In his latest film No Escape—his first serious, no-joke action flick since 2001’s Behind Enemy Lines—Owen Wilson plays Jack Dwyer, a man accidentally caught in the geopolitical crossfire.
Dwyer has just relocated his wife and two kids from suburban Texas to Southeast Asia the day after a violent government coup, and as they settle into their new “fourth world” luxury hotel digs, bloody chaos erupts in the streets. Eventually, horrified Westerners learn there’s one mission on the minds of the faceless Asian hordes: Kill the Americans.
“It was not so much about making any sort of statement about the geopolitical situation in the world as much as trying to tell the story of this family in this kind of insane environment,” Wilson explained to The Daily Beast.
As much as the filmmakers willfully ignore that region’s real-life history of unrest, they were at least hyperaware of it, because how could they not be? The film’s fictional nation borders Vietnam by a river and was initially meant to be Cambodia. It was eventually filmed in Thailand, where co-helmer John Dowdle once vacationed in 2006, days after the government was overthrown by a military junta—hence the inspiration for a fish-out-of-water action movie about an average white man saving his family in the midst of a horrifying revolution.
Shot in northern Thailand months before the country’s 12th coup d’etat occurred in 2014, No Escape instead focuses on Wilson’s character and watches him live out a parent’s worst nightmare as his everyman is forced into survival/protection mode. He shepherds his family to the rooftop, through the streets, and into perilous unknowns in search of help, only to realize help isn’t coming.
The trailers highlight one of the Dowdles’ more inspired moments of exploitation-action glory, as Wilson’s Jack attempts to throw one young daughter—and then the next—off of a high-rise rooftop and onto an adjacent building, into the arms of his wife, Annie (Lake Bell), who’s perched in her vacation wear and Tom’s slip-ons.
Wilson, himself a father of two, chuckles at the memory of that scene. “Having children, the idea of being in a strange, foreign country and finding yourself in the middle of all hell breaking loose—it seemed like an exciting story,” he recalled.
“I think when you have a kid, there is this kind of love that you’ve never really experienced where you’ll do anything for them,” he said. “Along with that comes that primal thing of wanting to protect your kids and worrying about them. Growing up with my dad, he had a lot of fun with us but there’s a lot of stress in being a parent with little kids. Trips to get stitches, or if somebody broke their wrist, or if somebody got lost at the state fair—a lot of that kind of stuff that happens. This movie took that notion and puts it on steroids.”
Politics might be a plot device in No Escape, but off-screen they’re keeping staunch liberal Wilson riveted—thanks mostly to the antics of Donald Trump.
“Like everybody, I watched the GOP debates—and I don’t know the last time I watched debates,” he marveled. “It’s usually almost like a football game—when it gets down to the final two, now we’re going to watch the Democrat versus the Republican. But to watch this early on, when they’ve got 15 people on the stage, it would never have happened unless Trump was there.”
There’s a reason Trump is winning the media game right now with his brash headline-grabbing wizardry. “You can’t help but get a kick out of him, and I think part of it is we’re so used to politicians on both sides sounding like actors at press junkets—it’s sort of by rote, and they say all the right things,” Wilson laughed. “So here’s somebody who’s not following that script. It’s like when Charlie Sheen was doing that stuff—like, wow! He’s answering a question completely honestly, and in an entertaining way. You sort of feel he could be a character from Network.”
The Dallas-born Wilson got a shade more serious pondering Trump’s problematic border politics. “I don’t know if I’m not taking it as seriously as I should,” he said. “But when he said he was going down to the border and he showed up at a press conference and said, ‘Now I’m going out to the border and I hope I’ll see you later’—sort of suggesting that it was so dangerous that ‘Who knows if I’ll see you later’… I don’t know, it was just funny to me. The guy is a showman. You have to sort of get a kick out of the guy. It is entertaining, for sure. That’s why people are tuning in.”
Wilson, who supported Barack Obama, has yet to find a Democratic hopeful to support for 2016. He laughed at the thought of Trump making it all the way to the White House. “You can’t honestly believe he really could be president, do you? I have a hard time believing that… that still seems so far away. That doesn’t quite seem realistic to me. But talk to me in a few months. We’ll see.”
Next February, Wilson will reunite with old pal Ben Stiller to reprise a fan favorite role in a film sequel he never dreamed would happen: Zoolander 2. “The first one didn’t do that great, so it’s a little odd to be doing a sequel,” he admitted, sounding surprised that the cult comedy found such a hard-core following. “It wasn’t a huge box office hit to begin with but I guess over the years some people really embraced it.”
With Wilson in full character and costume as international male model Hansel alongside Stiller’s Derek Zoolander, the follow-up to 2001’s Zoolander was officially announced when the pair crashed the Valentino runway at Paris Fashion Week in March. While filming at Rome’s famed Cinecittà Studios this summer, Zoolander mania found Wilson in his off-hours.
“I was walking around in Italy, and there are so many people that want you to do Blue Steel,” he recalled. “I’m like, ‘Actually it’s Ben that does Blue Steel, it’s not Hansel’—but they don’t seem to accept that. So I have to do some version of it, and they’ll correct me and do their version. I think everybody has a Blue Steel.”
“You never know how it’s going to turn out,” he added in his laid-back Texan drawl. “But I think it’s going to be really funny.”