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Tag Archives: Owen Wilson
Sitting down opposite Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, it’s hard to not feel a moment of awe — after all, each of the three is renowned for comedy timing, quick-wittedness and a remarkable willingness to go all the way for a joke. Talking about their birdwatching comedy “The Big Year,” Martin, Black and Wilson talked about the nature of competition, the allure of birding and of the elastic way time stretches or shrinks depending on your interest level.
At one point, Jo Beth Williams’ character says, ‘They’re men, dear: If they’re not competing, they die.’ Do you find that to be the case? Are you competitive gentlemen?
Wilson: I’m definitely competitive. I don’t think insanely competitive, but there are people that are so competitive they keep playing because it hurts too much to lose. I’m the type of competitive where I’d actually like to play somebody who’s a little better, because it’s more fun, it’s more challenging.
Martin: Who would want to play a game against someone who’s not competitive?
Wilson: They play a game against somebody who they can beat. My friend Don Nelson would rather play somebody in shuffleboard that he can beat 20 times in a row, whereas I’d rather play somebody who’s a little bit better.
Black: I want to win so badly that, like your friend, if I sense that I’m not going to win, I’ll pretend like I’m not interested in that game, like, ‘Eh, what a boring game.’
Wilson: That would drive me crazy. That would infuriate me.
It is, perhaps, too unkind to call “The Big Year” the perfect film to screen on a trans-oceanic plane flight whose compliment of passengers is made up solely of AARP Members. But we can think of no words of praise less slight and no words of condemnation more heated, so there it is. Inspired roughly by Mark Obmascik’s non-fiction book of the same name, three fictional characters are our guides through the biggest event in American birdwatching, the annual competition to see the most North American birds in a year.
A nice interest — and one compounded by the fact that you don’t even need to have photographic proof — or, if you can cite the sound call precisely, even see the bird. Owen Wilson is a go-getter contractor who holds the record; Steve Martin is a man who has to put aside his CEO status and marriage to pursue his dream; Jack Black is a divorced engineer who has to overcome lack of funds and the disapproval of his gruff dad. Director David Frankel — who gave us the fizzy “The Devil Wears Prada” and the fuzzy “Marley and Me” — doesn’t try to push this big, fat, slowball of middlebrow entertainment out to the edges, where it might make it over the fence either as satire or as low-and-slow drama, but instead puts it right back over the middle of the mound to limp to death in a catcher’s mitt.
Frankel has an embarrassment of riches here — supporting-part bench strength from Jo Beth Williams, Dianne Wiest, Rosamund Pike, Rashida Jones and Angelica Huston — and that’s just the ladies. Also on board are Brian Dennehy, Jim Parsons, Barry Shabaka Henley, Joel McHale, Kevin Pollak, Anthony Anderson and Tim Blake Nelson. He most assuredly has a cast — and a beautiful canvas in the wide open spaces of America, but chooses to shoot it tight and flat and squashed as a postcard, even if shot in 2.35:1. “The Big Year” will, we’re sure, become a big film for families trapped indoors on holidays who don’t hate each other enough to drink but who don’t like each other enough to talk.
In “Hall Pass,” Jason Sudeikis and Owen Wilson are two long-married friends who are, inadvisably, given a week off from their marriage vows by spouses Christina Applegate and Jenna Fischer. Directed by onetime comedy titans Peter and Bobby Farrelly — who saw the mix of raunch and comedy they profited with for films like “There’s Something About Mary” and “Shallow Hal” co-opted by Judd Apatow — “Hall Pass” is the duo’s latest attempt to rise above vulgarity and back to the top of the box office.
Talking with Wilson and Sudeikis by phone, the two are aware that the movie’s mix is going to be tough to pull off for audiences. As Sudeikis notes, “I think that it is a rated-R movie, so you have to believe these are good guys — but it also has to be realistic about the situation, that you would get into stuff. One could say (it’s) an unlikable premise for a movie: It seems sexist, but it’s not. It’s very pro-love and pro-marriage. It’s more people trying to figure out where they are in their lives — and I think the better that we convey it at the beginning of the movie that they’re in a little bit of a rut, the more believable that is, the more fun we allow ourselves to have.”
Wilson, for his part, agreed. “I know that Pete was saying at first he thought (“Hall Pass”) was really funny … but (it) needed some work after he showed it to his wife. In the first (edit), the women didn’t do anything except chew their nails while we were out on our hall pass, wondering, ‘What do you think they’re doing?’ His wife was like, ‘No, no. I can’t stand these women. If they’re getting a ‘hall pass,’ these women are going to have a ‘hall pass.”’ They rewrote the script to reflect that. Of course, that is probably what would happen; it’s easier for a girl to go to a bar and get action than for a guy to.”
But there’s still plenty of raunch: drugs, defecation, dangling genitals. Is that, I wondered, on the pages of the script, or does it happen on the day, fresh from the minds of the Farrellys? Wilson explained: “I think they have it pretty thought-out. All that stuff was in the script: It wasn’t just on the day, where they were winging it. They do, I think, do a lot of work leading up to actually shooting, where they’ll read through the script, read it out loud, read it with a group of their friends, with the idea being, ‘How can we …’ — not necessarily push the envelope, but — ‘be funnier, find funny situations?’”
With years of experience on “Saturday Night Live” for Sudeikis and collaborations with Wes Anderson for Wilson, both are talented writers and improvisers. So, did the Farrellys let them at it? Wilson explained how they did — up to a point. “Pete’s not one of these directors who’s worrying like Scorsese about camera movement,” he said, “but he gets very specific with how he hears the dialogue and how he imagines that. Then, also, it’s very collaborative: The writers were there the whole time, about talking with us. Even though Pete was very specific about what he wanted, it was also very open and collaborative that you could try things. Having said that, I did notice that sometimes maybe when we might have come up with an idea we were particularly excited about, Pete would say, ‘OK,’ and maybe do one or two takes, and it was back to his idea, 20 takes. I don’t know if he was just humoring me.” Sudeikis laughed: “He’d always go, ‘Lights … camera … don’t roll … and action!’”
Playing Owen Wilson‘s wife in “Hall Pass,” Jenna Fischer gets to move a little out of the comfort zone she’s built up playing Pam on “The Office” — but, as she explains it, it was too rare an opportunity to pass up. “The Farrellys have a reputation among actors in Hollywood, which is basically, if you have the opportunity to be in their film, just say yes. When you’re a little kid, and you are dreaming of Hollywood and dreaming of what movies must be like, they are a Farrelly brothers movie. Every one of my childhood fantasies of moviemaking came true by doing this film. Luckily, though, when they sent me the script, I also really liked it and was excited to play the character, so I got the best of both worlds.”
And her character — as the film makes clear — also got to get the better of the “Hall Pass” situation. Was that important to her? “Not necessarily that,” she said. “What was important to me, though, was that there was a woman’s perspective. In a lot of these buddy comedies, the women don’t have their own story. What I really was excited about with this movie was that the Farrellys gave the women their own story. The fact that we come out on top is fun. The fact that at the end of the ‘Hall Pass,’ we win — that was great. It’s also made for a more romantic movie, and I think a movie that women will like to see, too. That was important to me: I wanted to make sure that the character was a woman you could believe in, that she would actually do something like this, that she wasn’t just a device, but that she was a whole person.”
But, as Fischer explained, it was easy to have a blast, too: “We had a great time on the day that Christina (Applegate) and I had to shoot the beach volleyball montage, because we basically just played beach volleyball all day with a bunch of shirtless men. That was pretty satisfying on every level … and then we got to drink beer, so that was a pretty great day.” Knowing the Farrellys’ fun-loving ways, I had to ask: Was it fake beer, or the real stuff? “In the scene, we had to pop the beer and chug it; there was real beer in the beer cans. That was a good time. It was like a party on the beach, basically.”
Asked about her most arduous day on the set, Fischer noted that while one specific scene was a pain, it also got her in character in unexpected ways: “(It had to be) the day with the kids, because kids are little and they have a hard time remembering their lines sometimes. I had to carry one of them on my hip, and (by) the end of that day Owen and I felt like a couple who had three children. You’re playing with them constantly, so there’s no downtime with the kids. It definitely gave you some insight into the characters. I don’t have any children of my own, so that day when we were on set with the kids, it was a lot of fun, but it was also the hardest day.”
Looking back, Fischer laughed: “My right bicep was completely tweaked after that day, because I carried that kid on my hip. Then, of course, in the movie, the scene is four seconds long. That was a whole day.”
In “How Do You Know,” Reese Witherspoon plays pro softball player Lisa, who’s benched and fired and, in that tailspin, torn between casual, glib pro baseball player Matty (Owen Wilson) and disgraced financial maven George (Paul Rudd). It’s a return to familiar territory from writer-director James L. Brooks (and awfully similar to his best film, “Broadcast News“) and yet, at the same time, very different. Witherspoon, for example, is on-screen playing ball for only about 30 seconds, but trained three months to prepare. Witherspoon looks, carries herself, and speaks in a way unlike any time you’ve seen her before. And when I spoke with her in New York, she explained how that was entirely intentional.
“Yeah, I totally changed my body,” she said. “I was working out five hours a day, which is intense. Those athletes are exhausting. But also, just the way she walked: She was much more masculine than I am. That was an interesting female character to play in a movie. I had never done that before — she has a deeper voice, she’s kind of one of the boys, she’s hitting the guys all the time.”
And, according to Witherspoon, she and Brooks didn’t end their prep on the softball diamond. “We met a lot of Olympians, we met a lot of collegiate athletes, and we actually went to their apartments, took pictures, took their clothes out — I tried to have (my) clothes be exactly like their clothes, down to everything in the closet,” she said. “So there’s a lot of authenticity there. He really wanted it to look like … there’s an interesting sort of suspended adolescence with people who have been professional athletes. They’re kind of carried through high school, carried through college, and don’t really grow up romantically the same way — so that’s what my character’s going through.”
Just as her character has to deal with very different suitors, so, too, did Witherspoon have to deal with very different leading men. “Owen is much more laid-back and easygoing,” she said. “He’s Southern, too, so maybe there’s some of that Southern ease to it. And he’s such a great writer, so he really understands which part of the scene to emphasize. Paul is more, I don’t know, kinetic. He has a lot of energy, and he’s very physical, too. He’s very funny, his face is moving around a lot … and it’s hard not to laugh when you’re hanging out with Paul because he’s just so funny. He’ll say something hysterically funny and then they say ‘Rolling!’ and you’re like, ‘Oh my God.’”
As for Witherspoon’s own character, one of her biggest challenges was tapping into Lisa’s no-nonsense optimism and drive: “I think it’s interesting hanging out with a bunch of athletes. They use a lot of those affirmations and they really hold onto them as real parts of their personality to drive them forward. It’s about being positive, but being realistic at the same time, so it’s not false positives. You’re supposed to really evaluate yourself, and there’s a constant evaluation going on — they’re very hard on themselves. It was interesting to have those platitudes surrounding me at all times in the movie, and be able to touch on those. It’s an interesting way to live your life.”
The sun-bleached hair, the slow and self-confident drawl, the laid-back charm — sitting opposite Owen Wilson in New York, you get a sense of just how far the talented Texan’s attitude has taken him, and how easy he’s made it all look. Wilson’s debut, “Bottle Rocket,” was produced by “How Do You Know” writer-director James L. Brooks, so the two go back — but this is the first time they’ve worked together as director and actor. Playing a pro baseball player, as Wilson explained, was less about a state of physical shape than it was a state of mind.
“I certainly didn’t do as much work as Reese did,” he said. “Every time I’d see her at rehearsal, she would have already been playing softball that day for three hours, training, weights. I didn’t do so much of that, although I did get to go to spring training in Arizona and hang around with some of the Texas Rangers. I have a friend who works with the Rangers, so they set it up and I got to meet Nolan Ryan and some of the guys on the team. That was great.”
Wilson’s Matty also has a distinct kind of honesty — which is to say, seemingly no filter between his mouth and his brain. Wilson laughed, explaining how, for him, Matty’s honesty felt like a variation of the sacred fool of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High“: “And that’s a nice quality. When people don’t have that built-in sensor, it’s a little uncomfortable, because you’re not sure what they’re going to say, and sometimes they put their foot in their mouth, but it’s also nice to get that kind of honesty. Occasionally, you would say something that would (have) sort of like a Spicoli kind of logic to it.”
Wilson has a long track record with Brooks (“I met him so long ago when he kind of gave us our big break. Now getting a chance to act in one of his movies seemed unbelievable.”), but his director made it clear that Wilson was on his film to work, not relax. “The working process with Reese … Jim kind of set the tone,” he said. “It was always something where you felt comfortable trying things and you’re in a lot of takes and you’re going different directions, so I think we both just enjoyed each other’s characters and had fun playing these roles.”
I also had to ask — possibly to salt the wound a little — was there any regret on Wilson’s part about being in a film with Jack Nicholson, but not having any scenes with Jack Nicholson? Wilson smiled: “Yeah, there definitely is. In fact, I would jealously ask Paul, ‘Have any good Jack Nicholson stories for me?’ — because I didn’t get to work with him. Paul would tell me the stories, and then I would adopt them as my own, as if they had happened to me.”
“After seeing “Marmaduke,” director Tom Dey’s adaptation of the comic strip revolving around the title Great Dane, I wasn’t pondering if the movie was good or bad but, rather, why “Marmaduke” had to exist at all. As bad and bland as “Garfield” is as a comic strip, it at least has characters (Garfield, Jon, Liz the vet, Odie) and a multipanel narrative, as kitty pursues happiness and lasagna via the path of least resistance. “Marmaduke” the comic series is, by comparison, anorexic, with no more than a gigantic dog, an exasperated mustache-wearing owner, teetering end tables and strained leashes as the constantly recurring elements of its tediously eternal single-panel saga.
But we live in an age when any familiar pop-culture idea, no matter its worth or worthiness, must be “monetized” across a series of “platforms” — whatever those are — and so “Marmaduke” comes to the big screen. The title dog is voiced with no small amount of charm by Owen Wilson, although that is not in any way an accident, as Wilson could voice an industrial tractor or kidney dialysis machine and still be charming. Marmaduke, along with the family that he lives with — “owns” is the wrong word to use for a Great Dane so large it has its own ZIP code — moves from Kansas to Orange County, Calif., at the beginning of the film. Phil Winslow (Lee Pace) is relocating his wife, Debbie (Judy Greer), and children, Barbra (Caroline Sunshine) and Brian (Finley Jacobson) and baby Sarah (Mandy and Milana Haines), thanks to a new job with an organic pet food company under Mr. Twombly. (William H. Macy, who used to work with David Mamet and is now struck in the junk by a colossal canine. Twice.)”