AT FIRST, IT’S A LITTLE DISCONCERTING HANGING OUT With Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn at Dodger Stadium, in Los Angeles, watching a ballgame. Given what you know about them from their movies, you expect a few things. You expect Owen to act lazy, goofy and stoned-out, and Vince to be tossing off raised-eyebrow wisecracks, and girls to be gathered around, hoping for a ride home. Instead, after ordering two hot dogs, two bottles of water, two Cokes, nachos and a bag of peanuts, they turn to each other and start riffing in a Gauloise-smoking, grad-student kind of way, not a joke in sight.
“What exactly does the word ‘circa’ mean, do you think?” Vince says to Owen, apropos of nothing, really.
“It means ‘around,'” Owen says to Vince.
“Right. But what exactly does it mean?” “It’s just a bullshit kind of thing to say to sound kind of smart. ‘Presupposes’ is another.”
“And ‘Cite your sources.'”
“‘Cite your sources.'”
Then Vince offers up an example of his own. “‘Parenthetically speaking.'”
“Oh, yeah,” says Owen, savoring the phrase. “That’s a good one.”
Briefly, both are silent. But then, suddenly, Vince erupts with another random query: “Who was the president of the Confederacy?”
Owen: “Jefferson Davis. Who wouldn’t know that?”
This is all very well and good, but it isn’t exactly what you want to hear from these two, especially since they’ve got a movie coming out called Wedding Crashers, about a pair of pickup artists who specialize in hooking up at weddings. Skip the history lesson. Let’s talk chicks. But that would be so crass, so expected. So, the conversation veers off in any number of different directions.
They both firmly deny that they, along with Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Will Ferrell and Owen’s actor-brother Luke, are part of some highly organized, tightknit, power-consolidating, new-order comedy mafia, as recently postulated by the thinking heads at the New York Times.
Getting back to the game, they both say that as kids they stunk at baseball.
“I just wasn’t any good,” Owen says, looking a bit down. “I’m afraid of the ball.”
Licking nacho goo off his fingers, Vince says, “On my team, they called me Eagle Eye. At first, I was excited, like, ‘Hey, Dad, they love my eye!’ And then, when I’m at bat, they tell me, ‘Come on, Eagle Eye. A walk’s as good as a hit.’ And then I sort of figure it out: ‘Hey, wait a minute. They’re not cheering me on to swing but to not swing!’ It wasn’t exactly flattering.”
Owen is about to add more of his two cents when out of the blue a dolled-up, exceedingly top-heavy brunette makes an appearance a few rows away. All talk of childhood traumas comes to an end.
Vince checks her out. “There’ll be no babies starving on her shift!” he says.
And suddenly all is right with the world again.
OWEN WILSON IS MOST OFTEN SEEN AROUND L.A. wearing jeans and a T-shirt, chewing peppermint Altoids gum, maybe sitting on the lap of some Playboy Bunny or other, his blunted, twice-broken nose not holding him back any, flopsy-mopsy blond hair looking beach-boy-slacker perfect. On the Internet, Wilson watchers refer to him as “the Butterscotch Stallion,” for the color of his hair and his presumed wild, wild ways. It’s well known but bears repeating: He’s a writer as well as an actor, and with senior-year University of Texas roommate Wes Anderson has penned three great movies, Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and the Oscar-nominated Royal Tenenbaums, all of them featuring the roundabout loopy dialogue that suits him so well when he speaks it. His snappy flapping lip single-handedly saved Armageddon from being totally unwatchable, and he’s not a bad flyboy-hero-under-pressure, either (Behind Enemy Lines).
Vince Vaughn is staggeringly tall and pretty beefy, with a sometimes puffy-looking face and an odd penchant for wearing fatherly wingtip shoes. Whereas Wilson’s laugh is honk-honk-honk, Vaughn’s can be a nearly girlish squeal. His first major movie role, playing fast-talking semi-loutish Trent in 1996’s Swingers, made him an instant star, though in the movies that followed (way-serious acting roles in The Locusts, the dreadful Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho, The Cell, etc.) he lost his way, only to find it again starting in 2003, in comedies like Old School and then DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story. Nowadays he’s most often seen playing a softer, mellower version of his old Swingers self, a welcome sight.
In the past, Wilson has dated Sheryl Crow and, most recently, Argentine burlesque dancer Carolina Cerisola. Vaughn once dated Ashley Judd, Joey Lauren Adams and Janeane Garofalo. At the moment, however, neither is seeing anybody. They’re single, out there, on the loose, a couple of ladies’ men who are pleased to be free and, of course, free to be pleased, just like their characters in Wedding Crashers.
ON THE LUSH GREEN GROUNDS OF THE GETTY MUSEUM, in Los Angeles, Wilson is sitting in the shade, at a table, munching away on a Rice Krispie Treat, just hanging out and talking about some of his preferences in women. He is, he says, primarily an ass man. “It seems to me if a girl has a good ass, she has a good body,” he’s saying, “but I’d almost just as soon not have sex if you’re going to have to wear one of those, even though it’s hard to find the moral high ground when making that argument to a girl. Anyway, there are other ways.”
As it turns out, this overall general attitude of his recently made the news, in a half-blind item in the New York Post, as follows: “Which blond stud, nicknamed the ‘Butterscotch Stallion,’ has a perverse sexual bent? He recently picked up a girl at a wedding [!], and the two went back to his hotel room. When the woman asked if he had a condom, the actor replied, ‘I don’t want to have sex with you, but I do want to do something else’ — and proceeded to lick her buttocks for ‘over two hours.'” OK, so Wilson’s real interest in butts is allegedly as objects to be licked. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, really, and Wilson probably isn’t, nor is he likely to be upset by his fling’s loose talk. It comes with the territory, and he’s got a sunny attitude about such things. “It’s like, ‘Who cares?'” he says. “I play it as it lays. OK, so I may not be the greatest lover in the world. Well, let’s make that angle work. There’s lots of different paths to the waterfall. You don’t have to be Don Juan. And wasn’t it Gloria Steinem who said that women have to be responsible for their own orgasms? Well, I take her at her word. I’ll do my best, OK, but at a certain point you’ve got to, like, you know….”
He takes another bite of his Treat and goes on to tell other stories that might not reflect so well on him as a ladies’ man.
“The last time I visited the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the whole time all I’m thinking about is what girl I’m going to call when I leave to tell her I was there,” he says; laughing his honk-honk laugh. “And, oh -I once worked at a soup kitchen in Venice Beach and lasted only three days, but I would finish up and immediately call a girl and be like, Ahh, tired,’ and she’d say, ‘Why?’ and I’d say, ‘Oh, I’ve just finished working at this soup kitchen….’ I mean, you’re supposed to do it anonymously, but I could not not tell people what I was doing.”
There is, of course, something instantly engaging about these revelations and how he spins them out, with his slow-moving, reedy Texas drawl. His mind is always moving forward, toward unannounced, off-slant destinations. Pretty soon, he’s talking about a letter-to-the-editor he recently had published in The New Yorker, defending his pal (and Zoolander co-star) Ben Stiller against some unkind words from New Yorker movie critic David Denby. Shortly after the letter’s publication, he was cruising through Central Park on a bike, taking in the Christo “Gates” event, when it suddenly occurred to him that he ought to write a Christo-themed “Talk of the Town” piece for the magazine. “I’ll write a bunch of shit for The New Yorker now,” he thought, so he pulled out his cell phone, called the magazine and was put through to editor David Remnick’s office, where some woman answered.
“This is Owen Wilson. I just maybe had an idea.”
“How can I help you?” she said.
“Well, I recently had this letter published, and — ”
“Yes. I know.”
“Well, I have something maybe I could do on Christo, and -”
“We did something nine months ago.”
“Well, I was thinking this’d be a little bit funnier, and -“
And so it went, nowhere.
“She really shot me down and was kind of mean,” he says. “It was really stupid. It might not have been great, but why not get me to write it and see?” He pauses and looks out over the magnificently green expanse of the Getty’s lawns. “You know, one word I object to is the word ‘cool.’ To me, being cool is just the opposite of living. It’s about not getting too worked up about anything, by being ‘Nyah, nyah, nyah,’ and no big deal. I can’t stand that. It’s such a jaded, clichéd posture to take. I get real enthusiastic about stuff. It’s what I think is life-affirming.”
And in a sense that’s what the point of being Wilson really is, to get totally revved up about stuff and then damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. He develops an interest in World War II, so he reads everything he can about it. Foosball seems like fun, he buys a foosball table and turns himself into quite the foosball player. And let’s not even bring up pingpong. He’s a fanatic about it. “You don’t want to play me in pingpong,” he says to visitors to his house, levelly.
He grew up in mellow, middle-class North Dallas, where he was a mischief-maker of some renown. He got expelled from prep school for cheating in geometry, graduated instead from the New Mexico Military Institute and from there shipped himself off to the University of Texas at Austin and his fateful intersection with Wes Anderson. The fruit of their union was a twelve-minute short called Bottle Rocket that was later turned into a full-length feature. Anderson couldn’t find an actor to play the lead, a wildly optimistic and inept bank robber, so he forced Wilson to take the part. Released in 1996 to zero box office, it got lots of great reviews. After that, Wilson found himself swallowed up in Anaconda but in short order went on to make a name for himself as the finest stoner-slacker-laze-about actor of his generation, even though he says he’s hardly any of that, or at least not a stoner.
He’s thirty-six years old now, no longer a spring chicken, and claims to sometimes think about having a wife, and kids, and all that adult stuff, which would of course mean he’d have to move his foosball table, hide his collection of electric skateboards and start eating at home sometimes, instead of heading for Baja Fresh every night for tacos.
“Actually, to be honest, a shotgun wedding might be the way it works for me,” he says. “You can’t stay at the party forever. At some point you have to take stock and ask yourself, ‘What am I doing here?'”
He starts on a Getty-acreage stroll, by-passing NO TRESPASSING sign and heading deep into off-limits territory, down a hill, between some bushes and around a private-looking swimming pool.
Along the way, he says, “I’ve started to notice that, as you get older, mental health is as fragile as physical health. I’ve never had a breakdown, but you can really get side-swiped by stuff like depression. I’m an up-and-down person. That’s one thing that girlfriends would complain about. I’m inconsistent, not romantic enough.”
Suddenly, a guard appears, bearing down, but before he can open his mouth, Wilson jumps up and pre-empts him with some pretty slick deflective palaver.
“Is this somebody’s house?” he says.
“This is the trustee’s house,” the guard says darkly.
“And he lives here? Wow. I mean, can you imagine having this as your view?” The guard says nothing, so Wilson takes the lead again, this time affecting a guilty-as-charged stammer. “Wuh, wuh, wuh, we hopped the fence there, so we probably aren’t supposed to be here. Buh, buh, buh, but, um, well, we’re going to head back over there.”
The guard is still eyeballing Wilson, but then he cocks his head and starts to smile.
“Hey — you’re the one who made Starsky and Hutch?” “Yeah!” “Yeah! I said to myself, ‘I know I seen him in the movies!'”
And suddenly all is cool.
Later, Wilson says, “Basically, that was my entire high school experience, except at the time I hadn’t starred in Starsky and Hutch, so it didn’t have the happy ending we have here today. I know it’s more fashionable to talk about what a pain it is, being recognized, but it’s really kind of nice. Usually people are really happy to see you. And I’m sure it helps to be recognized when meeting girls. Without that, girls are like, ‘Jeez, why is that guy staring at me?” And obviously if they recognize you, that’s huge.”
He grins and about this says no more.
“God,” he says, strolling on, blue eyes up and shining. “Isn’t this grass incredible?”
“Sure!” Vince Vaughn says. Brunettes?
“Sure!” he says.
“Absolutely!” He goes on, “I don’t really care. When you’re younger, boobs are a bigger deal, but as you get older, you bat them around, they’re nice to have, but after a while you get bored of them. And fake boobs -well, there ain’t nothing like the real thing.”
Today, he’s in Chicago, working on a movie called The Break Up, co-starring Jennifer Aniston, and demonstrating that he’s not quite Wilson’s equal in the deflective-palaver department. It’s been rumored recently that he and Aniston are an item and that Aniston has had a crush on him.
That crush thing-true?
Vaughn gurgles — “Yeoun-yuhn” is what it sounds like — and then buttons his lip and stares straight ahead, blinking.
As a producer and star of The Break Up, he’s raking in his biggest payday ever, $12 million, or as he puts it, “a ridiculous amount of money for a lot of services, which will then maybe carry over to other acting stuff, which is good.” In many ways, it’s a great time to be him. He recently kicked his two-pack-a-day cigarette habit. Not long ago, he soundly thrashed Wilson at backgammon (but only after Wilson schooled him in ping-pong). Best of all, in his last starring-role movie, DodgeBall, he got most of the credit for its surprising success, not his pal Stiller. He’s a big guy, with an increasingly substantial gut, who laughs a lot, smiles a lot and seems to not even really care that his girlfriends never seem to stick around for long.
“I’ve had three or four relationships that’ve gone longer than a year, ten or so that’ve gone three or four months, and then a lot that don’t go very long at all,” he says breezily, which is how he says most things. “I mean, I’m not that good at giving myself over completely to a relationship. I just like to hang out, have fun and not make too big a deal out of it. But I’ve never been big on having to go home with a girl every night. I’ve had spurts like anybody has, but I’ve always been more focused on my career and acting than sleeping with everyone.”
In a way, this makes perfect sense. He was brought up the son of a hard-working, self-made businessman and a savvy real-estate-agent mom and spent his upper-crusty Lake Forest, Illinois, childhood watching TV shows like What’s Happening!!, Good Times and Sanford and Son; doing real bad in school while trying to cope with a case of ADD; acting in community theater and school plays from the age of seven on; developing a taste for beer at the age of fourteen; and making a national appearance in a sappy “Heartbeat of America” Chevrolet ad during the 1988 Super Bowl. In contrast to Wilson, who lost his virginity at the age of fourteen, Vaughn, 35, didn’t lose his until he was eighteen. Nearing the end of high school, he knew he didn’t have the grades to graduate; figuring the school would never fail the class president, and like so many potential lifetime losers before him, he ran for higher office. He had to write a statement about his candidacy. He wrote, “My name’s Vince, and I’m a swell kid and a peachy dancer….” He won by a landslide and walked away with his diploma.
He spent the next seven years striking out as an actor in Hollywood, then won a small part in the 1993 film Rudy, where he befriended fellow actor Jon Favreau. They hung out in Hollywood’s retro-swing club scene, and one day Favreau handed him a script he’d written about that scene, called Swingers, and the next thing you know “You’re so money, baby” is a national catch-phrase. Personally, Vaughn has had some tough times since then. In 2001, while filming Domestic Disturbance in North Carolina, he and co-star Steve Buscemi got in a barroom brawl with some locals that led to stab wounds for Buscemi and an arrest for Vaughn (who later had all charges dropped). And, outside an L.A. club on his thirty-third birthday, he got sucker-punched in the face. But other than that he seems to have kept his nose pretty clean, with no one ever accusing him of being a buttocks fetishist or the like. In that regard, he seems like a pretty regular guy.
He’s got a lot of pretty regular-guy habits, too. He enjoys playing Texas Hold ’em and the occasional game of miniature golf. He’s actually not a big dancer and says, “If you look at the great men of history, they never danced. Winston Churchill never danced.” And, like most other guys, he’s not so big on post-pee hand-washing. “All day you’re coming into contact with things — other hands, elevator buttons, escalator handrails — and your member has been inside your pants all day. It’s hanging there. It’s protectively clothed. Now, if I dribbled on myself, obviously I’d wash, but otherwise — no!”
A while later, he’s out at a Chicago pizza joint, ordering a stuffed pepperoni pizza, a small green salad (“just to have something healthy”) and mozzarella sticks. He’s much in demand by fellow pizza eaters, who come up to him almost constantly to say a few words. “Excuse me,” one guy says. “I’m sorry, and I don’t want to be a douche bag, but I’ve just got to tell you — you’re Vince Vaughn, right? You’re hilarious!”
After that, conversation turns to the Wedding Crashers-related art of picking up girls. Lots of guys use canned opening lines to meet girls — neutral-opinion openers like “Who lies more, men or women?” are one good way to start out — but that’s not the Vaughn method, he says, and not simply because he’s a star and doesn’t need them. It goes deeper than that.
Just then, two sweet-looking young girls show up at the table.
“Who lies more, men or women?” Vaughn says to them.
“Wha-?” the girls say, momentarily baffled. Then they quickly plow forward. “Hey, anyway, we’re going to Second City tonight, and we’d be honored to pay for your ticket if you’d like to join us.”
There’s a moment of silence.
“You guys are so sweet,” says Vaughn. “No, I can’t go tonight. How old are y’all?”
“Twenty-two — I only look like I’m fifteen,” says one.
“I’m old enough to be your father!” Vaughn shouts.
The girls shuffle their feet. “Oh, wow,” the one finally says. “This is awkward.”
Vaughn starts laughing. “Not at all!” he says. “You guys are great. Come on over here and give me a hug.”
And so they do, falling into his lap, all three of them giggling and carrying on.
Later, Vaughn says, “See, that’s my line: ‘Get your asses in here. Get your arms on me.’ If you feel the need to be deceitful or present yourself as something you’re not, then you’re ultimately saying you don’t have any value. For me, it’s less about an angle, pool shot or card flop than it is about connecting and feeling that connection. I mean, if you’re not connected, there’s no point. At the same time, though, you can drink a lot of girls pretty.”
One-night stands — adverse?
“No, not at all,” he says blithely. “There are no rules. Sometimes it can really be fun. But it can also be awful, like if you drank a lot and found yourself at home with a girl, you don’t even know why. You just go through the motions of it: ‘Oh, Jesus, OK, here we go, all right.’ And sometimes you pass out and don’t even get to the main action and still get the uncomfortableness of the next day. But it’s never really that bad. I mean, you’re still sleeping with somebody, right?”