Clive Owen joins Paolo Sorrentino in Campari's noir short film 'Killer In Red'

Clive Owen, star of HBO's recent hit The Knick, has one of those voices that is immediately recognisable. Even over the phone, slightly muffled and warped as only speakerphone and distance can do, the unmistakable gravel is there.

It's a drawl well suited to the complex characters that he seems so drawn to – Dr John Thackery, his acclaimed turn as Ernest Hemingway, and a philandering husband in Closer and more recently in a Killer in Red, a short film directed by Italian Oscar winner, Paolo Sorrentino. 

Vision of the auteur

Placing the face of an actor and attaching it to a particular drink isn't groundbreaking advertising. But turning it into a noir thriller that could sit comfortably in a lineup at the Cannes Film Festival is.

"To be honest with you they sent me the proposal and an early draft of the synopsis and they told me that Paolo Sorrentino was directing so I was very keen to do it very quickly," says Owen.

"I'm a very big fan of Sorrentino's and I just thought it sounded like a very cool and exciting idea."

The Man, the Drink and the Girl

The premise revolves around the idea that there is a story in every cocktail. The campaign, dubbed the Campari Red Diaries, will include 12 short films that focus on a different cocktail crafted by a master bartender from around the world, including one by local Sydney guru Thalita Alves. (Her cocktail Anita features in the Campari Red Diaries and brings to life the love story of Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi and Anita.)

In Owen's case, it's the eponymous Killer in Red – a mix of chamomile gin, vermouth Bianco, Grand Marnier, Campari and a drop of rose essence. Owen plays bartender Floyd who has a talent for reading his clientele and creating the perfect cocktail for them in a swanky unnamed bar in '70s Rome. Things get interesting when he creates the Killer for a stunning patron, an archetypal femme fatale.

The right recipe

For Owen, becoming the face of a signature cocktail is as much about plumbing the depths of a character as it is knowing how to mix the ingredients.

"When I play characters in movies, you know, it can take a little while to find your groove but on something like this everyone has to hit the ground running....and the great thing about this short movie and the tone of it is that it completely plays into what Sorrentino is brilliant at: we're in this bar, and suddenly it transforms into a wild 70s club and it's very decadent and you see him doing what he does great."

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Always keep them guessing

The point of the film is deliberately ambiguous – a sensation something that Owen is particularly skilled at crafting. Looking back over his acting catalogue is like looking at the best and worst of human nature: characters that are at times too real and too human that makes it hard for us the audience to sympathise with because, well, they might remind is a little too much of ourselves.

"I love it when a character is full of conflict and things aren't straightforward because it means for people to empathise and understand and relate to a character it's a complex thing and not an easy process."

And as for Floyd and his killer in red? (Which, once you view the film, takes on a whole new meaning.) Well, for someone who wasn't up for the title role in the Bond franchise it's all very Bond-ish. A good Bond, anyway.

"You should pitch that!" he laughs. "A good Bond!"