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Actor Owen Wilson on his new movie 'Paint'

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

It seems like Carl Nargle has it all. Fame, the adoring public, $46,000 a year and his own show on a local public television station in Vermont in which he paints pictures live on the air. Then a younger, shinier new painter comes to town and reveals the cracks in Carl's happy little life. This is how Carl's boss puts it to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAINT")

STEPHEN ROOT: (As Tony) Obviously, there's no competition between you and Ambrosia. What I'm trying to say is the young bull is happy to learn from the old bull, though inevitably, the young bull will kill the old bull. More power to Ambrosia if she can pull it off. That came out wrong.

RASCOE: Under all that paint is a story of lost love, ambition and creativity. The film stars Michaela Watkins, Ciara Renee and, as Carl Nargle, Owen Wilson, who joins us now. Welcome to the program.

OWEN WILSON: Thank you. People keep asking me to describe the movie. And the way you described it - I can't do any better than that.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Well, I'm glad that we got a nice little description in there. So this movie is this, you know, really cool sendup of small-town New England. I mean, it's set in Vermont, and everybody is watching this painting show. I mean, did you have a lot of fun with that?

WILSON: Yeah. I mean, we did film it in a small town in Saratoga Springs in New York, which - I think, you know, they really welcomed us. And my character, Carl Nargle, smokes a pipe, and I've never smoked a pipe before. And there was a tobacco shop in town, and I went in there and got a few tips and pointers on how to look convincing with the pipe.

RASCOE: There was a painter in the '80s and '90s, Bob Ross, who had a painting show on PBS. And Carl Nargle seems to be a lot like him. He's got the Art Garfunkel hair, the soothing voice, the nature paintings - like, did you ever watch him growing up?

WILSON: Not so much growing up, but, you know, we've been talking about, certainly, his look, as Carl's look is inspired by Bob Ross and Gordon Lightfoot. But I see the Art Garfunkel reference also. That's a good one. And in getting ready for the movie, you know, I started to watch some of those Bob Ross things. And you know, what was more kind of interesting to me is, how has this guy been so popular and endured? And I think you sort of get it when you watch his shows. There's just a very nice, gentle, positive quality and then also doing something sort of meditative - like painting can be - I think that makes people feel good. And certainly, that's what we tried to tap into with Carl and explain why he maybe has this following and the No. 1 painting show in Vermont, you know? Now, I don't know if there's a lot of competition. We say the No. 1 painting show - I don't know - yeah - how many other painting shows he was competing against, but yeah.

RASCOE: I mean, I feel like a lot of the characters that you have played, whether it's "Zoolander" or "Wedding Crashers" or "The Big Year," like, in a lot of ways, like these characters are, you know, just over the top. Like, they are really big, larger than life. Like, are you just drawn to these unique characters?

WILSON: Well, I think Carl, with that hair, is larger than life. It almost became sort of like a little safety blanket. For me, it was when I got the whole getup on in the morning and looked in the mirror. I didn't see much of Owen left. But, of course, you know, what Carl is struggling with I think we can all, you know, have felt at one point or another.

RASCOE: So how long did it take for them to get that hair on? Like, do they have to, like, glue it down, or do they just throw it on?

WILSON: They got where they could do it in maybe, like, a half hour, which is...

RASCOE: OK.

WILSON: ...You know, about, you know, 28 minutes longer than "Saturday Night Live" seems to take 'cause, I mean, they're so good that they just slap those wigs on and push you out there. This one, with Carl, we had a great team. And, you know, obviously, it's important because I can't imagine Carl Nargle looking any way but this.

RASCOE: So it really was a part of his character, but he was also a womanizer, like - but in a little kind of twist - I found it maybe a little subversive - when his rival comes - and his rival is a woman - she sort of does the same thing. What is the film saying about gender roles here?

WILSON: I think she sort of handles it, you know, maybe more gracefully than Carl, but, you know, even the best of us could, you know, start to get a little bit vain. And you start to somehow, you know - the temptation is hard to resist to, you know, think of yourself - you know, define yourself not with who you are but what you do.

RASCOE: That's something I think about a lot. It's like, you know, people say don't make your job be who you are. But it's such a big part of what you do, and you spend so much time there, and it drives you. How do you avoid that?

WILSON: I know. That's exactly - it's like when they say, like, in the ocean, like, you know, if you start to drown - if you're caught in surf, don't panic. OK, well, you know, I've swum in the ocean a lot and, a few times, been in scary situations, and you start to panic. How are you not supposed to panic?

RASCOE: Yeah, so I want to play a clip from a little later on in the movie when Carl talks to his ex-girlfriend, Katherine, the station's assistant general manager. Here's a little bit of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAINT")

WILSON: (As Katherine) That little hamlet is where I took you for our first date.

MICHAELA WATKINS: (As Katherine) Good memory. Yeah.

WILSON: (As Carl) Great memory.

WATKINS: (As Katherine) You know, I forgot how much you used to paint all this other stuff - ice cream stands and windmills and birds in flight. Now it's just Mount Mansfield in every single painting.

WILSON: (As Carl) Hard not to hold on to a dream or two.

RASCOE: He's stuck in the past, but he's also holding on to something that was, like, meaningful to him, like, you know, his dream, his passion.

WILSON: Yeah, and sort of a dream of greatness for himself that can only be realized by, you know, having, you know, his painting in a museum. I think, over, you know - right? - the course of the movie he's forced to sort of come up with a different way to sort of measure success.

RASCOE: Carl's dream is to be in the Burlington Museum of Art, as you mentioned. Do you have any types of roles or goals that you're still chasing? Or are you at a point now where you're just, like, having fun?

WILSON: Yeah, there is. I would love to sort of sit down and write something, you know, kind of from start to finish that was a story, you know, that maybe I wanted to tell. And to kind of, you know, do something like that, I think, would be would be a good challenge for myself.

RASCOE: And in the movie, the public TV station in the movie is having some financial struggles. And, you know, that does hit a little close to home for us at NPR these days. Are you a fan of public media?

WILSON: Very much. I love NPR. And then, you know, my dad worked at the PBS station in Dallas growing up.

RASCOE: Oh, wow.

WILSON: Channel 13. And, you know, I love Ken Burns. And yeah, I think it's important for our culture and very valuable.

RASCOE: That is Owen Wilson. His new movie is "Paint." It's in the movies now. Thank you so much for joining us.

WILSON: Thank you. Thank you. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe
Ayesha Rascoe is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and the Saturday episodes of Up First. As host of the morning news magazine, she interviews news makers, entertainers, politicians and more about the stories that everyone is talking about or that everyone should be talking about.