Owen Wilson

Owen Wilson in Hall Pass

Owen Wilson in “Hall Pass”

Of the people who go to see Owen Wilson’s movies like “Wedding Crashers,” “Zoolander” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” it’s safe to say that nearly all of them have heard some details of his personal life — his almost-as-famous younger brother, Luke Wilson, his celebrity girlfriends, the embarrassing nickname “the butterscotch stallion” and, sadly, the suicide attempt. But how many know that he’s also behind a couple of the best screenplays written over the last decade?

Born in Dallas, Texas in 1968, young Owen had issues with rules and authority, and he was expelled from his private high school during the tenth grade. After the ensuing stint in military school, Owen matriculated at the University of Texas at Austin and found a kindred spirit in a future filmmaker named Wes Anderson. The friendship eventually produced a short film about criminal wannabes, “Bottle Rocket,” which was co-written by the two, directed by Wes, and starring Owen and little brother Luke. The film attracted the attention of some pretty important Hollywood players, including comedy kingpin James L. Brooks. A feature film version was produced, starring the original crew and James Caan. Unfortunately, the feature length “Bottle Rocket” was hated by focus groups and made approximately zip at the box office. Critics dug it, however, and awards were given, along with some significant buzz built around both Wes Anderson and Owen. There would be work.

First up was the Jim Carrey vehicle, “The Cable Guy,” which, if nothing else, kicked off the start of Owen’s long association with Ben Stiller. That was followed by two alphabetically advantaged thrillers: “Anaconda” and “Armageddon.” In 1999, the next Anderson-Wilson screenplay, “Rushmore,” was released. Oddly enough, it was about a brilliant but obnoxious tenth grader who is eventually ejected from his school. Phrases like “instant classic” were bandied about and sometimes people even remembered that Wes Anderson had help writing the script.

Owen was not in the cast of “Rushmore” and, for a time, it seemed as if the more traditionally handsome Luke might become the more famous Wilson brother. Still, Owen worked a great deal and had his first starring role as a polite young serial killer in “The Minus Man.” His first victim in that film, musician Sheryl Crow, also became his first celebrity girlfriend. Owen’s mainstream breakthrough came not long after in the buddy action comedy “Shanghai Noon” with Jackie Chan. And the next year brought the Ben Stiller vehicle “Zoolander,” in which Owen stole nearly every scene amidst heavy competition from Stiller and insane, pink-haired bad guy Will Ferrell.

After that, it was time for a third collaboration with Wes Anderson in the all-star comedy, “The Royal Tenenbaums.” This time, the film was a bonafide hit and Owen was one of the all-stars. Things got frantic. There was the starring role in the action drama “Behind Enemy Lines,” “I Spy” with Eddie Murphy, and “Starsky & Hutch” with buddy Ben. By the time of the next Wes Anderson project, 2004’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”, Owen’s only involvement was as an actor. Hardly anyone noticed. Everyone was too distracted by the massive success of “Wedding Crashers.” That was followed by Owen’s voice work in another romantic comedy of sorts, Pixar-Disney’s “Cars,” and the critically lambasted, commercially successful comedy, “You, Me and Dupree,” which introduced Owen to his latest high-profile girlfriend, Kate Hudson. The butterscotch stallion rode again, or at least until the couple brook up in 2005.

It all came to a sudden halt with the news of Owen’s suicide attempt in the weeks prior to the release of 2007’s “The Darjeeling Limited,” the second Wes Anderson film to be written without Owen. A publicist issued a brief statement admitting to the attempt, but requesting privacy. There was little chance of gossip hounds respecting that, of course, but fortunately, the news from all sources was that the star was on the mend and doing well. And for that, we can all be grateful. Perhaps now there’ll be less “butterscotch Stallion” and more writing in Owen’s future. It might be therapeutic.

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Owen on the Screen

Though his work with Wes Anderson displays a cool wit and restraint which meshes pretty perfectly with the dry, yet sincere, material, we’re also kind of fond as Owen’s turn as New Age male supermodel Hansel in the supremely silly “Zoolander” – the “Citizen Kane” of moronic male supermodel movies. Owen’s ur-egotist was a masterpiece of self-absorption. Bravo.

Owen Wilson Quotes

On the Hollywood caste system:
“You can think of Hollywood as high school. TV actors are freshmen, comedy actors are maybe juniors, and dramatic actors – they’re the cool seniors.”

On his bathtub scene with Jackie Chan in “Shanghai Noon”:
“…It has a way of bonding you, I’ll tell you that. I don’t know if there are some weird undertones. It was like we had met in Los Angeles and we didn’t have that much to say to each other but, after that bathtub scene, we were great friends.”

On his love life:
“I thought that I’d be married by the time I was 30 and be starting a family, but it just hasn’t worked out that way….I didn’t realize that I have such a strong scientific side that demands that I experiment with and compare women.”

On acting versus writing:
“I can’t think of a movie I wish I’d acted in, but there are movies I wish I’d written.”

On other career options:
“The studio said ‘Bottle Rocket’ was their worst-testing movie in history, so I looked into the Marines. Maybe I was influenced by ‘An Officer and a Gentleman.’ Or those Marine commercials — they were so cool! Like a Led Zeppelin song come to life, full of people pulling swords from rocks and fighting lava monsters!”