Owen Wilson has done quite well for himself over the last few years. He’s had a few hits – "Shanghai Noon", "Meet the Parents", "Zoolander" – and now headlines "I Spy" opposite Eddie Murphy. PAUL FISCHER catches up with the popular actor to chat about the new film and also ask about his next films, "Shanghai Knights" and "Starsky and Hutch".
Owen Wilson does not come across as your typical movie spy. The laid back and laconic Texan actor is shy and introverted, admitting that he feels far more comfortable when he is just writing, as opposed to being in the spotlight in this world of Hollywood because his first film, Bottle Rocket, seemed such an accident. “It’s odd that Bottle Rocket was such a small movie and a lot of movies I’ve acted in have been very different from that, more like Armageddon compared to Bottle Rocket; you can’t get more opposite ends of the spectrum,” Wilson says with a deliberate kind of slowness. “I don’t know why it’s worked out that way, I guess maybe after being in Armageddon and people are more exposed to you.” There is a genuine credibility to Wilson, far less showy and star-turning. Perhaps it’s his Texas upbringing or the fact that he is a writer. He never expected to be starring in big-budget Hollywood films after Bottle Rocket “because it was such a painful process since it tested so badly. It was such a small movie and barely got released and I never studied acting. I also felt myself kind of writing more, but some people kind of really embraced the movie and it then some people in the Hollywood community kind of got behind it.” And then by accident his more mainstream Hollywood career was initiated with 1998’s Armageddon. Having successfully teamed up with Jackie Chan on Shanghai Noon and the upcoming Shanghai Knights, Wilson is currently joining forces with superstar Eddie Murphy in the spy action comedy, I Spy. He plays an average Bondesque spy who teams up with egotistical boxer Murphy. The plot doesn’t matter of course. Wilson agrees. “This was more like trying to be funny and finding a way like that Eddie and I were going to relate to each other.” The two actors certainly compliment each other. Wilson admits that the chance of working with a comic idol was nerve-wracking. “I was kind of nervous when I first met him because those movies of his, 48 Hours and Trading Places, were really a big deal growing up.” Also, admits the actor, “I’ve always been comfortable improvising, but Eddie was kind of like a whole other ballgame in terms of improvising. Just really quick, so it took me a couple days just to try and figure out how we were going to play off each other.” He did that by “kind of figuring out how my character was going to relate to his character.” Wilson seems most comfortable when working as one half of a duo. Wilson and Chang, Wilson and Murphy and Wilson and Stiller in the upcoming Starsky and Hutch. “That’s probably the way it sort of happened in the late movies that I’ve been offered and in also feeling comfortable in that kind of dynamic. I don’t know, it’s kind of like growing up with both my brothers and those types of friendships, and I’m kind of comfortable with that type of stuff.” His next movie that he’s getting ready to shoot in Hawaii, the Big Bounce, “is like an Elmore Leonard story and there’s a girl that I’m supposed to play off so it’ll be interesting to see how this works, because it’s not so much like being kind of funny.”
Working with Murphy was different, he says, from working with Jackie Chan. “I’d say the sort of stuff Eddie thinks of is maybe kind of closer to me, sense of humour wise. We would spend all day doing this stuff. Jackie is so different from me kind of the way his mind works and the way he is. He’s really kind of an innocent kind of in a way and kind of unguarded and so it’s really nice to be around someone like that.” Wilson laughs when asked what he thinks Shanghai Knights will be like. “I’ll have to go with what Jackie says about, which is, that it’s the greatest American movie ever. The feeling I had when I was doing it is that it seemed really funny, so I guess we’ll just wait and see.”
Happily single, Wilson admits that he intentionally avoids the glare of publicity and celebrity. “You know, the people who come up to me are usually nice and flattering if someone says they like something. And then, I could see someone like Eddie or Bruce Willis where, you know, if you’re like that, it probably gets a little bit tricky.”
I SPY OPENS NATIONALLY ON NOVEMBER 1