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multitalented wilson brothers
Multitalented Wilson Brothers Keep Showbiz All In The Family
By Stephen Saito

AUSTIN, Texas -- At the Jan. 5 telecast of the first American Film Institute awards, Luke Wilson was the second presenter to take the stage. Visibly uncomfortable, Luke -- the youngest of the three Wilson brothers -- stepped into the spotlight for one of the few times in his professional career. Unlike his older brother, Owen, the star of last year's Behind Enemy Lines, and Andrew, the eldest of the three Wilsons, Luke hasn't invited much attention his way. The same is true of the Wilsons as a family, at least until now.

Amid the many cardboard standups in theater lobbies proclaiming The Royal Tenenbaums filmmaker Wes Anderson to be, at age 31, "already a master director," there stands the real-life Wilsons, a trio of acting brothers from Dallas. The sons of Robert and Laura Wilson, an ad executive and photographer, Luke, Owen and Andrew Wilson have appeared in all three of Anderson's films in some form or another -- and have flirted with Hollywood in between. Though Owen didn't appear in Rushmore -- Anderson's sophomore effort -- his words did as he was a co-writer for the film, a credit he's earned on all three Anderson pictures. When he and Anderson first collaborated, it only made sense that it would be a family affair.

"We spend a lot of time together, so we go back to Texas together a lot," Luke said. "We just get along really well together. And growing up, I was kind of a shy kid, so I would always hang around Owen, and his friends became my friends. My brother [Andrew] and I would spend all my time with him, so we've always been very close and done everything together, so it was only kind of natural when Wes and Owen wrote a script. We'd try to make it together, and that's just kind of how it went."

While Anderson and Owen Wilson were graduating from the University of Texas at Austin in 1991, Luke was just starting out in southern California at the small liberal arts school, Occidental College, although not necessarily by choice.

"You know, my grades weren't good enough to go to UT," Wilson said. "I didn't have the requirements. Austin is such a great town, and I just could never get in there. But I love Austin, and when I think about living in Texas -- I grew up in Dallas -- I always wanted to live in Austin. That was always a goal of mine, to get back there, and try to get a place there."

Luke took a playwriting course during college like his older brother did. In fact, Owen and Anderson met in the back of a playwriting class. And like Owen, the class inspired Luke to go in a different direction.

"I had a teacher who was very encouraging, who would do scenes from different plays," Luke recalled. "I had no aspirations to be an actor, but this professor went out of his way to say that I was doing a good job, and told me to keep trying to do it. And that kind of had an effect on me, because that was at a time when I was feeling kind of lost and not knowing what I wanted to do."

"I remember being asked at career day when I was a teen-ager, 'What do you want to do?' and I had no idea what I wanted to do. But I just knew I didn't want to do the same thing. I knew I wanted to move to different projects, and I didn't want to be locked into repeating the same thing over and over again. So I feel like even before I settled on being an actor, I had some kind of idea of what I wanted to do. But I love bringing something on the page to life -- it's exciting."

It has been just as exciting to watch what films Luke has appeared in during the five years since appearing in Anderson's homegrown Bottle Rocket. He has appeared in an eclectic group of smaller films (Home Fries and Soul Survivors) while also taking supporting roles in star vehicles such as Legally Blonde, Blue Streak and most memorably as Cameron Diaz's Soul Train partner in Charlie's Angels. Now, as Richie Tenenbaum, the emotional centerpiece of The Royal Tenenbaums, Luke has accomplished his biggest role to date. And his familiar face is becoming even more familiar, even to some of his co-stars.

"Luke is so much like my brother, Tony, in terms of his aesthetic," said Angelica Huston. "Tony is a falconer, and it was very funny because Dick Avedon photographed my brother when he was about 17 with a huge hawk on his hand. And again, when we were doing ads for the movie, Dick Avedon was shooting Luke with a huge hawk on his hand, and it was total deja vu. They looked very much alike. I think that Luke is this sort of romantic, well, we're all misfits, but he's sort of the romantic one."

Luke may be the romantic, but Owen's the one that's usually known as the stud.

When asked about what role each brother had in the family, Owen was quick to say, "The weird thing is that in my family I was the athletic one, and I got the most girls." He was just as quick to say he was kidding. But as the middle child, and the one with the eternally broken nose, Owen has bucked the Jan Brady-connotation associated with those of his place in the family. He's moved up from being the documentary sound guy who gets eaten in Anaconda to leading man status, with upcoming roles opposite Eddie Murphy in the film adaptation of I Spy and the sequel to Shanghai Noon, Shanghai Knights. Yet, Owen insists he and his brothers aren't competitive about movies, just other things.

"Well, we're like real competitive with games," Owen said, "like who can hit that post with a rock. But with Hollywood stuff, Luke and Andrew saw Behind Enemy Lines and they loved it, and I think they're really excited. There's a shared excitement in making movies and making a living doing something creative. We bond over watching the World Series together and going down to the ocean, playing around down by the beach."

"It's really not so much what we're doing," Owen continued, "but being around each other and kind of talking. One of the nice things is that you don't have to be real polite, the way you would with strangers. You can give each other a little grief, and a lot of times it seems two of the brothers are ganging up on another. It's like Lord of the Flies."

Owen's best friend and collaborator, Anderson, concurred, "Owen is the middle child. In some ways, that makes him have to sort of grow up, in a way, fending for himself in ways that the others might not have. Because, the first born one, there's a lot of things focused on him. Then, when Owen is born, there's two of them, and he doesn't get quite as much attention. But when Luke is born ... Luke is the baby, and gets a different type of attention. So there's something that comes out of that."

"But the rare thing," Anderson said, "is that those are three brothers who are very good friends and spend a lot of time together, which I feel like I don't see that that often. I feel like I'm very close with my brothers. But one of them goes to Providence, Rhode Island - that's my younger brother, Eric -- [he] and I, we've been around each other a lot more. But the three of them have always been together."

Co-star Ben Stiller thought that they had been together a little too much.

"Even if you talk to them, their voices are very similar," Stiller said jokingly. "Their cadences and what makes them laugh, they're very close. But they're a unique family. They've got their own connection that even I don't really understand. They're very smart, funny guys."

Usually not considered the funny one -- that honor is bestowed upon Owen or Luke, depending on the given day -- the oldest Wilson, Andrew, has stayed out of the limelight for the most part. Still living in Dallas, Andrew has appeared in small parts in each of Anderson's films (you might recognize him as the baseball coach in Rushmore), and even made a cameo in Stiller's Zoolander.

"Maybe when we were really little, Andrew would would beat me up sometimes and stuff," Owen recalled. Now, he and Luke are working on a movie they might direct together, so he's around. But he hasn't been high profile and stuff. It's weird, I think it could [change the relationship] with me if Andrew and Luke made it and I felt kind of left out. But I guess it's a testament to Andrew -- sort of that strength of character -- [that] he always seems really happy."

With a possible flood of award nominations awaiting their work in The Royal Tenenbaums, the Wilsons all seem to be happy -- especially since Luke won't have to present again. But their happiness isn't reliant on what Owen calls the "Hollywood stuff." It's based on what the fictional Tenenbaums don't have -- a real intimacy.

"We have a very good, close family," said Luke. "You know, my parents are still together, and me and my two brothers are very close. And [we] still spend a lot of time together, to the point that I can remember being in our teens and our dad saying we should try and find some other friends, because he thought we were our own lowest common denominator when we got together. But we're a close family, and [we] try to stick together and support each other."