Brow Beat

Clive Owen Has 1920s Brawler Energy

Thirst Aid Kit’s Bim and Nichole think the man belongs in a little mustache and high-waisted pants.

Clive Owen
Clive Owen at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival.
Matt Carr/Getty Images

Clive Owen is, simply put, a man. On a recent episode of Thirst Aid Kit, Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins looked back on his prolific career playing dangerously sexy characters, from the white-vested valet in Gosford Park to the reckless doctor in The Knick. This transcript of their conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Bim Adewunmi: This particular crush of ours, he’s one of those ones that is the epitome of low-key. Right? In terms of the thirst profile that we might be used to.

Nichole Perkins: Yeah. He’s done some stuff that makes him hot, but it also gives you pause because you’re like, Should I be turned on by this? Should I be attracted to this? Because this character is a little … odd.

Adewunmi: More than a little! You know every so often you do something and then you have a quick pause? Just think of that Countess Vaughn GIF where you just kind of turn your head to the side and you move your mouth to the side, and you’re like, What am I feeling here? And I think with this thirst object, I have that feeling more often than not, where I’m kind of like, Do I want this? I don’t know if I do, but I do … do I? It’s a very weird conversation to have with yourself. Nichole, today’s thirst object is who?

Perkins: We are talking about Clive Owen.

Adewunmi: Bitch.

Perkins: Yes. He makes you just—

Adewunmi: Sit up straight.

Perkins: Yes.

Adewunmi: So yeah. Clive Owen time. We have a lot of thoughts about Clive.

Perkins: A lot.

Adewunmi: Some of them are conflicting. At one point we will say A, and then we will say absolutely not A, B. Just go with it, OK? Because that’s the kind of thirst that Clive induces.

OK, so what’s the headline? What’s the top note in the fragrance? What is the thing that you think of when you think Clive Owen?

Perkins: Wow. I think brash. I think pugilist, even though I have no idea if he boxes.

Adewunmi: He looks like he does, though.

Perkins: He looks kind of like a brawler. He’s got brawler energy.

Adewunmi: What are you doing right now?

Perkins: I’m rolling my shoulders forward like I’m about to punch. [laughs] He’s just a man.

Adewunmi: Yes. And I know that doesn’t even really have a definition. But in the old sense, the weird, oddly sometimes the patriarchal sense—he looks like a man.

Perkins: Yeah, like he should be on one of those little posters from 1920s.

Adewunmi: Yes! Yes, with a mustache?

Perkins: Yes, with a little mustache and the high-waisted briefs.

Adewunmi: You know what, Nichole? Sometimes you see right to the heart of me, and in those moments I lean across the console, I place my hand delicately over yours, and I go, “Sister.” I sing it like Shug—“Sista.” There’s just a moment where you look at him and a whole mood board comes up automatically, and like you said, it has all those things: 1920s, boxer, high-waisted pants.

Perkins: Yes. To keep this vintage vibe going, he makes me think of those old sepia kind of porn—more erotic photographs than porny. I mean, obviously they served their purpose, but those old-school erotic images where men, I don’t know, they were just there, just carved out of steel and marble.

Adewunmi: Yes. Nichole, you are evoking a mood, and it’s difficult to put into words, but I know exactly what you’re talking about.

Adewunmi: I also want to bring a small detail when we talk about the allure of Mr. Owen. There was a great piece—I called it up on the internet with no assistance because I remember reading this all the way back then in 2002. But I remember this piece because it nailed something. The headline was something like “White Vests Does Things” or whatever.

And here’s a little line from it. The writer is talking about how the scene is very sexy, and they say:

It is the scene where Clive Owen (playing a brooding valet) indulges the theories of ladies’ maid Kelly Macdonald in his garret room, while wearing his uniform trousers and a white vest. That’s it—Clive Owen, stretched out on an iron bed, smoking a cigarette, pretending to read a book. It’s the vest that’s the key (you forget they have the same trigger effect as plectrums); it emphasises his virility in an environment populated by decadent aristocrats and emasculated servants and sums up why we had a simmering thing for him in the first place. Owen is the ultimate white vest man: rock hard, working class, intelligent, probably dangerous, unlikely to ask before he takes what he wants.

Now. I remember that paragraph, and I think I will be 97 and easing my way out, shuffling off this mortal coil, and I’ll be like, “Hey, children! Bring up the piece from the Evening Standard in 2002!” Because it just nails everything about that. Because, yeah, he is on the bed fake-reading a book. You’re kind of like, “Oh, my God, what are you reading?” Like you ask him the question in that stupid voice because you’re just like, “Oh, my God, what do you like to read?”

Perkins: It has all of those elements that we know are bad for us, but the movies and the books have told us are cool and sexy. Him smoking a cigarette while he’s stretched out, and he takes up the length of the bed—again, because he’s tall—and that idea that he’s probably dangerous. I really liked that because that, again, speaks to what we’re talking about, where we don’t know what he’s going to do. There is probably something lurking underneath that we should not be attracted to. And yet—

Adewunmi: And motherfucking yet.

To listen to the entire episode, click the player below or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.