Now you, your brother Luke and Wes have been lucky to have a string of successful films ever since your short film “Bottle Rocket” that have received praise from both critics and audiences. How exactly did the three of you come together to build your little hit factory? ^ It’s hardly a hit factory. The way we kind of built our little ‘hit factory’ though is Wes and I met in college, we kind of had a similar type of background — his dad had an ad agency, he has an older brother and a younger brother that both like to see movies– and he really wanted to be a director, so he urged me to work on a screenplay with him. We were mostly into Scorsese, but when we started doing our movies they weren’t really Scorsese-type movies. We just kind of do this stuff that comes naturally to us.
Do you find it easier as an actor and a screenwriter to work with your family and friends, or is it harder to get any work done working with people you are so close to? ^ I know that when I first went to USC I was really lonely. I didn’t like Los Angeles and I was really lonely so I went back to Texas. Since I’ve been back out here in L.A. though it’s just nice to be going through stuff. I have both my brothers out here and Wes was out here for a long time, so it’s nice that we are all kind of working in the same thing. You have stuff to share, stories. In terms of acting with Luke, people ask if it was sort of like baggage acting with your own brother, but there really isn’t. I feel more relaxed acting with Luke and working with Wes than I do with somebody like De Niro or Eddie Murphy or Gene Hackman because they make me nervous. You have to overcome that and get kind of relaxed working with those guys — you have to work through that. With Wes and Luke I am already relaxed.
Your films definitely have a sense of humor that’s all their own, with The Royal Tenenbaums being no exception. How do you and Wes go about writing screenplays? ^ We just write about the stuff that comes naturally to us. I don’t really know how to describe our sense of humor because it’s not really cynical or mean-spirited, it seems to come more from enthusiasm and earnestness. It’s just the type of stuff that Wes and I find funny. Like Kumar was a guy that I met in Dallas through his son and Wes and I thought he was a character. We liked him and then wrote a character for him called Kumar in “Bottle Rocket,” and that’s how we work with other movies.
The Royal Tenenbaums definitely has the largest cast of all your films. Was it more difficult for you as a screenwriter to write an ensemble piece, or is it harder to just focus on creating a couple engaging characters that can carry a film by themselves for two hours? ^ This movie was harder, trying to write an ensemble movie rather than focusing on one thing. Still, it ended up becoming pretty much Gene Hackman’s movie, I think, but early on we didn’t quite know how it was going to work out.
A lot of people feel that you and Wes were looked over by the Academy for Rushmore. Now The Royal Tenenbaums is coming out during this year’s Oscar race. Do you think that this film could finally be the one to receive the Oscar nomination so many feel you and Wes deserved years ago? ^ Yeah. I saw the movie a couple months ago and “Bottle Rocket” is kind of hard for me to see– it’s just weird to see yourself– but this one I really loved. I like Rushmore, but this was probably my favorite. I don’t know how other people will react to it, I just hope that at least Gene Hackman will get some recognition for the movie.
Do you think that after the events of September 11 that the Academy Awards will be any different? ^ I don’t know. I doubt it. It will probably be the same as it ever was.
Do you think that after the terrorist attacks people will be more welcoming to a film like Beyond Enemy Lines, or do you think they will shy away from it given its sensitive subject matter at this time? ^ I would think that after September 11 that there is sort of a natural kind of surge in patriotism. That happens when you are put through a kind of a collective tragedy– the whole country sort of comes together. We saw it particularly in New York and then the days after when the city comes together and then the whole country does, and that’s why you see that throughout history. Beyond Enemy Lines is not a movie about corruption in the military or another cynical thing — it’s kind of a whole national story. I can’t even believe there hasn’t already been a movie called Beyond Enemy Lines… there probably has it’s such an obvious title.
You just came back from shooting “I Spy,” correct? How is that coming along? ^ Yes, we filmed last night in Vancouver until midnight. It’s going good. We are there until the end of January.
Is the film going to be anything like the ’60s television series it’s based off of? ^ No. I don’t know too much about the series, but it seems like the characters are totally different. The tone isn’t quite as much a comedy as Shanghai Noon, but it’s not like a Lethal Weapon.
You also recently signed on to star opposite of Jackie Chan again in “Shanghai Noon 2: Shanghai Knights.” When do you start filming that and how much do you know about the film? ^ Yeah, we start shooting in February. The story is supposed to be in England and we go back in like Jack the Ripper time, but I don’t know where we are shooting yet. Maybe Prague and London. I would like it to be Dublin, to be Ireland. That’s where my ancestors are from and I think I would get along good with Irish people. The director on Beyond Enemy Lines was Irish. First-time director, too.
Finally, we know what Owen Wilson the actor has coming up, but what about Owen Wilson the screenwriter? Do you have any plans with Wes for your follow-up to The Royal Tenenbaums? ^ We have some ideas about a Western and some stories where the ocean is the backdrop — there’s a Western and a separate idea, like a Jacques Cousteau thing. But we’re not working on anything right now.
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