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
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
"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
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