Clive Owen obsessively studied Humphrey Bogart’s performance in “The Maltese Falcon” to step into the role of Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett’s legendary private eye for AMC’s “Monsieur Spade” series.
The new series, which premieres Sunday, finds the hardboiled American detective in the South of France in the ’50s and ’60s. He’s retired from sleuthing, until a brutal murder forces him back into the game.
When director Scott Frank and writer Tom Fontana of “Homicide: Life on the Street” pitched the “Croupier” actor on the idea of playing Sam Spade 20 years after John Huston’s film, “It was a very quick yes.”
TheWrap: How did you prepare for this role? How close to Bogart’s version did you want to be?
Clive Owen: I drowned in Bogart, to tell you the truth. I rewatched a lot of Bogart movies, obviously, “The Maltese Falcon,” but a lot of his other movies as well. I lifted his audio from a number of movies, including ‘The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca,” just his dialogue and got them all onto a voice file so I could listen to him every morning to sort of get in the right zone.
You get to wear a trench coat, drink from a flask and drive vintage cars as Sam Spade. Is this something you’d always wanted to do?
It was a bit of a dream gig. I’m a huge Bogart fan. And I love this genre. I kept sort of ribbing with Scott about the fact I didn’t get to wear the hat and I didn’t get the gun. I’d say, “What is that? You gypped me. What am I doing?” I love the genre. So it was a trip.
Were men wearing hats less in the ’50s and ’60s? Or is that just for this role?
I think just for this, Scott had this notion that he was trying to put the old Sam Spade away, so he gets to the South of France as a new man, so to speak.
We discover him trying to kick back and live the quiet life and then he’s pulled into a pretty horrific murder at the end of the first episode. And it’s almost like the original Sam Spade is going to have to come back out because he’s got stuff he’s got to sort out.
The visual style of of “Monsieur Spade” isn’t classic noir. You’re obviously not going for a recreation of the look of “The Maltese Falcon.”
I think it’s very clever of Scott and Tom to reimagine it in ’60s, France, because the one thing about doing noir is, as soon as you start something in that genre, it gets easy for people to get comfortable with it. “Oh, yeah, I know what this is, this is noir world.” But to take that tone and vibe, reinvent it, in early ’60s France means that everything is automatically fresh, because he’s trying to live a different life somewhere else. So even though Scott wrote it very much in the tone of those ’40s private detective novels and characters, actually, the world he’s in, he’s completely different. So it’s already kind of refreshing.
One of the things I love about Sam Spade, the way he’s written by Dashiell Hammett, is that he loves language. You see that in the Bogart film and you see that here too. It must have been fun to work with this script.
It was an absolute joy. And the great thing is that Scott is a huge fan of the original Dashiell Hammett novel and the  movie was super faithful. So I felt like the rhythms and the dialogue he gave it was, it was a joy actually. I really felt like it had the same rhythms and dynamic as that as the original stuff.
Do you have a favorite line from this?
No, there were so many. He’s such a great writer. It was a joy to do that dialogue, really. Because he’s a really top writer. And it was just crammed full of great dialogue.
In the first episode, we see your bare backside, was that negotiable for you?
It wasn’t actually, because I was told about it very early on. And it was like, “This is just so you know, this is the deal. I’ve got this recurring theme I want to keep returning to.” And I said, “Just look after me, do it tastefully, Scott.” So I knew I had to get down to the gym.
Is going to the gym a bit antithetical to the idea of Sam Spade?
Yeah, but you know, it doesn’t matter, because you’ve got to try and look all right when you’re doing it.
If the opportunity came up, would you want to do another Spade series?
If Scott was writing and directing, for sure, yeah, I really rate him. I think he’s a brilliant writer and a great director and I had one of the best times, so if he came and said, “Let’s do more,” I’m sure I’d say yes.
“Monsieur Spade” premieres on AMC on Sunday, Jan. 14. Subsequent episodes premiere each Sunday through Feb. 18
The post Clive Owen Trusted ‘Monsieur Spade’ Director Enough to Bare It All: ‘I Knew I Had to Get Down to the Gym’ appeared first on TheWrap.