The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is the first Wes Anderson movie that Owen Wilson didn’t cowrite. This time, Noah Baumbach helped Anderson with the script but Anderson still called his buddy for a major role. As Ned Plimpton, Wilson plays the long lost son of the title character. At least, he may be the long lost son. It’s left ambiguous.

While Ned and Steve hunt a shark at sea, they bond and deal with their own personal demons. Wilson is in mellow mode, not making any wisecracks and actually seeking affection.

In person, Wilson seems more like his shy dramatic characters than his fast talking buddy comedy ones. For one thing, he doesn’t talk fast. He’s very ambling. And he doesn’t go into much detail. The answers are still there, but it’s simple. Here’s what Owen Wilson had to say about The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Q: How difficult was it to play a pretty straight dramatic character?

Owen: When I got the script, I was kind of like, “Ah, I don’t really see myself as this character” because he seemed sort of like a straight man and very sort of sincere and kind of innocent. Then, when I went to meet with Wes in Rome and kind of started working on it, we came up with making him more of a southern gentleman. Then he became more fun for me to play.

Q: How does the tone compare to the films you wrote?

Owen: To me, it’s hard for me to see a huge difference, maybe because I’m too close to it. So I read the script and I didn’t miss my voice in it and I thought that he and Noah [Baumbach] did a good job.

Q: How hard was it to let go?

Owen: It wasn’t that big a deal because even on the first movie that we worked on, Bottle Rocket, was always Wes as the director. And when you show up on set, you’re the actor, so it was never like I was hanging around looking over his shoulder. If I wasn’t in the scene, I wasn’t on set. So on a movie like Rushmore, I wasn’t there at all. I was filming Armageddon at the time. And then on Royal Tenenbaums, it was just kind of when I was in a scene. So I leave it up to Wes’s judgment because I trust him to do stuff.

Q: Why didn’t you collaborate on this one, just scheduling conflict?

Owen: Yeah, and I think him living in New York now and I’m in Los Angeles, even when I have lots of time it was never something that I really look forward to going and sitting in a room. It always felt a little bit like having a term paper due so it’s nice when you get on a roll when you’re writing and stuff and having Wes as a writing partner all these years, it was fun to work with him because we make each other laugh. We like the same sorts of stuff. It seemed like he didn’t miss a beat with Noah. He did a good job.

Q: Do you ever get seasick?

Owen: No, but Bill and Jeff and Willem did. They had very delicate constitutions.

Q: They said no.

Owen: Really? Oh, they were sick as dogs most of the time. Yeah, I don’t know what it was, but they’re not exactly old salts.

Q: Why do you like working with the same people a lot, like these guys and also Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn?

Owen: I think it’s probably when you go into a movie, you want to surround yourself with people you believe in. and the people that you know as known entities. So someone like Vince, I wasn’t in Old School but I loved him in Old School and I was around him a little bit in Starsky and Hutch but I just think he’s one of the funniest guys and has that sort of great persona. So I can’t imagine having done that movie with somebody different because we work so well together. 

Q: Is Wedding Crashers an anti-Wedding Singer/Planner movie?

hOwen: Yes. I don’t know The Wedding Singer, what the tone of that [was], but we crash weddings to meet girls and then I end up falling for this girl and Vince kind of has his romance but it’s not exactly a romantic movie, although maybe a little. That girl from The Notebook is in it, Rachel McAdams. She’s good. She’s a good actress.

Q: What makes you happy?

Owen: I like going to the ocean. I live in Santa Monica, so going down to Venice pier and messing around down there. It begins to sound kind of like a playmate turn-ons when you say what makes you happy. I like the ocean, sunsets, positive people.

Q: Have you done more work on Cars since the delay?

Owen: No, and I just heard that today so what did they say the reason for the delay is?

Q: Because Steve Jobs prefers to release his movies in the summer.

Owen: So the movie I thought was supposed to come out a year from now and now it’s going to come out two years from now? It’s going to come out not this coming summer, but next summer? June ’06, okay.

Q: Does that bother you?

Owen: That seems good. It doesn’t seem like that big a deal. A couple months go by pretty fast.

Q: How often do you get back to Austin?

Owen: I love Austin. I went to school there but I actually prefer Dallas to be honest. But I do like going to Austin and Luke was down there working on this Mike Judge movie, my older brother Andrew was in it and I have fun going down there. I’ll be back in Texas next week and I was there for Thanksgiving.

Q: What do you do when you go back?

Owen: I just usually hang around with Luke and Andrew and they’re usually working. Stay over at the Four Seasons where I was a valet parker in college. I go mess around. There’s a big music scene there and Harry Dean Stanton was down there with us when we were working on this movie and he’d get up and play at the Continental Club and Billy Joe Schaefer, a great country and western singer, he’s written a lot of great songs, great performer.

Q: Will you doing any more movies with Ben Stiller?

Owen: I had fun working on Starsky and Hutch, but I don’t know. The other day I was looking at a script and I was like, “God, it would be great if Ben could play this other part” but it seems like we’ve been in a lot of movies together, seven or eight. So maybe we have to take a rest for a little bit, or give people a rest as the case may be. But yeah, I do do a small appearance in Meet the Fockers.

Q: Will there be a Starsky and Hutch 2?

Owen: I think maybe there’s someone writing the script maybe.

Q: What about Shanghai Dawn?

Owen: I’d love to do something with Jackie. I have a great time working with him.

Q: But is it happening?

Owen: No.

Q: How did you develop a relationship with Bill Murray?

Owen: I think it was just going along with what the script called for. It wasn’t that we did so much bonding outside of work. In fact, we never really hung out that much. He really had to work a lot because he was in almost every single scene, so there was probably a little resentment that I was left. It was never towards me that I was kind of a free agent, so I saw him not too long ago, I was saying, “God, don’t you miss Rome? I loved it.” He was like, “No, I don’t.” He had work his ass off there and I had more time to enjoy it.

Q: Do you want to do more dramatic roles?

Owen: I don’t think about it maybe in a real “this is what I need to do. I just worked on this comedy, so now I’ll try to do this.” It’s really more just what comes up and seeing if it seems like something I could do a good job on, or would have fun doing.

gQ: Do you have ideas for more scripts?

Owen: Yeah, I have ideas for stories and things and it’d be hard to find somebody to write as well as Wes to help me on this, so I don’t know if I would write it by myself or try to get Wes to help me. Certainly I would use him as an editor even if he didn’t have time to write it with me, because he’s good at figuring out stuff that I write or should say.

Q: What fascinates you?

Owen: Well, I know movies that I loved. I love that movie Sideways. I love both those characters but it’s not like I see that and go, “Gosh, I should’ve been one of those guys because I loved what they did in it.” But a movie like that would be great to work on. I remember loving The Insider with Russell Crowe, one of my favorite movies. So it’s more just movies that I see that I like. There’s a Richard Ford book, The Sportswriter and Independence Day, I always loved those books. But again, there’s not a character that I’m [dying to play].

Q: How have you and Wes changed over the years?

Owen: I don’t see a big change, at least in the way Wes directs. I think maybe he gets more confidence and a bigger budget and more time to shoot, so he has more time to get things exactly right the way he wants it. But certainly not in his manner, the way he directed me in Bottle Rocket. It’s not that different from the way he did it in Life Aquatic. It’s always been pretty consistent and it’s hard to get the distance or the objectivity to look at myself and see how I’ve changed, but I’m sure I have. I hope I have a little bit.

Q: Will you do another Oscar skit with Ben?

Owen: No, there’s no plans for that. They haven’t started with the Oscar stuff.

Q: What was your favorite moment from the film?

Owen: My favorite thing that I read in the script was the scene underwater where I have an idea maybe that I’ll call Bill dad in the scene that we’re filming. And he doesn’t really want to be called dad. I really loved that when I read it. Now, when we filmed it, we’re underwater and I’m like how is this going to work? You can’t really see people’s expressions, but that was my favorite scene. I felt you didn’t necessarily have to see the people’s face totally, just the dialogue ended up working for me. So it still is very funny and then kind of had a sad quality to it and I would say that’s the stuff Wes and I have always found interesting, stuff that’s funny and a little bit sad also. And I guess he and Noah find that funny also.