'I can’t really imagine myself as a Schwarzenegger'
In No Escape, Owen Wilson plays Jack Dwyer, an American who relocates his wife (Lake Bell) and two daughters to southeast Asia for a new job. It looks like a promising new life reboot for them, but everything is turned upside down when they find themselves in the midst of a violent civil war, with one side targeting Westerners. Dwyer is just an average guy, with no real survival skills except his paternal instincts, but Pierce Brosnan pitches in as a company man better trained for the spiking violence. The trailer is intense, and the new exclusive poster evokes its most heart-pounding moment.
Wilson is supposed to be talking about his new action movie, which opens Aug. 26. He’s happy to do so… eventually. But what’s the hurry, man? He wants to know how your summer is going. He wants to know about your kids, their ages, whether sons are easier than daughters. “I think I would like to have a daughter,” says the father of two young boys. “I think it would be very interesting. Just having been around so much male energy my whole life: one of three boys, went to an all-boy school, then military school, now two sons, never been married.”
He laughs that Owen Wilson laugh. “I think it would probably help me.”
The easy-going 46-year-old star, best known for his comedies, believes in actual human engagement, two-sided conversation that isn’t restricted by the limited time negotiated by some publicist. He’s very true and present… or perhaps just a great actor. Or both.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The trailer looks like an action movie. Early in your career, you made several, like Behind Enemy Lines and Anaconda. Did you drift away from the genre for any particular reason?
OWEN WILSON: I’m even hesitating to use that word — career — because it was just the way things sort of happened. It wasn’t a strategy, like, Now I’m going to do this, and this is going to open up this door. I feel like it’s kind of like Churchill’s definition of history: one damn thing after another. It’s more of what you get offered. It wasn’t like I turned down a lot of action things. I do know that back when I used to go to the video store [as a kid], I didn’t usually rent comedies. I tended to see more dramas and things. So it’s kind of interesting that I’ve ended up doing so many comedies, because I didn’t have a stand-up comedian background. It just sort of happened. And with this script, like, from the first 20 pages, I just kind of liked the set-up and could see myself in the situation. It’s not so much that I’m an action hero at all; it’s more just a father who’s just learning to survive with his family. So it felt more realistic. That’s it — if I can imagine myself in the role. And I can’t really imagine myself as a Schwarzenegger. I think you have to have something in you to play a character and I don’t see myself as an action hero. But I could see myself doing the things that this character has to do. Same with Behind Enemy Lines. When I originally signed on, [the role] was more of a fighter pilot. We changed it to make him the backseat navigator. I guess I don’t see myself as a hotshot.
In contrast to your co-star.
Pierce? Yeah, and you see that in real life. I think even if I hadn’t known he played James Bond, he kind of has that quality. Part of it’s just the way you look. He looks pretty cool. And it’s not that I think I’m so odd looking, but I don’t see myself as that kind of bad-ass, I guess.
You filmed in Thailand in 2013, yes? When there was an actual political situation going on, right?
Yeah, that was when they were having huge upheaval with all the protesters and the marchers. But it was pretty peaceful [when we were there]. I think there was a small amount of violence but for the most part, it was pretty peaceful. But it was interesting, and I know when we were shooting the scene where the riots are happening, we had to shoot it at a certain time and be done by a certain time, because they didn’t want this fake riot to set off a real riot. So yeah, that energy hopefully finds its way into the movie, because we probably wouldn’t have got it filming in Atlanta.
You have two children yourself now. Does being a father change you as an actor or change what you look for in projects?
No, I don’t think it changes me. It might make something, like when I did Cars, kind of, like, “Oh, this will be kind of fun for my kids. I think they’re going to get a kick out of me being the voice of this character and going to Cars Land.” But my 4-and-a-half year old is more into the Ninja Turtles. I think it’s more just a function of getting older and maturing. It’s easier to imagine myself now as this character than a Wedding Crashers character.
I chatted with Peter Bodganovich last week about the movie you made with him, She’s Funny That Way, and he’s an amazing encyclopedia.
The stories that he has, of Welles, and Howard Hawks, and John Ford. That’s how I ended up working on [She’s Funny That Way]; we had gotten to be friends through Wes [Anderson], and so, over the years, he would come out here where I live in Los Angeles and sometimes stay for a couple of days, and the funnest part of that was watching movies at night and just kind of pausing and getting to ask him a question about something. And he’s such a great storyteller because he can do the voices. He even came to my house for Thanksgiving. We just really got along well.
You worked with Gene Hackman at least twice earlier in your career, most memorably on The Royal Tenenbaums. I was counting on you and Wes to write something to bring him out of retirement.
I know. Can you even think of a bad performance [Hackman ever gave]? He didn’t give them. He always does a great job, and doesn’t change his voice a lot or his look. But he was on the Actors’ Studio once. It’s really moving because [James Lipton] says, “Now we get to the part of the show that many people have sat in your seat, Gene, they have this backstory: a parent that left as a child.” And Gene kind of smiles and nods. “Your father left when you were a kid.” He’s like, “Yes,” and he kind of smiles. And [Lipton] said, “What happened?” He said, “Well, actually, I was playing the last time I saw him. I was playing with a friend down the street. Then he drove by and just kind of waved, and that was the last time I saw him.” And then all of sudden, he sort of starts to cry and kind of has to turn away. And he says, “It’s only been 65 years, you’d think I’d be over it.” And you see that something that happened to him as a child, it’s informed his whole life and probably fuels some of that anger that he could tap into sometimes on a movie. He can play a genuinely tough guy — like in Mississippi Burning. Well, he’s like that in real life. But yeah, he’s great.
I saw the trailer for Zoolander 2 in theaters this weekend. That film was popular, but it wasn’t Wedding Crashers.
It wasn’t even that popular.
It came out right after 9/11.
That certainly didn’t help.
Yeah. It didn’t do much business, but now, when I’m traveling, specially in Europe, that’s one of the No. 1 movies that people will come up to me about. It developed a following. And now people look back on that as, “Oh, that was a huge movie, wasn’t it?” No. It wasn’t. It’s funny how that’s happened. You never know how they’re going to turn out, but I felt like [the sequel] began with just a really funny script, and to me, it seems like it can be really funny. We had a good time working on it.
Has the relationship changed between these two characters: Derek and Hansel?
I would say some of the dynamic between us kind of mirrors the first movie a little bit. They don’t always get along.
There was a mention a few months ago on either what might be your official Twitter account or one that’s posing as you—
I’m not on Twitter.
Well, there was a mention of maybe a Shanghai sequel…
Oh, yeah. I don’t know if it’s happening, but when I was in Rome, Jon Glickman, one of the producers of that, I did see him and he was talking that Jackie [Chan] may be interested in doing one. I know that I always had a great time playing that character, playing with Jackie, so we’ll see.