WEB EXTRA: Luke Wilson: Making the leap from fraternity to frightening

Build it and they will come. Hollywood built it and the A-listers are a-comin’. What has been built, you ask? A nation-wide obsession with horror, violence and having one’s pants scared off. Films like “The Ring” and “Saw” were some of the first horror flicks to re-whet the nation’s appetite for blood-curdling cinematic terror. Despite the lack of recognizable stars, ticket sales went through the roof. Apparently, we didn’t need Anthony Hopkins to be the one making a bloody mess anymore, as long as the mess was really, spine-chillingly bloody. Thus, celebrity-lacking films such as “Wolf Creek” and “The Hills Have Eyes” began popping up in theaters every couple of months. With the proven success of blood and guts for subject matter, big name celebrities were eventually convinced to join in on the fun. Halle Berry headlined the ghost-story thriller “Gothika” and Nicole Kidman starred in “The Others.” Just two weeks ago, Hilary Swank graced the screen in the new Biblically-inspired gore-fest, “The Reaping.” OK, so for Swank, making the leap from forties femme fatale to religious myth-debunker may seem like quite the leap. As for Kidman, going from freaky-naughty vixen to creeper mom may seem difficult as well. However, there is arguably a common rope Kidman and Swank used to swing across these leaps: drama-an over-arching sense of seriousness and emotionality. But what about the leap from dreamy boyfriend or goofball frat guy to emotionally-exhausted snuff-film victim? Now that’s a leap.

We all know Luke Wilson as the more adorable member of “The Frat Pack,” that motley crew of slapstick absurdists that also includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, brother Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Steve Carell. Whether getting his arm mangled off by a bear in “Anchorman” or seducing Sarah Jessica Parker as a lovable stoner in “The Family Stone,” Luke Wilson’s roles have all been moored in some basic level of comic relief.

On April 20th, Luke will show us another side of himself making his horror film debut in Vacancy. The movie starts out with road-tripping couple Amy and David Fox (played by Kate Beckinsale and Wilson) bickering over their young son’s accidental death. It becomes clear that divorce is on the horizon. From the outset there is, according to Wilson in a conference call, “just a feeling of melancholy with this couple and with my character.” This downhearted tone is turned on its head as soon as they take a short-cut during their all-night roadtrip, run into car trouble and seek refuge at the Pinewood Motel. After finding a stack of snuff films depicting savage murders caught on hidden cameras right in their very own room, they learn that the creepy front-desk manager (Frank Whaley, “The Hottest State,” “World Trade Center”) and the stains on their sheets are the least of their problems.

For someone who claims that “the thing about being an actor is that you’re in the business of not growing up,” Wilson certainly did grow, maybe not as an adult, but certainly as an actor by taking his role in “Vacancy.” Wilson described his role as, “a real challenge.” In fact, Wilson was so daunted by the thought of starring in a horror flick that he initially turned the movie down. Finally, with a little “utzing” from Clint Culpepper, president of Screen Gems, a division of Sony that made “Vacancy” among many others such as “The Mothman Prophecies” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” Wilson agreed to take the part. It wasn’t until he began shooting that Wilson realized what he had gotten himself into. “I’ve done scenes that were emotional, but I’d never done anything with this kind of intensity.” Most of the intensity resulted from the movie’s timeframe. Speaking candidly about working for months on a movie that all takes place in one night, Wilson admitted he was, “kind of not prepared for that idea; that you’d show up Monday morning at 6:00 a.m. and be doing a continuation of the same scene that you’d finished on Friday night at midnight. It just never stopped.”

Though as a movie-goer, Wilson appreciates all genres, as a movie-doer, he made it clear that laughter, not fear, is his preferred cinematic weapon of choice. In terms of working on a horror film instead of a comedy, Wilson admitted, “It’s definitely not like the set of “Old School,” for instance, where it’s just like driving to work thinking, ‘I can’t wait to see Will and Vince.’ ”

By the end of the interview, Wilson made it clear that, despite the overwhelming sense of accomplishment he felt upon the completion of “Vacancy,” he wasn’t actively seeking out any more horror films. He explained that, “in terms of returning to the genre, the truth is it’s more fun to work on comedies and it’s easier and I feel more at home doing them.” However, he assured that if another horror film offer came along that he would, “definitely give it a shot again.”

Vacancy opens in all major theaters on Friday April 20th. See the official website for details.

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