It's funny how it usually works out that I end up dying [in movies]. It sort of works out, because by the time I die, I'm usually tired of working on that particular movie, so I look forward to it.
— Owen Wilson
Self-proclaimed troublemaker Owen Wilson grew up in Texas with his mother, Laura, a regionally known photographer; his father, an ad exec; and his brothers, Andrew Wilson III (the eldest son) and Luke (the baby). "We were good until we started getting into firecrackers and girls," Wilson joked to People magazine.
He might have added geometry to that list, because during his 10th-grade year at St. Mark's Academy in Austin, Wilson's extra-credit geometry assignments — completed with the help of the teacher's edition of the text book — ended up proving not the Pythagorean Theorem, but the Expulsion Theorem. "There were other kids involved who I wouldn't name," Wilson told Rolling Stone. "I figured there was a sort of shabby nobility in that." Wilson finished his sophomore year at Thomas Jefferson School and then headed to a military academy in New Mexico.
Wilson met his filmmaking partner-in-crime, Wes Anderson, during the second semester of a playwriting class in 1989. The University of Texas at Austin sophomores spent the first semester at opposite ends of the classroom — no easy feat, as the class only consisted of seven other students. After the winter holidays, a mutual friend broke the ice, and the young men realized they had an almost obsessive love for movies (not to mention a strong dislike of scatological humor). The two eventually leased an off-campus apartment together.
According to Texas Monthly, the partners' definitive college collaboration, a screenplay called Bottle Rocket, stemmed from their failed attempts to get their landlord to fix some broken windows. The two friends staged a faux break-in and later abandoned the apartment in the middle of the night, only to be located by a private investigator. Thus the inspiration for Rocket, a black-and-white short that followed a delightfully deluded would-be criminal named Dignan and his reluctant accomplice. Wilson assumed the lead, joined by his younger brother, Luke, in the main supporting role.
Anderson and Wilson sent their completed draft to screenwriter Kit Carson (Paris, Texas), a friend of the Wilson family. Carson sent the script to producer Barbara Boyle, who in turn passed Rocket on to producer Polly Platt, who showed the work to noted Hollywood producer James L. Brooks (whew). Liking what he read, Brooks set up a meeting with the Wunderkind writers. Much like the inept thieves of their script, Anderson and Wilson made a rather inexperienced showing. "I knew it wasn't going well when [Brooks] started to watch a basketball game on TV," Wilson recalled in an interview with Newsweek.
Luckily, Brooks gave the Texans a chance, and in 1996, Rocket became a Hollywood movie, complete with a $5 million budget and its own Hollywood legend, James Caan, in a starring role. The Wilson brothers reprised their roles, and Anderson made his debut at the helm. Despite critical praise and a cult following, Rocket only grossed $1 million during its limited release.
"I was exploring a career in the armed forces," Wilson admitted — much to Anderson's surprise — when asked about his reaction to Rocket's fate. However, the painstaking task of making it in Hollywood had begun, and Wilson instead moved to Los Angeles, setting up house with his two brothers and Anderson.
Soon thereafter, Owen found himself on the receiving end of a swirlie as "Obnoxious Date" in the Matthew Broderick-Jim Carrey flick The Cable Guy; next, he made tasty-looking snake food in the 1997 stinker Anaconda. By giving Brooks some notes on As Good as It Gets, Wilson also nabbed an associate producer credit for the Oscar-decorated Jack Nicholson vehicle.
Things started looking up for both Wilson and Anderson in 1998. After a small part opposite Ben Stiller in the druggie biopic Permanent Midnight, Wilson won a spot in the Jerry Bruckheimer summer hit Armaggedon. Even though his character met an untimely (if heroic) death, by co-starring with the likes of Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, his name started to become recognizable to mainstream audiences.
That same year, Anderson and Wilson released Rushmore, a sweet tale of an overextended prep school student named Max (Jason Schwartzman) who vies for the love of a pretty widowed teacher (Olivia Williams) against a successful businessman (Bill Murray). Wilson explained the creative genesis for the sleeper hit in a 1999 Details interview.: "I was driving from Dallas to L.A. with the director, Wes Anderson, to work on the script for Bottle Rocket, and we thought that if we were meeting with agents we should have some other projects to talk about. So along the way we came up with this funny character Max Fischer, a megalomaniacal kid who doesn't have much irony or self-awareness — kind of like a Donald Trump book on tape." All three Wilson brothers appeared in the movie: Luke played the emergency room doctor loathed by Max, Andrew portrayed Rushmore's harried coach, and Owen can be seen briefly in both the party scene and in photographs, as the teacher's dead husband.
Anderson and Wilson commenced work on their next script,The Royal Tenenbaums, which focused on a family of geniuses. Meanwhile, Wilson's acting career barreled forward. He starred as a nice guy-serial killer alongside Janeane Garofalo in The Minus Man (sometime girlfriend Sheryl Crow had a cameo), worked with pal Bruce Willis in Breakfast of Champions, and literally lost his head in another frighteningly bad horror movie, The Haunting.
Most recently, Wilson was cast as Roy O'Bannon, Jackie Chan's bank-robbing sidekick in the hit action-western-comedy Shanghai Noon. To prepare for the role, the native Texan had to take some lessons in horseback riding and gunslinging. He used the latter talent to impress his family at Thanksgiving, according to an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "I started doing a little bit of the twirling, and they were freaking out," Wilson said. "It was like if I couldn't dance at all and then suddenly went someplace with my brothers and started moving like Travolta." His equestrian abilities left a lot more to be desired. "All the time, I would say, 'Maybe I could just be leading my horse in this shot rather than riding him,'" Wilson continued.
Among his slew of forthcoming projects is Meet the Parents, a fall 2000 comedy starring Robert De Niro and Ben Stiller. He's also considering Stealing Stanford, in which he would depict an uncle who resorts to theft to pay for his niece's college tuition. And finally, his name has been attached to Ocean's Eleven, a remake of the Rat Pack movie that is to be spearheaded by George Clooney and will also feature Willis, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, Wilson's brother Luke, and about a million other top-drawer stars.
With the acting opportunities piling up and throngs eagerly awaiting his next script, Wilson appears prepared to remain a Renaissance man. "I like both [writing and acting] equally," he explained to Bikini magazine. "Writing is more difficult to do. You have to sit there by yourself and kind of think up stuff. But when you're acting, it's sort of fun to go to a set with a bunch of people around and bond with everybody."
— Laurell Haapanen at MR. SHOWBIZ