Clive Owen Talks Playing Iconic ‘Maltese Falcon’ Character Sam Spade

MONSIEUR SPADE, Clive Owen, as Sam Spade, (Season 1, premiered Jan. 14, 2024). photo:
©AMC/Black Bear / Courtesy Everett Collection

“What do you want me to do, learn to stutter?” asks Humphrey Bogart‘s Sam Spade in the classic noir film Maltese Falcon, when told that he always has a smooth explanation ready by film antagonist Joel Cairo. I think I can say for most of the film-viewing population: No, we do not!

Sam Spade is the epitome of the kind of witty, confident private detective you want to follow into dark alleyways or random hotel rooms as he confronts suspects. Recently, he was resurrected and sent to 1960s France in the AMC limited series Monsieur Spade. Though Monsieur Spade is not based on the Sam Spade novels by Dashiell Hammett, the dialogue is so well-written and Spade-like you’d think it was. It’s definitely the highlight of the series, and makes it stand out from other detective shows currently available to stream.

MONSIEUR SPADE, from left: Clive Owen, Denis Menochet, (Season 1, premiered Jan. 14, 2024). photo:

AMC/Black Bear / Courtesy Everett Collection

I recently had a chance to sit down for coffee with the iconic British actor Clive Owen, who plays this modern iteration of Sam Spade, and ask him all about filling the big shoes left behind by Humphrey Bogart.

What do you think makes him such a unique detective?

I think it’s interesting that a character like Sam Spade is still around really. That people still talk about him — a bit like [Raymond] Chandler’s Philip Marlowe — that they stand the test of time — why is that? Why are these characters iconic? And one of the reasons could be is that they’re quite moral characters, even though they’re tough guys, even though they have to do things sometimes in an underhanded way. They’re always trying to do the right thing. And you know that if, in the show, Spade comes across things that are wrong, he’s going to have to engage with it, and we like that. We like the fact that deep down, however tough and acerbic he can be, he’s going to try and do the right thing.”

He also smokes so much. He smokes during a prostate exam! How did you deal with all that smoking?

Well, I’m an ex-smoker. It’s dangerous when you’re an ex-smoker and you start doing all that, it all comes back to you very, very quickly. These were herbal cigarettes. So I could inhale and all of that. But there’s no question that very quickly it feels good and familiar. It’s dangerous.

MALTESE FALCON, THE, Peter Lorre, Humphrey Bogart, 1941

Courtesy of Everett

Other than watching a lot of Humphrey, how did you prepare for the role?

I obviously went back and read the Dashiell Hammet books and short stories and I started to watch a number of films from that period. And some actors might’ve gone into this and gone, okay, I’m going to rewrite the book here and give my version of Sam Spade. I didn’t want to do that. Really. I love the genre so much. I love these kind of characters. So I did the opposite and kind of lent into everything that was there before. I wasn’t going to do an impersonation of anybody, but I wanted to enjoy the genre.

Was it harder to remember all the dialogue than other roles? It was so complex and witty and long.

No, no. What I think sets him apart is his witty dialogue. When you get writing that has really good rhythms, you learn it quite easily. With a writer as good as Scott Frank, it goes in very easily because it is all logical and the rhythms are good. So it goes in very quite easily.

That was quite an ending! It’s unusual for sure. What did you make of it?

I think that in some ways the joy is the sort of getting there, isn’t it? If you look at the Maltese Falcon and how that ends, half the joy is getting there.

Where do you think he’ll go next? Is he going to leave France?

We’ve moved to the idea of going back home to San Francisco.

CHILDREN OF MEN, Clive Owen, 2006.

Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

Children of Men is probably one of my favorite movies ever. Do you think it still holds up twenty years later?

Yes, it really has stood the test of time. Some films, they come, they make a wave ,and then five years later no one wants to talk about them. It’s a film that people constantly want to talk to me about. And I think over time, if anything, it’s gathered in reputation. I think it was discussing things that were really worrying at the time, and they’ve all come out and been played out really.

You’ve been in so many great films, and now this great show as well. What was your favorite role so far?

I’ve got to be honest, I had a blast on this one. I really did. I loved it. It was a bit of a dream gig and I had a great time with Scott doing it. We were in the south of France, there were great actors around. I had a great relationship and time with Scott as the director. And having that kind of great, lovely dialogue to play with is always a treat.

If you haven’t seen it yet, check out Monsieur Spade on AMC or AMC+.

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Tough Guys, Bad Girls

September 2017

Hard-boiled detectives, gangsters and their gals — a gritty look at the art of noir and the craft of going wrong.

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