Q&A With Owen Wilson

The actor talks about his new movie ('Free Birds'), plus why he practices gratitude.

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on September 14, 2013
From the WebMD Archives

In Free Birds, you travel back in time to save turkeys from becoming Thanksgiving’s main course. Is turkey on your Thanksgiving menu this year?

Yes, turkey is on the menu. In fact, I’m planning on having some turkey today.

How did you prepare to play a turkey?

There wasn’t a lot of preparation needed. It just kind of came naturally to me, playing a turkey. I guess I just had a lifetime of preparation for it.

What is the biggest difference between acting in an animated film and playing a live action role?

It’s like when you’re a kid with make believe. It’s all sort of in your head. It’s also just easier. There isn’t a big crew, no hair and makeup and wardrobe. You just roll out of bed and go up to the sound studio. I like it. I would never have thought, based on my voice, that I would have done a lot of animated work, but for some reason it happened.

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving?

I celebrate it in Dallas with my family. We watch the Cowboys game, eat Thanksgiving dinner, and maybe try to get up a football game earlier in the day. My mom makes the Thanksgiving dinner, and she’s great at it. She makes apple pie, pecan pie, turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, yams. I’d say it’s my favorite meal of the year.

What does the holiday mean to you?

I read an article a few years ago about how the holiday is a nightmare for nutritionists, but for psychologists, there’s actually something quite healthy about it. The idea of giving thanks, of being grateful, has a lot of health benefits. The simple act of writing down three things a day you’re grateful for has a measurable impact on people’s happiness and contentment. I wasn’t writing them down, but over the course of the day, I’d see a sunset, or someone laughing, and I’d check that off and say that’s something to be grateful for. It shifts your perspective because you’re now looking for things to be happy about. Take the time, make the decision, to slow things down, and make a conscious effort to look for things over the course of a day to feel good about.

You’ve been a father for nearly 3 years now. How has life changed for you in that time?

There’s this new person that didn’t exist a few years ago, and it’s this person that I have incredible love for, and beyond that, it’s fun and it's gotten more fun. As Ford plays around, and laughs and talks more, it just keeps getting better and better. I love to be around him. That’s the biggest change, having this little person around who, if I have to pick someone to be around, is at the top of the list.

What are your favorite father-and-son activities?

We like to be on the tennis court and hit tennis balls. We’ve been fishing a few times. He loves playing with balls. Just kind of kidding around. He’s getting to the point where he likes to roughhouse a bit and have pillow fights. Stuff I would have done with my brothers as a kid I’m now starting to get to do with him.

What’s the most valuable lesson your son has taught you?

It’s like those things your parents say to you: You get out what you put in. Before Ford arrived, I didn’t imagine I would be doing stuff like changing diapers, waking up with him, doing all these things. I was a new father, so I didn’t really know. Doing all that stuff, that all makes for a stronger bond and foundation. You’re taking care of this little person, feeding him, changing him, getting him ready for his bed, along with his mother. All that creates this real connection.

Do you have a personal health philosophy?

One of the biggest things for me is, if I get enough sleep and I exercise, I almost always have a great day. If I don’t get those things, especially sleep, I’m a lot more prone to being irritable and getting sick. When I’m working a lot or traveling a lot, I have to be really careful to get enough sleep.

What do you do to keep in shape?

I go swimming or jogging or use the treadmill or stair master or ride a bike. I sometimes throw in some weights but mostly it’s cardio.

Do you make a point of eating well to stay fit?

When you’re tired, all of a sudden you’re like, ordering cheeseburgers and French fries. When you’re being healthy, getting exercise and enough sleep, you really want to continue that momentum by eating healthy. I’m not a vegetarian, I eat everything, but I try to eat a lot of vegetables, drink vegetable juices, and try to eat organic, clean, locally sourced food. It makes you feel better.

What’s your best health habit?

My best health habit is probably exercise. I’m pretty good about always exercising. And it goes way beyond vanity. It’s really about what it does to my mind, the peace of mind I get. After exercise, it’s like a high. You just feel a lot more energized and at the same time relaxed enough to deal with the day’s stress.

What's your worst health habit?

I sometimes don’t get enough sleep. I run myself ragged by going to bed too late and waking up too early. I really have to guard against that and make sure I don’t get into a thing where I’m only getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep. I really need 7 or 8.

Is there anything about staying healthy that you wished you’d learned 20 years ago?

As a kid, I played in the neighborhood and did sports, and that kind of continued into college. But I didn’t really start exercising until I was about 29, so I would say that for most of my twenties I was not exercising. I hadn’t made it a habit. I didn't understand how much exercise could improve my state of mind.

What are some of your favorite, guilty-pleasure foods?

Cheeseburgers and French fries. I would say I have a cheeseburger once a month. But when I was just in New York working for 6 weeks, I stumbled upon this place that had one of the best cheeseburgers I’d ever had in my life. Over the next 2 weeks, I literally had 11 of them. I could not stop going there. It was so good.

What do you do to relax?

I love going to the ocean. I live in Hawaii and in Malibu, and a big part of both of those places is spending time at the ocean swimming and stand-up paddling. The ocean kind of represents vacation and freedom to me. Having grown up in Dallas, a landlocked city, I still get excited when I see the ocean.

Where did you go on your last vacation?

I’m in Hawaii now so it sort feels like a vacation. I went to Vancouver 2 weeks ago. A great city with a great healthy, outdoor lifestyle. I went cycling around Stanley Park’s Seawall and hiked up Grouse Mountain.

You’ve been in movies for close to 20 years now. How do you stay passionate about your work?

I always remember Woody Harrelson saying, ‘If you’re on a movie set and you’re not feeling really grateful to be there, there’s a problem.’ I try to think of that when I’m feeling irritable or if I start to take it for granted. As a kid growing up in Dallas, I loved the movies, and I remember thinking that if I could one day work in the movies, that would be the greatest thing ever. I try to stay in touch with that feeling, but some days it’s easier than others.

What's one way that your family influenced you and your career?

I was very lucky to grow up in a family where both my parents were creative and on both sides of my family humor was a big part of how you’d cope with life and deal with things. That helped me and my brothers a lot.

If you could act side by side with any actor, living or dead, who would it be?

Nicolas Cage, Adam Sandler, Robert Duvall, Al Pacino, and Daniel Day-Lewis are a few that come to mind.

How do you measure success both professionally and in your personal life?

It goes back to that part of the conversation about being grateful. I think the way I would measure success is feeling content and happy with family and friends, and being able to make a living doing something creative.