From writer/director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca), the sci-fi thriller Anon (available to stream at Netflix) follows Sal Frieland (Clive Owen), a detective in a world where everyone’s lives are recorded by the authorities and crime has largely ceased to exist, but in return, we no longer have any privacy or anonymity. In trying to solve a mysterious series of murders, Frieland comes across a woman with no identity and no history, invisible to everyone and known only as the Girl (Amanda Seyfried), and as he becomes more enthralled with her, she realizes the danger that also presents.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Clive Owen talked about why he wanted to work with Andrew Niccol, what he found interesting about the world of Anon, how he feels about his own loss of privacy, and the experience of working with Amanda Seyfried. He also talked about shooting Gemini Man with Will Smith and director Ang Lee, the film’s cool concept, and being at the forefront of technology, as well as what he looks for in a project.
Collider: When Anon came your way and you read it, was this a world that you could immediately visualize?
CLIVE OWEN: I’m not sure I could instantly visualize it. I did love the script, and I’ve been a fan of Andrew Niccol and nearly worked with him a couple of times. I’ve always wanted to because I think that, with every family does, he’s always tackling some subject that is relevant and that we should be looking at. Even though he often sets his films in the near future, they’re often about things that are really happening now, so I was really taken with that. And there was always a noir element to it. There was this near future, but throw-back vibe to it, as well. The character was like a noir detective. I loved what he did with it visually, in terms of the architecture and the lighting and the roofless buildings that we were in. There was very cool about the world that he created.
It’s interesting how stark and lonely this world feels.
OWEN: Yeah. Also, because the premise of the movie is that we’re now hard wired into it, and we don’t need devices, phones or computers, what it meant was that he was stripping away New York. You don’t need the signs and you don’t need all the ads because they’re right in front of us. We’re being individually bombarded with them. So, in some ways, New York is cleaned up and it creates this weird future emptiness.
When I spoke to him yesterday, Andrew told me that he doesn’t see this story as futuristic, but as a parallel present. Do you see this as more sci-fi based, or does it feel more reality based?
OWEN: It’s similar to another film I did, Children of Men. There’s a little bit of separation to make it easier to look at, but it’s hugely relevant, with the whole Cambridge Analytica thing. It’s a hugely relevant subject, the idea of privacy and our information and what’s being done with it.
It’s certainly scary to think about the fact that there was never a war for privacy because we just handed it over for convenience. How do you feel about your own loss of privacy, and do you do anything to combat that? Do you like to stay off of social media, or have times where you just don’t go near anything electronic?
OWEN: I don’t do any social media, or anything on Instagram, or any of that. I never really had the hunger or appetite to do it. I think I’m fairly rare. Certainly, my girls have done it. That’s the way they live their life. It’s funny, I’m in a business that puts me in the public eye, but I’d rather stay away from that. I want to do the opposite. I prefer to just keep my head down and keep out of the limelight. I perfectly understand doing a film and promoting a film because you want people to see it, and that that is the nature of the business. But away from that it’s not something that I hanker for. I have no interest in putting myself out there, when I don’t have to.
This film primarily centers around your character and his interactions with the Girl, who doesn’t really have much of a backstory, which is quite interesting. How did you approach that dynamic with Amanda Seyfried? Did you guys have any conversations about that, prior to shooting?
OWEN: No. She might have had independent conversations with Andrew, but because I wouldn’t know that about her, it felt fine to do that. She’s a very cool character in the film. We’re in a world where there is no crime because everything’s recorded, and along comes this person with no digital footprint, who’s managed to somehow get off the grid. For a jaded detective, who’s seen and done it all, and ends up playing the last days of people’s lives, over and over again, because that’s his work, there’s something about being off the grid that he finds very alluring.
Do you think he also finds it appealing that she’s a mystery to solve, in a way, and he hasn’t had an actual mystery to solve at work in awhile?
OWEN: For sure. Being a detective, in this world, is a clerical thing, really. Somebody comes in with something, you have a look, and then you act accordingly. And then, suddenly, it feels like it’s a proper old-fashioned whodunit, and they’ve got something to find out. If you think about, certainly in our world, there are very few people who have no digital footprint.
How did find the experience of working with Amanda Seyfried?
OWEN: I think she’s great. She’s really great in the part, and I had a very good time with her. She was perfectly cast. She’s a very strong actress. She’s very powerful.
What did you enjoy most about getting to play this character, and what were the biggest challenges in playing him?
OWEN: I loved working with Andrew. I’ve wanted to for while. He’s a visionary, and he tackles really interesting, important subjects. In some ways, the biggest challenge was just the visual language of the film. It was just about getting the specifics of that right and not over doing it, but that was really about just trusting Andrew and leaning on him, in terms of what he was going to be doing in post-production.