- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

LOS ANGELES — Movie fans can be excused for imagining Owen Wilson goofing off on a movie set.

On screen, the Texas native is the scruffy but loveable scamp, so it’s easy to envision him short-sheeting a starlet’s bed or knocking back a cold one between line readings.

Easy — but wrong.

Mr. Wilson’s cohorts on the new film “You, Me and Dupree” contend he was too busy punching buttons on his Blackberry to set a prank in motion.

“I will say in my defense … I do sometimes write down good ideas or funny stuff,” says Mr. Wilson during a promotional push for “Dupree.”

It takes a smart man to make a savvy slacker.

Mr. Wilson, 37, cemented that tag in last year’s smash comedy “Wedding Crashers,” and he only burnishes the image with “Dupree.” He plays the title character, an arrested-development type who makes life miserable for his best friend (Matt Dillon) and said friend’s bride (Kate Hudson) by moving into their home.

“Everyone has either experienced a Dupree or been a Dupree,” says Mr. Wilson. “In my case, both.”

The film demands we forgive Dupree for any number of transgressions, and few actors can gain an audience’s sympathy like the Butterscotch Stallion — the actor’s tabloid nickname based on his success with the fairer sex.

He says he modeled Dupree in part not on any one person but on a family pet.

“We had this Dalmatian when we were kids named Nutmeg,” begins Mr. Wilson, who speaks as if he were telling a story to children, slowly and with attention paid to every syllable. “He tore up everything. My parents wanted to go send it to live on a farm … but they sort of fell in love with the dog [eventually]. Dupree has a little bit of that quality.”

The actor’s gaudy success these days means he won’t need to crash on a couch anytime soon.

His screen debut, the quirky buddy film “Bottle Rocket,” which he co-wrote with Wes Anderson, announced him as a double threat with few equals among contemporary actors.

He could nail a dumb comedy (2001’s “Zoolander”), but his writing resume (1998’s “Rushmore” and 2001’s “The Royal Tenenbaums,” both also co-written with college buddy Anderson) suggested a meatier mind at play.

Like many of his comedy peers, he also dropped in on other people’s projects, like his scene-stealing bits in the “Meet the Parents” films.

Not every move worked; witness the awful caper comedy “The Big Bounce” (2004) or the even worse “I Spy” (2002).

But now the actor hints he’s willing to monkey with his carefully sculpted persona.

He played a serial killer in the 1999 film “The Minus Man,” but villainous roles don’t come his way often.

“I would like to do that, but I wonder if people will have a problem with it,” he says.

If his fame precludes an extreme makeover, he’ll settle for a nip or tuck.

Besides, the closer Mr. Wilson gets to 40 the less likely his current image will be seen as a plus.

“I would like to do a movie where the burden wasn’t on getting the big laughs or on the big set pieces,” he says.

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