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Rival Spies Team Up to Dupe Big Businesses in 'Duplicity'

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen co-star as rival spies who also happen to be in love; but their romance is complicated by the $40-million scam they are trying to run in the industrial espionage caper written and directed by Tony Gilroy. Here's look at Duplicity.

Clive Owen is Ray, a veteran agent of the British intelligence agency MI-6. Julia Roberts is Claire, a skilled undercover operator for the American CIA. Their paths keep crossing, by design or by happenstance, and the sparks fly.

The film flashes back to their encounters in the shadowy world of international intrigue; but Owen explains that the main action takes place after Ray and Claire have left their respective agencies and gone into the even shadier realm of industrial espionage.

"It's about a couple of corporate spies who decide they are so good at what they do, why not join together and scam the companies," Owen explains. "At the same time they are having an illicit affair. So they are meeting as this thing is progressing, but they don't trust each other. Because they're so good at what they do, they think that either of them is going to have the other one over; so every scene is basically about trust."

Writer/director Tony Gilroy delved into the inner workings of a corporate law firm for his 2007 thriller "Michael Clayton." As the title of this film indicates, Gilroy says it is about a field in which alliances …and dalliances … that can all too often be built on Duplicity.

"If your life is based on not trusting anything and being completely untrustworthy yourself, what kind of relationship [or] love affair can you have?" notes Gilroy. " Who can it be with? So these two people meet each other and they are the same 'species' and there's a huge attraction to meet someone who does exactly what you do, but how are they going to build on anything? If you add in the complication that they actually 'get off' on not trusting each other, that seemed to be really interesting territory to explore."

Co-star Owen says the main attractions for him were the clever twists and wit that Gilroy managed to include in a mainstream movie.

"It was a time when I was turning a lot of things down and I got Tony's script and I literally grabbed the phone the minute I read the last page," Owen says. "I called my agent and said 'this is the one; get me this one. This one is dynamite.' It has some of the best dialog I've ever been given on film and it's banter dialog. It's 'old school.'"

Gilroy maintains that he never set out to make a political statement about corporate misdeeds; but co-star Julia Roberts says Duplicity does eerily echo events in the real world of big business.

"Well, corporate corruption, maybe, and the insidious greed: I think that may be applicable to today's troubles," Roberts says.

Roberts adds that, while it's fun to play a spy, actually being one would be another story.

"I would be terrible. I'm too much of a fumbler and a goof. I would be awful," says Robers.

Duplicity also features Tom Wilkinson and Paul Giamatti as the chairman of two different soap companies whose intense competition sets the stage for cross and double-cross in dazzling locations ranging from midtown Manhattan to the piazzas of Rome. The playful soundtrack is by movie music veteran James Newton Howard.