Owen Wilson's Interview: Tell-All or PR Ploy?

In his 1st interview since attempting suicide, Owen Wilson talked about monkeys.

January 8, 2009, 1:11 AM

Oct. 27, 2007 — -- As expected, in his first interview since his September suicide attempt, Owen Wilson did not break down, shed tears, or reveal the complexities of his psyche. Instead, he talked about India, vaccinations and monkeys.

His interview with filmmaker and friend Wes Anderson was posted on MySpace.com Friday at midnight. Speaking in his charming drawl, Wilson chatted with Anderson about the making of "The Darjeeling Limited," their latest project together. The piece lasted about five minutes. Neither addressed Wilson's personal struggles, which have garnered more press than the movie itself.

Talking about making the film, Wilson waxed poetic about monkeys in India and how, perhaps like Hollywood hangers-on, they didn't seem interested in his own well-being.

"At first you think, 'Gosh, monkeys, that's so kind of incredible,'" he said. "But you started to kind of feel a little bit, not competitive with the monkeys, but that they ... didn't really have your best interests at heart. ... They want to replace you."

Fox Searchlight, the studio that released "The Darjeeling Limited," currently in theaters, told ABCNEWS.com that it approached MySpace.com with the idea to do the interview. Both Fox Searchlight and MySpace.com are owned by the same parent company, News Corp.

According to a spokesperson for MySpace.com, Anderson and Wilson set the interview agenda themselves, and Anderson directed, edited and produced the whole piece.

Considering all that, Elyane Rapping, a professor of American studies and pop culture at Buffalo University, said it was doubtful beforehand that Wilson and Anderson would talk about anything but "The Darjeeling Limited." She said it's likely Fox Searchlight is using Wilson's suicide attempt as a way to drum up press for the independent film and preserve its reputation.

"I wouldn't put anything past any of those people," she said. "And I think that they have to do this because otherwise it puts it a really dark taint on the movie, that this movie was being made while someone was suicidal. If they don't say anything, then it really does call into question the ethics of the people who made this movie."

It used to be that controversy-saddled celebrities sidled up to big-name reporters when they were ready to tell their tales, revamp their public image and revive their careers. Gary Condit came clean to Connie Chung, Monica Lewinsky cried to Barbara Walters, Britney Spears sobbed to Matt Lauer, Paris Hilton pledged philanthropy to Larry King.

Now that Internet video has come into its own, thanks to the popularity of YouTube and the advent of highly produced shows on sites like MySpace, fallen stars have a far more appealing option: Cut the pesky journalist out of the mix and tell all, on their own terms, on the Internet. It's the ultimate form of image control.

Wilson's interview is part of MySpace.com's Artist on Artist series, which turns the traditional celebrity interview format on its head. Instead of talking to a reporter, pop culture personalities sit down and interview one another. Past pairings include Nobel Prize winner Al Gore and hip-hop artist Mos Def; filmmaker Michael Moore and R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe.

So if celebrities can craft their own interviews and broadcast them on a Web site that gets millions of hits each month, does that mean all star-chasing entertainment reporters, this one included, should pack up their belongings and go home? Not exactly.

"Whatever you think about the big network journalists, they do for the most part adhere to certain journalistic standards. With MySpace, we have no idea what this is going to be," said Bob Thompson, Syracuse University professor of popular culture. "From the sounds of it, [the Wilson interview] will have about as much credibility as any other MySpace posting."

In other words, Thompson thinks there will always be a need for tried-and-true reporters to pry into the personal lives of those in the public eye. And it's not likely that the people who relished Spears' cringe-inducing 2006 interview with Lauer will back away from their TVs anytime soon.

"You need only look at the recent Nielsen statistics that show that for the amazing year the Internet had last year, television viewing went down by exactly one minute," Thompson said.

And even if Wilson chose to open up on the Internet rather than on television, it's clear that Fox Searchlight and MySpace.com still realize the importance of TV and celebrity journalism. They gave "Entertainment Tonight" exclusive first rights to broadcast a clip of the interview on their Friday show, though they declined to let ABCNEWS.com view the interview in advance for this story. One look at the show's Web site, ETonline.com, on Friday afternoon showed that they billed the Internet clip as a big scoop.

"It's ironic, but it makes absolutely perfect sense," Thompson said. "When all is said and done, if one does an innovative thing on the Internet, the most effective way to spread that is still the old fashioned way -- television."

In the end, whether on TV or on the Internet, celebrities do interviews for the same basic reasons: to enhance their image and promote their latest project (in Wilson and Anderson's case, "The Darjeeling Limited"). Thompson said to expect nothing more or less from the MySpace interview.

"If you really wanted to get to the bottom of the story of Owen Wilson, if you really cared, you'd want an investigative reporter to do the digging," he said. "This is not real journalism. It is a combination of movie PR, damage control and image reconstruction."

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