The Dude Is In
Associate editor John Spong talks about Owen Wilson and "The Story of O."
texasmonthly.com: Who came up with the idea to do a feature on Owen Wilson for the cover of the “Texas Cool” issue? Was he the only person discussed for the cover?
John Spong: Various people here have been talking about doing an Owen story for a while now. He set himself apart from his brothers and Wes Anderson a few years ago when he started taking roles in high-profile movies like Armageddon, Meet the Parents, and Shanghai Noon. When he did I Spy late last year, that’s when I started paying attention and pushing to do a story. Since his whole appeal is based upon being cool, and since we were slated to do a “Cool” issue in June, Owen on the cover seemed like a natural fit.
texasmonthly.com: Did you have any problems getting to talk to Owen? If so, can you tell us about them?
JS: Talking to Owen seemed at first like it was going to be impossible. He flew into Austin for the Texas Film Hall of Fame presentation in April, and I was supposed to visit with him then. But he ended up leaving early—both from the party on Friday night and then Austin altogether on Saturday morning—and we weren’t able to hang out. Initially, there was concern that he had become a big star and wasn’t going to make time for us. It turned out that he was getting ready to start filming Starsky and Hutch and had a lot on his plate during the late pre-production of the film, as he said when we ultimately got together. It’s during the two to three weeks leading up to a shoot that he actually sits down with a script and starts coming up with dialogue for his character—that’s where he was when we thought he might be blowing us off.
texasmonthly.com: Was he the kind of guy you were expecting him to be? If so, how so? If not, why not?
JS: Since I’d had such difficulty getting with him, I wasn’t sure what to expect. On the one hand, I figured he’d be like his movie characters—easygoing, funny, a little random—but I wondered how much of that I would get to see. I was afraid he’d be available for only twenty to thirty minutes. He’d have to be awfully funny for a twenty-minute conversation to be stretched into a full-on cover story.
texasmonthly.com: How long did you get to talk to him? Did you do most of your correspondence via e-mail?
JS: That was the great part about it. When I got to his house I had to wait in front with his assistant Steve, a high school buddy of Owen’s, while Owen finished up with some hair stylists who were fitting him for a wig for Starsky and Hutch. But then he walked out the door, asked for the keys to my rental car, and off we went. We spent the next two hours driving around Santa Monica and talking about his career. Of course, after we ended up having problems with some of the stuff that he wanted to keep out of the story, we e-mailed and talked on the phone at length. It was funny. When I called him to go over the dialogue section of the story on Easter Sunday, the first thing he said was that he was excited about what we’d come up with. I told him, “You’re just excited that this interview is almost over.” He said, “Yeah, that too. I remember Steve telling me, ‘There’s this guy from Texas Monthly named John who wants to swing by the house for an interview. Shouldn’t take but about a half-hour.’ That was a month ago, John.”
texasmonthly.com: How did you research this story?
JS: I researched the story by reading as many news stories I could find, calling as many of his co-stars as would take my calls, and watching a whole lot of Owen Wilson movies. Besides the big three films he wrote with Wes Anderson—Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums—I liked Shanghai Knights and Zoolander the best. He was hilarious in Meet the Parents, but he was only onscreen for about five minutes—the same for The Cable Guy.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect to this story?
JS: The hardest part of doing the story was setting aside my pride and renting a Jim Carrey movie. I hate that guy, and I have always bragged about never having seen even a scene from one of his movies. I have had happier two-hour stints on the couch than the one I logged watching that damn Cable Guy movie.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this story?
JS: How much Owen reads. We made a bunch of jokes when we were hanging out, and then in the story, about Owen not having read these famous authors, but the fact is that he quoted a fairly long passage from Huck Finn and another from This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff pretty much verbatim.
texasmonthly.com: Since you were interviewing a big star, did you approach this story differently than others? If so, how? If not, why not?
JS: I tried to do a good job of mapping out my questions before I met him so that I’d never end up with dead air to fill in the conversation. I’m a big enough fan of his movies that I wanted to avoid that Chris Farley-SNL-you’re-so-cool type of interview. Fortunately, he was friendly enough that the visit went smoothly, like a couple of guys hanging out rather than a more formal interviewer-interviewee question-and-answer session.
texasmonthly.com: Did anything funny or unusual happen to you while you were working on this story?
JS: The weirdest moment came at the end of the interview, when Owen had gone to change into his jogging clothes, and I was left alone with his four-year-old nephew Joey. Joey is a cute kid and real friendly; he’s not afraid to get familiar when company comes to visit his uncles. I was sitting in a chair trying to take notes about the stuff in Owen’s living room—the pictures on the wall, some props from his movies on the shelves—when Joey climbed over the chair back and started crawling on my head. That was no real problem for me, and as I tried to pull him off, he started laughing at me and I started to tickle him. Everything was going great—I figured Owen would come in the room at any minute, see how well I got along with Joey, and maybe ask me to appear in his next movie or something. Not exactly. Right as Owen started to come down the stairs, Joey started to scream and cry. Whoops. I apologized up and down and tried to assure them both that that was not the way my interviews typically went.