I met Clive Owen a few years back to interview him for Derailed, his thriller with Jennifer Aniston, and found him to be perfectly pleasant but not the most vibrant guy in the world. But when he showed up for his OscarWatch interview for The Boys Are Back, there was an undeniable light in his eyes from the moment he walked in the door. Owen has reason to be enthusiastic—he gives the most nuanced and emotional performance of his career in the drama directed by Scott Hicks (Shine) about a sportswriter trying to raise two boys after the sudden death of his wife. Because the role is so quiet, he’s not exactly a slam dunk for his first Best Actor nomination (he scored a supporting nod for Closer) but he’s definitely “in the conversation,” as they say. The film opens tomorrow; in the meantime, he talks about why he wanted to play a dad, how he bonded with his 7-year-old costar, and whether his two daughters wish he were more like his carefree character. Check out the interview after the jump.

More OscarWatch interviews:

Matt Damon: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Michael Moore: Part 1, Part 2

Abbie Cornish: Part 1, Part 2

Colin Firth: Part 1