In the animated film "Free Birds," Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson play two turkeys who go back in time to the first Thanksgiving to stop their kind from becoming America's traditional holiday meal. Sitting down with the two actors was more entertaining than the movie itself, since they refused to take anything seriously and made it clear why the studio (newcomers Reel FX) had to split them up to get anything accomplished.
As I walked into the room, Wilson greeted me with "Yeah, baby," except he wasn't addressing me, just rooting for the Red Sox. What followed was a very loose conversation that touched on Hitler, Jesus, Mark Twain, drinking Wild Turkey to get into character, and trying to get Owen Wilson onto the "Hunger Games" gravy train.
Moviefone: What did you think when you were pitched a movie about time-traveling turkeys?
Owen Wilson: I remember they were talking about a few projects at Reel FX, and this one just really made me laugh, the idea of turkeys time-traveling and they have a very vested mission, so yeah, it thought it made a good natural story.
Woody Harrelson: Yeah, I liked it, but originally they were going to use Luke Wilson and I said, "Use his brother." So I think I had some good influence on them.
So you get Owen a lot of work?
WH: I do. I pitch him for everything.
Does this mean Owen's going to be in the next "Hunger Games" movie?
WH: Yeah, he's playing Haymitch's brother.
OW: I begged Woody to put in a good word with the filmmakers. Let me get on that gravy train!
What would you replace turkey with for Thanksgiving dinner now?
WH: Just the stuff turkeys eat. I'm a vegan. You know, maybe have some corn and a piece of lettuce. I love Thanksgiving. I have a lot to be thankful for.
OW: I don't know, where else are we going to replace that tryptophan? I'd love to give that up, but I love dozing off for a nice little comatose nap after the Thanksgiving meal. But no, that is my favorite meal of the year so I think it'd be tough to give that up.
If you could go back in time and change one thing what would it be?
OW: Uh, well... I guess you'd want to go back and take out some horrible dictator or something that wreaked a lot of havoc.
WH: Who'd you go for? Hitler? Pol Pot? Stalin?
OW: And that's just from the last century. So if you go all the way back... Pontius Pilate wasn't exactly a nice guy.
You're going to save Jesus? That's your mission?
WH: Let's say he dies from bee stings. Instead of this [crossing yourself], it would be this [waving away a lot of bees].
OW: I would go back, I do have an idea. I guess that gets into the idea of your "fantasy dinner." I would love to spend some time with...
WH & OW [simultaneously]: Mark Twain.
WH: Whoa! Yeah.
So your next project together: Something Mark Twain-related?
WH: Yeah. That's a part I could get into. But Val Kilmer's doing that now. And Hal Halbrook. I don't know that you could ever do a better Mark Twain than them. Yeah, he was a fascinating character.
Woody, is there something you'd like to go back and change in the past?
WH: No. [Thinks]. Did it really make sense to give women the vote?
OW: [Laughs] That's going to make you real popular with your three daughters.
Did you record your dialogue together?
WH: No, they had to separate us like naughty children. We weren't getting as much done as they'd hoped. They wanted us to get, like, 52 pages done and we got 2. But they were stellar, stellar pages. It was first-rate.
But you do the dialogue first and then they animate, so they could have just let you do what you wanted.
WH: Yeah, they didn't go that way.
What were some improvisations you came up with that we didn't see in the movie?
WH: Well, I tried a stuttering thing. They didn't seem to go for that.
OW: There was a month there where you wanted to play it like Dudley Moore in "Arthur," where you were drinking a lot of Wild Turkey.
WH: I tried stuttering, tried slurring... none of those worked.
If there's a sequel, what should the turkeys' next mission be?
OW: Maybe they go into the future and maybe help humans next time.
WH: You never know if aliens will come down and start eating humans. They start farming, factory farming humans, they could go into the future and stop that. That's a good idea. It's kind of a pre- post-"Soylent Green." With turkeys in a time machine.
Do you guys read reviews or your movies?
WH: I did that one time, because I don't ever read reviews, because I think it can really be a poison pill that can really mess you up. I was doing this play and everybody was saying, "Oh, my God. The reviews you got here are incredible." So I was stretching on the floor, I had a day off, and I see a newspaper and it's got me and another guy in the play in the picture. I just kind of naturally started reading it. Scathing. And it really messed me up. And I haven't read a review since. That was a good ten years ago at least.
OW: I like reading the good ones. I find that they speak to me in a way that the bad ones don't.
You have someone who only shows you the good ones?
OW: Yes, and sometimes they have their work cut out for them.
"Free Birds" hits theaters November 1.