‘Midnight’ confessions from Owen Wilson

Fest Traveler: Dubai Intl. Film Festival - Variety International Star of the Year

Of his four movies released this year — “Hall Pass,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Cars 2” and “The Big Year” — Owen Wilson can’t say which was more fun to shoot, but he knows which one surprised him the most.

“My dad looked in the paper today and saw that ‘Midnight in Paris’ is still playing,” says Variety’s International Star of the Year. “When I signed up to do the movie, I never thought that it would play as well as it has. I thought, ‘How is all this time travel go to work? Who do you get to play people like Dali, Hemingway and Fitzgerald?’ ”

For many, the biggest surprise was seeing how effectively the 43-year-old Texas native — best known for comedies such as “Wedding Crashers,” “Zoolander,” “Shanghai Noon” and “You, Me and Dupree” — played the cinematic alter ego of writer-director Woody Allen, whose screen persona has defined the nebbishy, intellectual New York neurotic.

“I’m not good at doing voices or imitations so much,” says Wilson in his trademark halting drawl, “but there was something to the cadence that sounded familiar to my ear.”

Allen has said he rewrote the role of screenwriter Gil Pender for Wilson, but the actor surmises “the only thing they changed was that Gil was from Pasadena rather than the East Coast.”

Besides, “it wasn’t something where you had to nail every preposition exactly,” says Wilson, who has a reputation for improvising dialogue. “When we first met, his direction was, ‘Make it sound natural. If there’s anything that doesn’t feel quite right to say, put it however you think it should sound.’ ”

While Pender is an admitted Hollywood hack who longs to create a work of merit, Wilson established his literary bona fides early in his career, partnering with director Wes Anderson to co-write the critically acclaimed bittersweet comedies “Bottle Rocket” (1996), “Rushmore” (1998) and “The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001), the latter of which earned the duo an Oscar nomination for original screenplay.

Wilson had ample intellectual stimuli growing up in Dallas with older brother Andrew and younger brother Luke. His mother, Laura, worked as an assistant to Richard Avedon for six years as the famed photographer traveled to 17 states shooting portraits for his landmark 1985 book “In the American West,” and the Wilson brothers accompanied her on shoots on summer vacations, during which Avedon snapped several portraits of the siblings that now hang in their parents’ home.

Wilson’s creative sensibilities were also influenced by his father, Robert, an ad exec who ran the local PBS station.

“He worked with these great creative people with great senses of humor and I remember being at dinner and just hearing dad’s friends talk and I think that was for me and my brothers a big influence on what was funny,” says Wilson.

When he and Anderson, a friend from his days at the U. of Texas at Austin, were trying to get “Bottle Rocket” off the ground, his father invited one of his PBS connections, screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson, over to dinner to give them advice.

“Kit had the idea for us to try to go to Sundance and then eventually send it to (producer) Barbara Boyle, who sent it to (producers) Polly Platt and Jim Brooks,” says Wilson, and with their help Anderson got a greenlight from Columbia to shoot the film with Owen and Luke in the leads and Andrew in a supporting role.

In the ensuing 15 years, Wilson has acted in three dozen movies, but hasn’t written a script since “The Royal Tenenbaums.” “I do regret it,” Wilson admits, but says he might be ready to put pen to paper again.

“You might contribute a line or an idea for a scene (as an actor),” he says, “but it’s obviously not the same as starting from scratch with something that’s more personal or more exactly the way you might imagine it.”

Star-powered event | Variety International Star of the Year: Owen Wilson | Royal influence

More Biz

  • Chuck D of Public EnemyGods of

    Public Enemy’s Chuck D Slams Grammys Over Deborah Dugan Ouster

    Chuck D, frontman of Public Enemy — who are receiving the Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Grammys next week — posted a long statement on Instagram criticizing the Recording Academy over its sudden ousting of new president/CEO Deborah Dugan yesterday. Dugan, who had been in the job only five months, was placed on administrative leave after [...]

  • Any Given Wednesday With Bill Simmons

    Spotify in Talks to Acquire Bill Simmons' The Ringer: Report

    Spotify is in early talks to acquire The Ringer, the digital content and podcast network launched by ESPN alum Bill Simmons in 2016, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. A representative for Spotify declined to comment on the report. Reps for Ringer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Spotify’s [...]

  • Deborah Dugan arrives for the 20th

    Deborah Dugan's Recording Academy Ouster Follows Multiple Tussles With Board

    “Change is afoot,” Deborah Dugan said more than once during interviews with Variety in the weeks before her shocking removal from her post as president/CEO of the Recording Academy after just five months on the job. During those conversations, Dugan spoke of changes she planned to make in the Academy’s staffing organization, its Board of [...]

  • Weinstein Trial

    Does Harvey Weinstein's Jury Selection Strategy Make Any Sense?

    Harvey Weinstein’s defense team appeared to have a strategy for jury selection: keep white women off the panel. They didn’t put it that way, because picking jurors based on race or gender is illegal. But on Thursday and again on Friday, prosecutor Joan Illuzzi accused the defense of using its peremptory challenges to systematically exclude [...]

  • Bob Iger

    Bob Iger's Disney Compensation Drops to $47.5 Million in 2019

    Disney chief Bob Iger saw his compensation for 2019 drop to $47.5 million, a 28% decline from his 2018 pay package. Disney’s leader earned $3 million in salary and a $21.8 million bonus, plus another $10 million in stock awards and $9.6 million in stock options, Disney disclosed in the company’s annual proxy filing with [...]

  • Peter Chernin'Spies in Disguise' film premiere,

    Disney and Chernin Entertainment Parting Ways (EXCLUSIVE)

    Disney and Peter Chernin are ending Chernin Entertainment’s long-standing film production deal with 20th Century Fox (recently rebranded to 20th Century Studios), Variety has learned. The split was a mutual and amicable one, driven by the simple fact that Disney rarely brings on third-party partners to finance its feature films. “I have nothing but praise for [...]

  • NAB Show Partners With Variety for

    NAB Show Partners With Variety for Executive Leadership Summit

    The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show has announced that it will be partnering with Variety to produce the third annual Executive Leadership Summit, taking place Sunday, April 19 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. NAB Show is the world’s largest convention encompassing media, entertainment and technology, where global visionaries convene to bring content to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content