In the movie Middle Men, Luke Wilson plays a character thrust into a bizarre story with even more bizarre characters, but the end result is the birth of not only internet porn, but online commerce as we know it today. Based on the life in times of producer Christopher Mallick in the mid-1990s, Wilson’s character is forced to juggle not only the two drug addicts that invented the system, but the Russian mafia, the FBI, and a massively corrupt lawyer all while trying to maintain a family life back in Texas. Not exactly the easiest of jobs.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Wilson and discuss the film, including potential hesitancy over the film’s subject matter, the atmosphere on set, and what it’s like playing a character based on a man that is standing no more than 20 feet away from you.
When someone hands you a script and says, “This is about the dudes who created internet porn,” is there hesitancy about the subject matter?
Like Paul Allen and Bill Gates? I would love to do something about them! Do I play the little guy or the big guy? No, I mean just for me it sounded like an interesting story and I’ve always been interested in those kind of business related stories where you have somebody like it’s the oil business, the Rockefellers, or the Hunts, or Paul Allen and Bill Gates where one minute these guys are working in their parents’ garage and the next minute their billionaires. Those are always so interesting to read about and how it changes people. So when I got the script all those kind of aspects of it appealed to me, plus the fact that it was based on a real guy. I’d always envied actors who got to play real people or got to do research, I’ve always just had these scripts where, I mean not in a bad way, but it was right on the page. I was never playing a real guy, so to meet the person and spend time around them I felt lucky to get the opportunity to do that.
Does it affect the way you play a character when the real person is there?
It wasn’t like Johnny Depp playing Hunter S. Thompson, you didn’t have someone who walked funny and talked funny. This guy was more of a straight forward business man and in a way that kind of helped me. I just felt like this is a regular guy and he just got into this crazy business and in over his head, where he kind of just got drawn into it incrementally.
Did you guys spend a lot of time together?
Yeah, we spent a ton of time together. I’m not computer savvy and I know nothing about the world of internet porn, but I talked to him and liked being around him and he produced the movie. He was there day in and day out on location. No so much that he would give me advice or it wasn’t like you could imitate this guy, just kind of play him in my own way. But I did respond to the fact that he could be sitting at this table with us and we would be like, “What is it about this guy?” He just seemed like a normal guy, like a business man. So yeah, it was fun to be around him because you could ask him anything about it. It’s not like he was giving me specific tips, although I did take those. It was more about being around him.
Did he tell you some stories that didn’t make it into the script? Did he tell you about the origins of the character s and who they were based on?
A little bit. In an odd way I didn’t want to pry. But there were things I felt like obviously there’s no way this could have been true. There was no killing, I don’t think there was any Russian mobster. But he would certainly tell me different things. I met people certain characters were based on and, again, I’ve never had the opportunity to do that. So that was really cool.
Apparently George Gallo’s catchphrase for this film was “fuck you, keep up.” Is that how he was during the writing process or did that transfer to on set as well?
He actually runs a really nice set and he’s a benevolent dictator. He said that while he was writing it? It makes sense because that’s how the movie rocks along and it makes for an interesting read but then your flipping the pages and saying, “This is a fast paced movie,” but then you see the movie and it’s incredibly fast paced. I don’t think he ever screamed that at me luckily. Cause I’m the kind of guy that jogs to lunch…I’m kidding around. That’s always when I’m moving fastest. “That’s a half hour for lunch!”
Was the movie a lot of fun to make? I know it was tense in a lot of parts. Were there any times when you were on set and shooting and had a lot of fun?
It was actually a fairly easy-going shoot. Yeah, we did have a good time together and George is such a good guy. I was intimidated to work with Giovanni [Ribisi], just because, we’re about the same age, but seeing his movies before I ever made a movie. I really admired him and looked up to him. He’s the kind of guy people are like, “Be careful, he’s in character.” But then you meet him and you’re in a scene with him and he’s incredible and then you can go get a cup of coffee with him. But, no, we had a good time and that’s where being on-location can be helpful, just because you really are all together in Arizona and just all at the same hotel. It can be fun if you have a good group of people.
Getting back to Giovanni and Gabriel [Macht], their characters are so completely insane. When you’re on set watching them in fisticuffs, what are you thinking?
Well, I mean those were comedic scenes, to me, even though they were battling drug problems and things like that. But those guys are so funny, it’s like the same way DeNiro can be hilarious in movies. Even Raging Bull, he’s so funny in that. I play the straight man a lot so, again, my job was to not laugh, in a different way. I just really admire those guys and for me it’s like you’re not worried about the scene being interesting or fun to watch cause you know at the very least it will have that quality.