At 53, crooked-nosed Texan Owen Wilson is at the height of his powers. He recently stepped foot into his first major TV project in the form of Marvel’s Loki, having enjoyed a therapeutic break from the hard-and-fast mechanics of the movie industry. Yet, at the same time, he flirted not just in the Disney+ premium series of the year, but also in The French Dispatch and Bliss. And now, in another COVID-delayed enterprise, he stars opposite Jennifer Lopez in Marry Me.
In truth, the ebb and flow of Wilson’s moves should be little surprise—there’s always been something indecipherable about the actor’s Hollywood trajectory. A ruling member of the Frat Pack along with regular collaborators Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn, the star has embraced raucous comedy—Wedding Crashers, Zoolander, I Spy, Shanghai Noon—alongside introspective, ponderous fare like Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and countless titles with former college roommate Wes Anderson, such as The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. And let’s not even dare ponder too long his stunning portrayal of automotive legend Lightning McQueen in the Cars animated films.
Indeed, it was Anderson who inspired Wilson to drop out of college and give Hollywood a try with their first film short, Bottle Rocket, alongside his equally famous bro, Luke. But who is Owen Wilson? Where does he stand in the industry pecking order? Funnyman? Quirky indie hero? Romantic lead? Today, the charming though noticeably hesitant actor is in no doubts of his inspiration.
Wilson lives in LA. He has two sons—Ford, 10, with Jade Duell, and Finn, 7, with Caroline Lindqvist; and daughter Lyra, with Varunie Vongsvirates.
In Marry Me, he plays Charlie Gilbert, a concertgoer who gets picked by a singer played by Lopez after holding up a “marry me” sign at the show. The singer’s intended husband, Bastian, has been having an affair behind her back, and she seizes the opportunity to pursue the most random of trajectories. It makes for great cinema, and it gives Wilson a route back onto the big screen opposite one of the most talked-about people in the industry, given his co-star’s rekindled romance with Ben Affleck.
South Jersey Magazine: Tell us a bit about Marry Me. There is something ultimately inspirational about such a leap of faith.
Owen Wilson: Well, there is, and the storyline is beautifully set up. Jennifer Lopez plays the role of a very talented musician and I, the part of the man who … is almost plucked out of the audience [laughs]. There’s something unbelievable and implausible about the storyline, in the first instance. It seems fanciful and ridiculous. And yet it’s probably a thought we have all had at some point in our lives—what would life be like with a stranger; someone we had never met? What if we had taken a right turn instead of a left? It’s like when we walk past the window to a house and ponder what goes on behind there and what if we were in that situation.
SJM: So what you’re saying is it’s a ridiculous storyline that is actually very believable.
OW: Exactly that. Rather than accepting our lives as they are, this is an adventure into a world most of us have imagined, fantasized about, or maybe even feel relief that we didn’t pursue.
But in those terms you can’t really say it is so ridiculous because we’ve all been there in thought, if not in our actions; and that’s what I really like about this story.
SJM: And of course our love lives are probably the most random and unpredictable aspects of who we are.
OW: That is true. Love, attraction, sex appeal—call it what you want; it can lead perfectly rational people to behave in very strange ways, and to make decisions that are completely out of character. Is that a good thing? I think it probably is.
SJM: I guess the obvious follow-up to this conversation is to ask about Wedding Crashers 2. In fact, that could be a sequel, of sorts, to Marry Me [laughs].
OW: Well, we’re at the stage where we are having conversations about where we want to go with it, what time in the characters’ lives we’re going to concentrate on, and just trying to figure what will be the best angle to go at it from.
As with all things sequel, you’ve got to approach it with caution, because if you get it wrong you end up tarnishing everything that was good about the original, and that would be something that concerned me, definitely.
What reassures me is the fact that David Dobkin, who directed the first movie, has been doing a lot of work on the second one and it’ll be great to see what he’s come up with, because he’s such a funny guy.
SJM: And Vince?
OW: Vince Vaughn and I have been having regular and irregular conversations about maybe some ideas, but also reminiscing about working together on the first Wedding Crashers and looking forward to doing it all again for the second.
SJM: It must be flattering that there are so many people asking when the sequel will be.
OW: Yeah, of course. The good thing is that there is scope and the want for a second film, such was the reaction and resonance from people who watched the original movie. That means a lot when fans are asking for another one.
We so enjoyed making the first film and we would love to make a second one. Things happen in the film industry that sometimes conspire against you making what you would like to make.
However, what will be the decider is whether we can come up with a script that we think is good enough, and that we think will do the first movie justice, then we will do it. And if we can’t, we won’t [laughs].
SJM: What was it like working with Jennifer Lopez?
OW: She is a great actress and there’s very little she hasn’t done. It’s always great working with people who have such diversity in their careers. And by that I mean when you are a different type of performer, such as a singer, you can bring a whole different essence and ambience to a project.
We’re almost the same age and we have come to this juncture from very different directions and perspectives, and I’d like to think we have fed off each other and learned from each other in order to produce something that’s worthwhile. Whether that ends up being the case is for other people to decide, of course.
I am at the mercy of the paying crowd, as always [laughs].
SJM: A central theme throughout a surprising number of your movies is the idea of relevance in advancing age and dealing with competition from younger whippersnappers. With all due respect, can you relate to that in Hollywood?
OW: This is 100% a reflection on my life right now [laughs], and everyone goes through it. Getting older but not actually feeling it. I’m  years old, but I don’t feel any different from when I was 25. But also, I’m a father now, there comes a time to pass the baton and become the mentor and I’d like to think I have a mentor role for them.
It’s a weird time in life, you’ve got one foot in your old world, one foot in the new, part of you wants it to stay the same but the other knows you’ve got to embrace the now.
SJM: Who were your biggest mentors growing up?
OW: My parents for sure, they were the primary mentors. They were both really creative and lit that light within my brothers and me. My dad really inspired who I am, where I wanted to go, there was a lot of encouragement there. He didn’t really have any other hobbies but us kids, he was totally devoted.
When we wanted to get Bottle Rocket made, my dad was the driving force. He put up the money along with Wes Anderson’s dad, they believed in us, he believed in us and that was a really pure, driving force. And professionally, it would be James L. Brooks, who took my brothers and I and Wes [Anderson] under his wing and gave us a fighting chance.
He convinced a studio to allow a bunch of total nobodies to make a movie that went on to make not very much money [laughs]. But that’s what started it all. He was the guiding light and it taught me to do the same for the younger generation. If a kid of a friend, if I encounter any kid who needs help, who needs that chance like I did, I’m going to do everything I can to help because it was done for me. You’ve got to pay it forward, as the saying goes.
SJM: Do you look back on your career retrospectively?
OW: I think that’s the sort of thing you do when you get involved in sequels or franchises. I think it’s pretty accepted that you’re going to start comparing the present (or the future) to the past.
I will have moments of reflection, of quiet contemplation about how lucky I am, how grateful I am to be still out in LA, working and doing something creative for a living when I didn’t ever consider acting as a career, when I didn’t study it, when I never thought growing up in Texas it was ever a possibility.
And anything is possible, that’s what I tell my kids, but they need to hear it again and again. Anything is possible, just go for it.
SJM: As was the case with a project like Loki, a new slant for you.
OW: Well it was, of course, and a new start for Loki, too. Taking the Marvel universe and intercepting it into a TV series brings about so many new challenges and it’s probably only because of that my character was allowed to be introduced and will develop.
Mobius offered an intriguing representation of middle management, and he was there to guide our hero through some initial stages of trying to understand what was going on, and I think we did that pretty well.
SJM: Are you surprised by the fact you haven’t been invited to do much TV before?
OW: I’ve been invited but I never felt the environment was quite right; there’s that and the fact I’ve always had a movie project on the go as well, and I guess going all the way back to the ’90s, my staple has always really been films and the idea that you put so much into a format that will play out in front of you in an hour-and-a-half or two hours or whatever that is.
I guess I’ve been really conditioned to think that way and to program my method of acting and development of characters in the same way.
When someone tells you to rip up the rule book that you’ve had in your pocket for three decades and to start thinking about characterization in different ways, not only is that quite a lot to take on but it’s quite a developmental step for an actor—an old actor like me [laughs]—to take on. Perhaps I was just waiting for the right project to come along before I did that.
SJM: Perhaps one of the few surprises is that Ben Stiller hasn’t popped up in Loki or Marry Me somewhere, given the number of times you’ve worked together!
OW: I’m not sure what the exact number is now—13 or 14? The reason for that is it worked from the first time we met. That ease of dynamic was electric, we really liked each other. It was a friendship that is still there today, in its original form even though we’ve both grown up in many ways—and not in others. We laugh at the same things, we finish each other’s sentences, it’s an unbreakable bond.
SJM: And you’ve also acted with your brother Luke many times. Were you competitive growing up and are you still now?
OW: Growing up we were, and we still probably are in day to day. In work, in movies, there’s nothing like that between us. Neither of us would be doing what we’re doing right now if it wasn’t for the other.
SJM: So there’s never been any feeling of, ‘My movie did better than yours?’
OW: I want him to succeed always, so that when my work dries up, he’ll still work with me.
SJM: You have been acting a long time. Do you have any periods where you get bored?
OW: I think that I have been lucky in that almost every movie that I have worked on, I usually end up having a pretty good time. I can really only think of a couple of times where I was like, ‘I am not enjoying this too much,’ because it didn’t seem like it was going well, and even on the ones that have turned out to have not gone well, while you were making it, you thought, ‘This could be pretty good.’ I think because it’s too depressing to go to work every day thinking that you are making something that’s lousy.
So there’s this sort of thing that happens
where you start to think, ‘This could be pretty good.’ And there’s only a couple of times where I have never been able to hypnotize myself into that feeling [laughs].
SJM: No one wants to make anything bad.
OW: Yeah, no one sets out to make something that’s a bad movie.
SJM: As a man in your 50s, does that concern you? For many actors it’s a big issue.
OW: Not for me. I don’t worry about it. Age is just a number.
SJM: What did you want to be when you were a child?
OW: Well, I didn’t think movies were possible. You would see movies and love movies, but the possibility of being an actor and working in Hollywood would have sounded ridiculous.
People would have laughed at you. It would have sounded ridiculous so I probably thought I would have done what my dad did, go into advertising or something, or maybe writing. I grew up in Dallas so this kind of job seemed impossible.
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