A roundtable chat with Luke Wilson of “Middle Men”

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It’s been nearly 15 years since producer James L. Brooks bankrolled a feature version of a short film made by some Texas youngsters, and that movie (“Bottle Rocket”) introduced the movie world to director Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, and his brother, Luke. Since then, Dallas-born Luke Wilson’s movie-star handsome likeness has become a highly familiar to filmgoers, playing both leading men and supporting roles mostly in comedies like “Legally Blonde,” “Old School,” and Mike Judge’s criminally maltreated “Idiocracy,” as well as “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and a classic cameo in “Anchorman.” (He was the anchor who — spoiler alert — got his arm was sliced off with a sword by Tim Robbins.)

To this day, Wilson has a habit of turning up in odd and interesting places, like a series of well-known commercials for AT&T or in the uneven but entertaining “Middle Men,” in which Wilson very credibly stars as a Texas businessman who gets much more than he expected at the intersection of e-commerce and adult entertainment. He is also preparing to play the part of Laura Dern’s flaky ex-husband on “Enlightened,” a new TV series from cult writer-producer Mike White (“Chuck and Buck,” “School of Rock“) with episodes directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme.

At the risk of creating an embarrassing but perhaps partially correct impression of a man-crush, in person Luke Wilson is a highly charismatic guy. Behind his highly colloquial speech — I’ve left out a lot of “likes” — is an intelligence that, without giving away much of anything, dispenses with a lot of the usual show business interview platitudes. Now in his late 30s, he also appeared thinner than his slightly chunky appearance on “Middle Man” or his recent AT&T commercials. That was because Wilson had deliberately gone over his normal weight by about 25 pounds for the role of a hard-driving businessman and family guy.

What was that like?

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Think Finke

One item I skipped over recently that I don’t want to ignore forever was the recent New Yorker profile of Nikki Finke, complete with an illustration of her from “Love and Rockets” cartoonist Jaime Hernandez. Finke’s response was a nasty — even by her standards — megasnark smack down of the article which basically had her bragging about how she hates the venerable magazine these days, how she, various industry types, and Harvey Weinstein supposedly  manipulated the content of the article, and how she claims to have played editor David Remnick and writer Tad Friend in a way that the legendary Finke could, of course, never possibly be played.

Nikki Finke as drawn by Jaime HernandezMaybe it’s my lingering demi-illness throwing me off, but am I to understand that I’m to applaud Finke for doing the same thing she regularly attacks people for doing with regard to manipulating the press? Or is it okay to manipulate, but not to be manipulated? Does it only take one to tango? Or is it just cool to be as nasty as you can possibly be? It sure seems to work for her commenters. It’s as confusing as the time she counseled me not to be a “hater.”

Of course, when we’re dealing with someone as apparently mercurial as Finke, the levels of double and triple meanings in a post like hers are so deep as to basically cancel themselves out. While it’s level of absolute metaphysical truth is impossible to discern, personally, I think Friend’s article does a pretty good job of capturing the appeal and power of Finke and the sort of inherent meanness of so much of the business side of Hollywood which, all to often, Nikki Finke seems to celebrate.

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