "Back then, it was much simpler. But even by moving it forward, there is still an element, even in the early 1960s, that [Spade] is 'old school' in the way he does things."

The era-accurate clothes and cars made it easier for Owen to immerse himself in this world and inhabit his character.

"I always think locations and sets are hugely important. They are big characters in the piece," the actor said.

"It's not as if we were doing 1940s America. We've kind of seen that a lot. To suddenly have this character thrown into beautiful early 1960s France is just a great way of refreshing the whole thing."

Owen described the rapid-fire dialogue of Frank's "top-level" screenplays as being a "joy" to speak.

"I went back and really studied Bogart and the way he did things and his voice and his rhythms and then when Scott started sending the scripts through, he completely nailed that Bogart rhythm," the actor said.

In an effort to capture Bogart's spirit, Owen spent a lot of time rewatching his movies and listening to recordings of him.

"I often thought of Bogart as quite laconic and very cool and slightly on his back foot and it's not actually true," he added. "Vocally, he's super-nimble, super-fast."

Bogart died in 1957 at the age of 57. He is also known for his work in Casablanca, Angels with Dirty Faces, The African Queen, Key Largo, The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.