The TV role that launched Clive Owen's film career

The Baltimore Sun

CHANCER -- Series 1 -- Acorn Media / $59.99

If there was ever an actor who could accurately be described as "smoldering," Clive Owen would be the one. His low-key manner, resolute and intense, has drawn a flood of attention not only to his work but also to his reputation as a sometimes-thorny performer who occasionally makes wildly unexpected casting choices.

Owen, 43, has been around stages and cameras longer than might appear. He played his first role, as the Artful Dodger in a production of Oliver!, as a child in his native Coventry, England, and joined a theatrical troupe at 13. Eleven years later, in 1988, Owen made his film debut in Vroom, in which he and David Thewlis restore a vintage American car and hit the road.

It would be two more years before Owen hit the big time, drawing raves as the opportunistic rogue Stephen Crane in the British TV series Chancer, available on Tuesday for the first time on DVD.

Chancer launched Owen and ultimately led to high-profile parts in films such as Stephen Poliakoff's Close My Eyes; The Return of the Native, with Catherine Zeta-Jones; The Rich Man's Wife, with Halle Berry; Mike Hodges' Croupier, Robert Altman's murder mystery Gosford Park; The Bourne Identity, with Matt Damon; Children of Men, opposite Julianne Moore; and, most notably, Closer, with Julia Roberts, Jude Law and Natalie Portman, for which both Owen and Portman received Oscar nominations.

A close look at Chancer (13 episodes are available in the four-disc DVD set, which includes a production photo gallery and cast filmographies) shows a much younger Owen establishing the groundwork for the on-screen persona we know today. From the very first episode, Owen's Crane comes across as arrogant and charming all at once -- and too clever by half.

Wearing a bad suit and a bad haircut -- drawbacks to which his comely girlfriend and his scheming lover seem oblivious -- the devious Crane gets himself fired from an investment bank after he is found to have dabbled in some insider trading. Before leaving, he smirkingly calls his former boss a "snob, a thief, a liar and a hypocrite."

Seeing a lucrative opportunity, Crane gets involved with a company that manufactures replicas of classic sports cars but is on the brink of financial ruin.

"Live fast, die young -- you'll make a good-looking corpse," Crane advises, invoking one of the many rules he lives by as he sets out to save the company. His new boss' daughter finds him "very persuasive."

At one point, Crane is asked, "You like to win, don't you?" His reply: "I see no point in coming second."

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PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT --MGM / $19.98

Originally released in 1994, this flamboyantly garish road movie was notable most of all for the stunningly out-of-character casting of the habitually machista Terence Stamp as the finicky drag queen Bernadette.

In Priscilla, Stamp, as smoldering an actor in his time as Clive Owen is now, plays a showgirl making her way across the endless Australian desert to a month-long cabaret engagement in Alice Springs. Written and directed by Stephan Elliott (Eye of the Beholder), the film also stars Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce -- another daring casting choice that, oddly enough, works.

Extras include a photo gallery; audio commentary by Elliott; a behind-the-scenes segment called Tidbits From the Set; a blooper reel; and deleted scenes.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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