“I’m always makin’ movies that I figure’ll play better in the Midwest, in less cynical places than LA and New York,” says actor Luke Wilson in that familiar Texas drawl. “‘Henry Poole is Here’ is one of those movies. You can kind of get caught up in LA in all these dark blockbusters, like ‘Dark Knight.’ But in the real America, these small character-driven movies can certainly say something to folks who aren’t the type who embrace something on hype, or faith, at the drop of a hat.”
Wilson is the down-to-earth character actor member of the acting Wilson brothers. Owen, who is slightly older, may have a bigger name, the bigger paydays and the place of prominence in the tabloids. Luke, 37, is content to be the rugged leading man who goes his own way, writing, dabbling in directing, and taking roles in the offbeat, from “The Family Stone” and “Hoot,” to “The Wendell Baker Story” or “Henry Poole Is Here.”
Henry Poole is Here
Luke Wilson, Radha Mitchell, Adriana Barraza, George Lopez, Cheryl Hines, Richard Benjamin
(Overture Films; US theatrical: 15 Aug 2008 (Limited release); 2008)
His “great appeal stems from his normalcy,” says Robert Butler, film critic for The Kansas City Star. “Brother Owen specializes in ‘out there’ characters. Luke, on the other hand, plays the sort of guy you might actually know - and he inhabits these more-or-less average Joes with a good deal of humor and substance”
“Henry Poole” is a film about a man who moves into a tract house in a middle-class neighborhood, seemingly to drink himself to death. He’s not a people person. He’s “angry and bitter.” Then the devout Catholic who lives next door sees the face of Jesus in Henry’s stucco. By casting Wilson in the lead, the filmmakers rooted the movie “in real-world believability,” says Butler, “while the unlikely swirls around him.”
Wilson didn’t set out to send a message with “Henry Poole,” or fret over the intent of its script, which has questions of faith, everyday miracles and the healthy skepticism in which his character views the world.
“I don’t worry about what a movie has to say,” Wilson says. “People of faith might really appreciate this movie. But it has something to say to people who aren’t religious, too.”
Wilson has always mixed up the sorts of parts he plays, turning up as boyfriends in movies such as “Legally Blonde,” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” or “Charlie’s Angels,” working in ensembles with Wes Anderson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”) or writing and co-directing the Texas-set hustler comedy, “The Wendell Baker Story.” Do Wilson a favor and rent that one. It’s funny. “And it’s the one that I’ve enjoyed the most, maybe the part that’s most like me,” he says. “After all, I did write the character for me.”
He made a bigger deal out of “mixing things up” in his career until he read a Robert Mitchum obituary, “and I saw that he had like 150 film credits. You don’t do that much work and become, like, Robert Mitchum, by fretting over whether this part is that different from that one.”
He takes roles to “keep busy,” and uses acting as a kick in the pants for his writing career. His screen writing helps him identify which scripts he should agree to do, and which he’ll pass on.
“You know how you can tell a script is well written?” he says, giving away his favorite trade secret. “It’s how easy it is to memorize. If you’re going over the lines and you can’t say ‘em to save your life, there’s your clue. If it sounds right and feels right, it’ll be easy to remember. But if you’re going ‘What the (heck) does this mean?’ Bad writing.”