I’ve met Owen Wilson just once, when I interviewed him in 2004 for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and while I found him to be affable and charming (as many actors are during interviews), he was also serious and thoughtful, not at all like the grinning slackers he often plays. There’s a tendency to think we know what actors’ personalities are like based on the roles they gravitate toward, which is probably why so many fans were shocked to learn of his apparent suicide attempt on Sunday.
It’s just as easy to try and look back at his films, as USA Today does here, and see if there’s a pattern of warning signs we could have missed. Certainly, The Royal Tenenbaums (which Wilson co-wrote) stands out: the character played by brother Luke Wilson attempts suicide, while Owen’s character nearly destroys himself with drugs. There’s also Wedding Crashers, where Wilson spends most of the third act in a depressed funk, letting his life collapse around him. And there are projects like The Minus Man and Behind Enemy Lines that hint at a darkness that’s largely absent from his comedy roles. But again, speculation based on these movies can be as misleading as that based on his sunnier films.
The truth is, outside of Wilson’s family and close friends, the rest of us don’t really know what’s been going on with him; all we have so far are rumors and guesses, though I imagine he’ll feel compelled to tell the full story sooner rather than later. Inevitably, talk has turned to how this incident is affecting his career (he’s already had to drop out of a movie, one directed by frequent collaborator Ben Stiller), as if that were more important than ensuring he clings to life. Still, there’s a reservoir of good will out there for Wilson, since he’s not one of the stars who’s used it all up on previous scandals, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s pulling for him to get whatever kind of help he needs, and to take as much time off as he needs, before I start worrying about whether the jobs and the audience will be there for him when he does go back to work. I think they will; after all, even if we don’t really know Owen Wilson, we all seem to think of him as our pal.