One of the most likable movie stars of his generation, Owen Wilson hasn’t made a full-fledged action film since 2001’s Behind Enemy Lines, but he’s back as an everyman with no particular set of skills other than his pure instinct for survival in the intense action thriller No Escape from the directing team The Brothers Dowdle.
Wilson, who has enjoyed a string of hits like the two films he did with Jackie Chan – Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights – discusses his role in his latest film and gives updates on several other projects he’s interested in pursuing.
This is such an interesting role for you, Owen. It’s not like anything else you’ve ever played before.
Yeah, right. I read the script and thought it was kind of an exciting story and then I met with the brothers. It’s one thing to read it and it’s another thing to be in Chiang Mai and now we’re standing on top of this building and it feels like you’re on the tarmac.
How crucial was it that you didn’t pump yourself into shape for this role? It seems like you were cast against type in this movie. They obviously didn’t cast someone like The Rock in this part.
Just for me playing the part … I had to imagine myself playing the part. If it had been written for someone like The Rock where suddenly he picks up a grenade launcher … then I probably wouldn’t have been able to connect with the story because I wouldn’t have been able to imagine myself playing myself in that way. The way it was, it was sort of like, “Okay …” Especially in the scenes in the beginning. They felt very familiar. Even though I haven’t done many movies like this, I mean this is like the dad from Marley and Me has to escape Southeast Asia.
I liked you in Behind Enemy Lines. Does doing something like that with a lot of physicality appeal to you?
Yeah – thank you. Yeah. You definitely get more cardio on something like this than you do on a comedy. Although on Zoolander we have some runway stuff. I had a good time on No Escape. I really got along with the Dowdles. I liked how they managed the set. I remember after I did Behind Enemy Lines, I’ve never had a chance to do something else like that. It’s usually about what you get offered or get a chance to do.
Were you recognized by the locals in Thailand?
Sometimes, yeah. I worked with Jackie Chan a couple of times. They don’t call you a movie star, they call you “superstar!” “You’re a superstar!”
A lot of folks have been wondering if you’re ever going to do Shanghai Dawn, the third film in the Shanghai Noon series.
I definitely want to do it. I love working with Jackie. In fact, yesterday they were doing a documentary on Jackie, and they interviewed me.
Did playing a father in something like No Escape have an effect on you as a father in real life?
It probably did. It’s just the way humans are hardwired. I would just think of the stress my parents had while I was growing up, the worry and constantly dealing with stitches, BB gun wars, trips to the emergency room, somebody falling out of a tree. That’s even before we got to be teenagers. Then they would worry about us going out at night, what time do you get home … There was a lot of stress that I could see with them worrying about us. I think about that a little bit. I want to get a poster for my mom for her birthday that has our pictures on it that says “Raising Cain.”
Was the shoot in Thailand a grueling shoot for you?
I didn’t think of it as so … it was one less thing that I had to act. It is hot, it is tiring running around holding somebody. Especially when the girls would finish their day and their little stunt doubles would replace them. One of the girls looked the same, but she was so much more dense, so much heavier to carry. I’m always pretty active, though. My son Ford visited the set on the day when we did the roof toss, and he wanted to try it. He thought it would be a cool ride. But, yeah. I just wanted stuff to be believable.
Would you be interested in directing a film?
Maybe. It’s a lot of work. I’d like to try to write something first.
Any update on Zoolander 2?
The first one didn’t do that great. They don’t usually do sequels to movies that didn’t do that great. It was a little nerve wracking the way we announced the sequel. We were in Paris and it was all very secretive and we were all walking out of the fashion show in character. It got a great response. People were really cheering for us. I was pretty nervous. I didn’t want to screw up. You’ve got to give models some credit. It’s not as easy as it looks.
Other than another Shanghai movie, is there something else you’d like to do a sequel to?
I liked the Midnight in Paris character. I had a good time with that. I remember reading the script and thinking, How is this going to work with time travel? Then Woody Allen just didn’t do anything – a car comes along and you’re in the past.
Do you ever worry about the box office returns of your movies?
Yeah. Early on you’re not going to be able to work again if the movie doesn’t do well. If it doesn’t get good reviews. I remember that feeling when we did Bottle Rocket, we had a test screening and it tested so badly, and when it came out it didn’t do anything. It’s also sort of funny that even though Bottle Rocket didn’t do well, some people really embraced it. I remember Scorsese put it on his ten best movies of the decade, and I have more people coming up to me about that movie than about a movie like The Haunting, which made a lot of money. I started to answer your question one way, and ended up answering it another way. It just matters if the movie is good.