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Wilson admits calling people in his Bob Ross-inspired outfit

It was the mix of comedy and pathos that attracted the actor to the role, he tells Peter Larsen.

- Paint is now available to rent from iTunes and Neon.

In the movie Paint, Owen Wilson plays Carl Nargle, the host of a painting show on Vermont public television, who despite his lack of artistic talent is something of a superstar. Writer-director Brit McAdams’ new film is a comedy filled with funny performanc­es by Michaela Watkins, Stephen Root and Wendi McLendon -Covey, but it also includes brushstrok­es of melancholy.

That’s part of what Wilson says attracted him to a role, which is superficia­lly based on the real-life painter and posthumous pop-culture icon Bob Ross, both in the huge halo of hair and fondness for basic landscapes that you – yes, you, TV viewer! – can replicate at home.

That mix of comedy and pathos helped draw Wilson to the role, he says. “I tend to watch a lot of documentar­ies,” he says on a recent video call. “It’s rare that I’d ever pick a comedy. The emotions that people are feeling have to be sort of real to me.”

Paint lets Carl Nargle be both the source of much humour – how can you not laugh at that hair and wardrobe?

– and its heart. When his world starts to crumble around him, you feel for him – even though he’s largely brought all his troubles upon himself.

“I think with Carl, it’s not funny, of course, to him,” Wilson says. “It’s painful. Now that can be why I enjoy documentar­ies. I can find it funny when you see people experienci­ng these real emotions that we all get hit with. Vanity and pride and insecuriti­es, and the ways we try to hide those. And Carl is really having to face that.”

Bob Ross, but evil

For writer-director McAdams, who told the audience at the Paint premiere earlier this year that it took 13 years to get the movie made, inspiratio­n for the film came from his experience­s watching and working in television.

As a boy growing up in the 80s, he wasn’t allowed to watch much TV, though his mother made an exception for the soap opera General Hospital.

“I’m old enough and my family was cheap enough that we didn’t have a remote control, so the catbird seat was right in front of the TV set where there was a knob to change the channel,” McAdams says.

“So as General Hospital would end, I would have just a moment to keep the TV on. I’d turn that knob and it was like the clicking of a bomb: tick, tick, tick with each turn.

“And then Bob Ross would come on,” he says. “We would start by being like ‘Who’s

this guy with his hair and the whispering?’ and then he would start this with magic, just a brown brushstrok­e that would become a branch, and then a tree, and the tree would become a forest, and the forest an entire mountain-scape.

“You would go from sort of laughing or thinking ‘Who is this guy?’ to just being completely transfixed by what he created,” McAdams says. “I just always loved the idea of someone having that power over everyone – where people wanted to hear that voice and be in that comfortabl­e place.”

Years later, working at the VH1 cable network in his 20s, McAdams says he was first thrilled to meet so many of his idols, then dismayed to realise that not all of them lived up to his expectatio­ns.

“What I realised was that a lot of my idols are better on stage than off,” he says. “Then my thought was: ‘If you are a rock star at 22, how hard would it be for you to evolve beyond that if you stayed a rock star? And who would I be if I had never evolved from a 22-year-old?’

“That’s the genesis of this character in a lot of ways. He’s the biggest painter and the biggest star of PBS in Burlington, Vermont. He’s had the top show for 22 years and would he ever evolve into who he should be if people kept telling him he was everything to them?”

Bob Ross, he stresses, was not the stunted, self-absorbed character that Carl Nargle is in Paint. “He was seemingly the nicest person and by all accounts always was,” McAdams says. “I liked the idea of, What if there was someone like him, not him at all, who came across as just the nicest person in the world and wasn’t?

‘‘What if you use that whisper and that power of grabbing people’s attention to keep them hanging on his every word and every breath and every stroke?

“What would happen if you didn’t use that power for good? That’s basically the idea behind it.”

Vintage brushstrok­es

Carl Nargle isn’t just stuck as an artist, though he does paint Mt Mansfield over and over again, having decided, after learning that the Burlington Art Museum doesn’t have a single painting of Vermont’s highest peak, that that’s how’ll finally get his work on its walls.

He’s also stuck in time – the haircut he picked from a 70s poster in the barber shop years ago, sure, but also his clothes, his airbrush-painted 70s van with sofabed in the back, and his caddish behaviour towards women, from his long-suffering ex Katherine (Michaela Watkins) to the much younger Jenna (Lucy Freyer).

Wilson described what it felt like slipping into his character’s skin – and wig and calico-yoked shirts and high-waisted jeans.

“My dad worked at the PBS station in Dallas, and in the late 70s. If you went down and walked around that station, you saw some Carl Nargle-looking people,” he says.

“For me, it was a little bit self-conscious at first putting on the wig and the wardrobe. I don’t know if it appealed to the little kid part that likes putting on a disguise or a costume, but I started to get into it.

“I would like to have a list of all the friends that I FaceTimed with – or sometimes not even friends, but somebody that was almost like a business meeting that

I’d call and not say anything about the way I looked,” Wilson says of the surreal transforma­tion he experience­d in full hair, makeup and costume.

“That would make me laugh and entertain me sometimes up in Saratoga Springs [New York, where the film was shot].”

McAdams says the crew working on the production, on a modest budget and with only 20 days to shoot, outdid themselves in recreating Carl’s world, including dozens of paintings purportedl­y by Carl and a younger, more talented painter, Ambrosia (Ciara Renée).

Wilson says he took painting classes to prepare for the role. “They actually have a Bob Ross school for painters,” he says. “But I don’t think I ever completed a Carl Nargle original.”

McAdams laughs when asked whether he has any Carl Nargle Mt Mansfields that he brought home from the shoot.

“Yes, I do,” he says with a grin. “There’s some additional shots and stuff coming up so they’ve been used. But yeah, they will be on my walls for years.”

 ?? ?? Owen Wilson says he took painting classes to prepare for this role.
Owen Wilson says he took painting classes to prepare for this role.
 ?? ?? Owen Wilson plays Carl Nargle in Paint.
Owen Wilson plays Carl Nargle in Paint.

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