Clive Owen back to prove he’s the greatest James Bond we never had

‘The Driver’ BMW shorts will return with Owen channelling 007.

Clive Owen in Croupier
Bond audition Clive Owen in 1998's Croupier. Image Film4

Remember when Clive Owen was poised to become the next James Bond?

Back in the days before Daniel Craig, Owen was hitting his stride in an eclectic mix of films like The Bourne Identity, King Arthur and Children of Men.

Ever since he sported a dinner jacket for 1998’s Brit heist thriller Croupier, pundits pointed to him as Pierce Brosnan’s natural 007 successor. Then there were those short films for BMW called The Hire, in which Owen played an ice cool, brooding hero known only as ‘The Driver’.

Eight of these BMW shorts were made spanning from 2001 to 2002, and they were helmed by some serious filmmaking talent. John Woo, Guy Ritchie (who recruited then-wife Madonna to star with Owen), Ang Lee and Alejandro González Iñárritu were just some of the directors behind them, with the latter two going on to win Academy Awards.

Not only that, but season one of The Hire was executive produced by David Fincher, while Tony and Ridley Scott oversaw season two.

The shorts cemented Owen is Next Bond material, but for some reason it never happened as Daniel Craig jumped into the role for Casino Royale. Maybe Owen was too famous? Bond stars have traditionally been up-and-coming actors and, having just won an Oscar nomination for Closer, Owen would’ve been a lot more expensive than Craig at that point.

Owen’s now in his early 50s so the Bond ship has sailed, but that’s hasn’t stopped him from returning to the role of The Driver after a break of 15 years.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the character will make a comeback in a new short, titled The Escape, from District 9 and Chappie director Neill Blomkamp. Owen’s co-stars aren’t too shabby, either. Dakota Fanning, Vera Farmiga and Jon Bernthal are all along for the ride.

Clive Owen filming The Escape
The Driver returns Clive Owen filming The Escape with Neill Blomkamp. Image BMW Films

Blomkamp said of the new BMW short: “I was like, ‘Man, count me in.’ When I was in film school, these films were really groundbreaking. They seemed like the perfect halfway point between commercials and features.

“I actually emailed the production company as a 20-year-old and was like, ‘I’d really like to make one of these.’ They wrote back, ‘Never contact us again.’ And here I am.”

He added: “On a cost-per-minute basis, it was pretty close to major feature-film territory.”

Despite being originally released in the pre-YouTube era (and before high-speed broadband was prevalent), Owen’s BMW films racked up more than 100 million views online.

Expect the sequel to get people similarly excited when it arrives on October 23 through BMWFilms.com.

It’ll probably be a bit too late to get Owen back in the running for Bond, though. What could have been…

Watch Clive Owen in a preview of The Escape:

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn