ESQUIRE: We haven’t ordered. We don’t have food yet. We don’t have coffee yet. Just talking. Waitstaff whir around, trolleying quinoa bowls and acai.
The scene sends Owen’s memory to another restaurant, which makes him smile. He and Wes Anderson were writing The Royal Tenenbaums, the 2001 movie for which they were nominated for a best-original-screenplay Academy Award, and as part of the backstory, they made up a restaurant called Sloppy Huck’s, which Royal Tenenbaum (played by Gene Hackman) used to take his kids to when they were little. “It was this place with peanut shells on the floor and an odd menu with stuff like rhubarb pie and corn-fritter casserole,” he says. “There were those jukeboxes at each booth, right on the table, that you could flip through. And bullet holes in the window, because bad guys had tried to rob the cash register a couple of times, so Sloppy was always alert.”
He’s fifty-two. His skin is tanned and healthy—ruddy—and he has enviable blond hair that always looks like he went swimming in the ocean a half hour ago and it dried in the sun, annoyingly perfect. The blue eyes are as blue as they are in the movies, or bluer. His ball cap has a logo of a half doughnut, half taco, a totem from a recent movie shoot in Saratoga Springs, New York. (A man who owned a taco-and-doughnut shop gave it to him.) He does not place his phone on the table, the way most people do. He answers questions not as if he’s being interviewed but rather as if he’s standing in the corner at a party, chatting and telling delightful stories.
“Sloppy Huck’s didn’t make it into the movie,” he says, smiling down.
He asks questions. He is well-read. Very well-read. We parse the divergent narrative styles of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He tells me about a book his brother Luke gave him recently: a biography of an obscure Swiss writer named Robert Walser. He mentions picking up a copy of The Snow Leopard not long ago, a book he says means a lot to him.
I, meanwhile, am asking him the normal interview questions, not yet getting where he is going. What exactly is the story going to be?
I bring up Loki, the smart, fun Marvel series he starred on for Disney+ as agent Mobius, with Tom Hiddleston. “We did a press junket for that yesterday,” he says.
“They asked me a lot about—‘It sounds like you had to be convinced to do this.’ I don’t know where they’re getting that. That isn’t true. The director just called me and told me the idea, and I wanted to work on it. But somehow what seems to be in their press notes, maybe, is that I know zero about the MCU. I don’t know a ton about it, but I know—”
“Actually, yeah, I probably don’t know that much about it. I kind of know about Iron Man. I’ve seen Aquaman. He’s swimming in jeans. No one can swim in jeans! That was my argument with the kids about Aquaman.”
(Speaking of Loki: Owen is known to improv lines on set, and in one scene in the first episode, Loki is acting very self-important during Mobius’s interrogation. Mobius simply says, “You’re just a little pussycat.” “All Owen,” Hiddleston tells me.)
It’s not that Owen is uninterested in talking about this stuff, but pretty soon he’s drifting away from it, telling me about when he was in Atlanta filming Loki and he made up a leaf-catching game for himself and his kids. “We play that you have to catch it with one hand and run,” he says. “It’s nice because it gets you looking up.”
He bobs his head almost imperceptibly, squints and smiles almost imperceptibly, and almost whispers: “Yeah. The Leaf-Catch Game.”
“What did they ask you?” is my probing inquiry. MORE