In Middle Men, Luke Wilson plays a character based on the experiences of Christopher Mallick, who was inadvertantly thrown into the center of the exploding online porn business when his electronic billing company (Paycom) became the go-to way for credit cards to be legally validated for online purchases. Co-written and directed by George Gallo (writer of Midnight Run, Bad Boys and The Whole Ten Yards), the story delves into oridinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Plus, a healthy dose of money, sex and violence, just to add flavor...
Buzzine's Emmanuel Itier sat down with Luke Wilson in Los Angeles, CA to talk about the transformation he had to undertake to take on this performance, his responsibilities beyond the movie screen, and about re-uniting onscreen with James Caan more than 15 years after first working together on Luke's debut film, Bottle Rocket...
Luke Wilson: Yeah. It was one of those things when you get a little older, and I’m like, “Great…pasta, Mexican food, beer…all the things you have to avoid…” But obviously, as an actor, you look up at those people who push themselves, not like it was a super important part of the role, but it was something that, as you get older, you can just stop exercising and you don’t eat very well, and in a week, you gain 12 pounds. It’s not like I did a De Niro, obviously.
EI: How about taking it off again?
LW: More difficult. Still working on it. Of course, I tried to just eat right, but I won’t start jogging. You’ve really got to do both. I played sports growing up and I was always in good shape, but when you pass 30 and you pass 35… I thought I might be immune...
EI: You did a remarkable job of playing a character based on a real person in this film. There was clearly s a lot of material there within an actual person that you could meet and talk to - how much time did you spend with Chris Mallick?
LW: I always envied actors who got to play a real person and who got to do research. This was pretty much right there on the page. You read about someone playing Diane Fossey or Hunter S. Thompson, which Johnny Depp played, and you think: “God, that would be incredible.” So I thought now is the perfect time to do that, and it helped that he wasn’t computer savvy at all. Chris Mallick, who the character is based on, was there every day, every shot, and also on location. I spent a ton of time with him. I’d eat lunch with him and go to dinner with him… He was a cool guy.
He wouldn’t give straight or cool advice, but I could ask him any questions I wanted to. I found that really interesting, and it helped to relax me, as it was a different role for me. Not that I didn’t think I could do it, but you get told enough: “Wow, this is a really different role for you.” I’m like: “Wow, it is – should I be doing Legally Blonde 3?” So it was great to have the chance to be able to see that this is a real guy who was just a businessman who actually did get in over his head.
LW: I don’t know. Perhaps it was the subject matter. I also tend to think of the movies people bring up, like Old School, and the majority of what I’ve done are comedies. That was why I was interested to take the role. I feel lucky that someone like (director) George Gallo considered me for the role, so you really want to take it and run with it.
EI: These days, being in the film is only half the battle: You also have to promote it... you’ve worked many times with Bill Murray (Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums), and he has developed an interesting way of promoting a movie... for example, he went to the movie premiere in Poland for Get Low, but not to the L.A. press day...
LW: [Laughs] This I’ve got to hear!
EI: Well, he did David Letterman, but he sat down on the sofa soaking wet. Has he always been that quirky?
LW: No, I think he had more a traditional approach in promoting movies back in those days! [Laughs] He’s always been a totally different guy. I’ve heard he doesn’t have an agent anymore: he has a 1-800 number. I hear that and I think that guy is a genius! What you forget about him is that he’s been in the business for over 30 years, so I could see him getting a little tired of it all. He wouldn’t want to go on Entertainment Tonight. There’s nobody else like him. But on those movies, he was doing things a little more traditionally. At least he was in Poland.... I bet none of the other guys were! [Laughs]
EI: What do you think the audience will think of your character?
LW: I never think about that while I’m doing it. I think they would show sympathy. It’s not like he kills anybody or anything like that.
EI: Well, at least not directly – he does become an accessory to manslaughter...
LW: Well, yeah. And he does kind of redeem himself at the end. I think people will be able to identify with him... he is just a regular guy and a businessman. He’s really just trying to help a friend and gets into this other business, and it takes off like the oil business. Overnight, he’s making money hand over fist and he gets drawn into this world of Internet porn, and he loses his moral compass but finds it again.
EI: You have some big responsibilities beyond the movie screen, like being a spokesperson for AT&T: How did they feel about you gaining 25 pounds for a role? Did they look at you and think: “You’ve got to get on a treadmill!”
LW: Probably! I don’t know if any of them said it. You definitely want your guy who’s repping you to look good.
EI: Do you get a lot of attention from people calling you out on the street about their poor…
LW: ...service? I think the first time it happened to me, I was making a connection at Denver airport and some guy said something to me about service, and I looked at him and thought: “About what? What does that have to do with movies? What movie was I in the service industry?” I just hadn’t seen the ads. And then all of a sudden, they were on all the time. It shows the power of the media, where you’ve been making movies for 15 years and then you become the AT&T guy: “Hey, you’re the AT&T guy?!” I guess I am!
EI: Did you feel limited in what you can do as an actor?
LW: I just like to be busy. That’s when I’m the most happy. When I’m working, whether it’s a TV show, commercials, or a movie, and I’m doing other stuff… it makes me want to write my own stuff. I’m always meeting crew people and actors. I like being on the set. I like working with different people. The guy who directed those AT&T ads was the guy who directed The Thin Blue Line and all these incredible documentaries. To get the chance to be around him day in and day out was really incredible. So it’s interesting to work for a big company like that.
EI: So you can’t help me with my service at all?
LW: I can give you the card of a guy who I think you should call!
EI: What was it like working again with James Caan - you first worked with him a long time ago on Bottle Rocket?
LW: It was great. He was the first big star that we worked with. We would always kid around. We would high-five ourselves back then! “This is incredible! James Caan!” And then we would look at him on the set and he would be like, “What am I doing here? I was working with Coppola. I was working with Michael Mann and now I’m working in Dallas.” Really, that’s how he was the first two days...
We thought, this poor guy. He thought we looked weird. We sounded weird. There would be takes when I’d say something and he wouldn’t even do a line. He would just look at the director. But after a couple of days, I don’t know what happened, but he really did perk up. Maybe he admitted defeat. He was really nice to us. He is a really good guy. I’ve kept in touch with him over the years, so like 15, 16 years later, it’s nice to get the chance to work with him again. It was really really cool.
EI: You are reminding me how much I really liked you in your first film, Bottle Rocket, which was almost a western. Would that be something you would ever do - I don’t think you’ve made a full-on western.
LW: I haven’t. In fact, someone asked me today if there is anything I’d like to do, and that’s definitely at the top of my list. I’d like to do a sports movie too. Being from Texas, I’m a big Eastwood fan. Last night I was watching High Plains Drifter for like the 50th time. I would definitely like to do a Western - those kind of themes and simple stories. I like the idea of being on location in Mexico or Montana. It seems like it would be incredible.
EI: Westerns are often tales about kin - do you have any immediate plans to work with your brother Owen [Wilson]?
LW: He’s crazy doing things all over the place. He’s on his third movie in a row right now. Owen kind of marches to his own tune. Right now he’s in Paris working with Woody Allen. We always want to do stuff together, and not just with Owen but with my brother Andrew [Wilson] too. It’s just a matter of getting us all together, and we need to buckle down and write a good script, which we would like to do.
EI: So, what is your next project?
LW: I’m working on an HBO series created by Mike White called Enlightened, which has been really cool. I’ve been working with some great people like Diane Lane and Robin Wright Penn. It’s about Laura Dern’s character and how she’s trying to find herself, and I play her crazy ex-husband who’s not very hopeful: It’s a great role!
EI: Do you look back on your career and the fact that you’re still making movies in Hollywood after all these years? Are you still amazed and grateful?
LW: Yeah, it does seem like a job, and it’s a job I like. It’s never gotten to be like Angelina adopting kids or becoming an UN ambassador... I feel more like a working actor, whilst at the same time I feel really lucky.
Paramount Vintage's 'Middle Men' is in limited release in theaters now.