Moviefone spoke with Wilson about taking a break from the light, romantic roles by doing something incredibly dark with an actor who's scary in real-life. During the conversation, Wilson reflected on the devastating failure of his and brother Owen's first movie collaboration, why he considers "The Royal Tenenbaums" to be the work he's most proud of and his realization that America already resembles the bizarre society in his cult sci-fi comedy "Idiocracy."
"Meeting Evil" opens in theaters on May 4, but you can watch the film today on Magnolia Picture's Video OnDemand service.
"Meeting Evil" is a dark serial killer thriller; it's a real departure from most of your trademark roles. Is that what drew you to the movie? I always think about it in terms of the kinds of movies I like to watch, and I like all kinds of movies. I appreciate when people ask me to do something different, cause when I first started out -- I wouldn't even be thinking about it -- but people would say "Boy, you sure play a lot of boyfriends!" I was doing that for years it seemed. It was one of those things I didn't even think about until people mentioned it, and I was like "Dang, I guess I have done that a lot!" I just like to work so I was doing whatever came my way. I liked the idea of doing this; it had a film noir feeling to me, "bad news shows up at the doorstep." I liked the melodramatic aspect of it.
What's more fun to play: the boyfriend or the man on the run from a killer? I certainly have more fun doing a comedy because you go to work and the goal is pretty clear: you're trying to do a funny scene and build a funny movie. Whether it's doing something like "Vacancy" or this, I was like "Shit, this is not a comedy, this is emotionally draining." It'll be a Tuesday morning at 8am and you're trying to act scared and you have to focus and you want it to be believable; you want the fear to be palpable. It's just not as, for lack of a better word, fun.
How intimidating is Samuel L. Jackson in real life? Very [Laughs]. We first met playing golf in this tournament down in Palm Springs and we wound up winning the thing together. When this came along it was nice to already know each other; you know a lot of actors, but Sam lives up to his screen image. I really respect his work ethic and he's one of those actors that really knows how to make movies. He wants to know what the shots are, he's definitely a filmmaker and a real focused guy. He'd be trying to kill me during the week and on our days off we'd be out there playing golf.
When I worked with him, it reminded me of Gene Hackman. They're both big guys, so when a guy like that that comes up and gets into your space, it's daunting. For this movie, it worked really well. He's a great actor, and it makes it fun where you are. He is as much of an icon as Hackman; the intensity brings you into the moment, so you forget who they are.
It's funny you mentioned Hackman because that gives me the perfect segue to talk about "The Royal Tenenbaums." How did it feel to start in the movie business with your brothers on "Bottle Rocket" and stick together, moving on to that movie with that cast? It's probably the movie I'm most proud of, in terms of doing it with Owen and Wes [Anderson] and then having all those great actors in it. It was quite a change from "Bottle Rocket." I was working on the Sony Lot last week, and I walked over to Gracie Films where we got started, and it was like going back to high school. I just got this wave of uncertainty and that's all we ever felt in terms of getting the green light on "Bottle Rocket." When we were making the movie, all we ever heard was, "The studio hates it, you guys are strange, you look strange, you talk strange."
Then the movie came and went in two weeks. It did get a couple good reviews and we started to hear from different people we respected; we heard Scorsese had it as one of the ten best movies of the 90s. We had it all with that movie, but it was a failure and I was devastated. I don't know about the other guys, but it's hard to be proud of something that fails. No matter how good it was or how hard we worked on it, it was a failure when it came out, so that clouds everything. We did "Bottle Rocket" in Dallas and then they filmed "Rushmore" in Houston; that had Bill Murray in it, so it felt like a step up. But to be in Manhattan, making a totally different kind of movie -- not kid-related or juvenile, not about fumbling criminals or a crazy kid -- to be doing a more mature movie definitely felt like things were ramping up.
Regarding more mature filmmaking: Richie Tenenbaum's attempted suicide, the "Needle in the Hay" scene, is probably the most iconic moment for that character. What went into the preparation of that scene? The hair guy on the movie quit because I cut my own hair and cut my own beard off, so I remember that. I don't remember talking to Wes about it that much, it was one of those things where you just do it. It definitely felt strange, just looking in the mirror. But I do remember feeling shaken up. Again, that's one of those things where you don't finish the day feeling good. It's not like doing a comedy where the goals are so clear. All you can do is tell yourself that you either did or didn't accomplish what you were trying to do, but I felt like I had gotten it.
Looking back on the the struggles of getting "Bottle Rocket" made, will you and your brothers do another small indie together? I would definitely love to do it. We've always got a bunch of ideas; I did this movie, "The Wendell Baker Story," where I wrote it, my brother Andrew and I co-directed it and Owen was in it. It was definitely small, but it was made by this shady company that didn't give it much of a chance. But it's out there, people can get it. We always want to do something together again, it's just a matter of getting it written and doing it. With Owen being a bankable star, you got to do it while you have the ability to do it. [Laughs] You can get scattered and go your own ways making different movies, but you have to make the effort to do something together.
Another one of your most under-appreciated projects is "Idiocracy." It's a sharp, funny film. Have you encountered people who have seen it and actually learned from it? Mike Judge and I have become good friends. He's just a funny guy and he definitely gets a kick out of, you know, dumbness. From "Beavis and Butthead" on, he just gets a kick out of people that aren't thoughtful. I would always kid around with Mike saying "There's nothing more fun than a dumbass making fun of another dumbass." We had so much fun making that, and it really is strange the people who love it. I had a weird thing happen where Guns N' Roses were in town and I got an email from Axl Rose's assistant saying that Axl had wanted me to go the show and I was like, "That's weird, I've never met him." But I've been a fan since 1986, so we went to see the show. I was too embarrassed to go backstage, but Owen did and he said Axl was talking about how much he loved "Idiocracy."
Mike is real clued into stuff that I'll see but it won't register with me -- like the size of Big Gulps being so huge or when you watch the news in L.A., there are these really busty weather girls. It takes somebody like Judge whose got a real writer's mentality to make a social commentary on it. It made me think, "This really is like 'Idiocracy' where the woman's doing the news topless."
It'll just sneak up on us. Exactly, and I feel like society's definitely moving in that direction, where everybody's got a voice with Twitter and things like that; it's instantly getting your views out there no matter how skewed they are.