While they may be gifted in many other areas, comic actors Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black all lack the skill to be a birder – birder being the formal term for an avid bird watcher. All three portray avian enthusiasts in their new film “The Big Year” but each openly admits to their lack of enthusiasm for birds.
“We did a lot extensive research,” says Martin. “Meaning that Jack did and then we asked him about it.”
While Black is more modest about his preparation for the role, he adds that becoming a birder is more a matter of inspired vocation than choice.
“You could read about birding and do research about birding but you can’t really decide you want to be a birder,” he says. “You have to have the compulsion, the obsession with birds. I don’t share that with the birding society at large but it was fun to hang out with some birders and watch them in action, because it’s kind of remarkable. They’ll be able to spot something really far away, it’s just a speck and they’ll say, ‘that’s the Mongolian goose fly.’”
“The Big Year” takes its title from an actual competition in which birders attempt to see the most species of birds within a set geographical location in one year or less. For Wilson, with his character being the reigning champ of the previous Big Year, the sporting spirit of the three men vying to see the most birds suited his own competitive streak.
“I think I can get very competitive about some things. Growing up with two brothers, we were all intensely competitive with anything – ping pong, with skipping a stone, anything,” he says. “That part of the character I can relate to. I understood where everybody [in the story] was coming from and that’s what I like when I read [a script].”
Did you guys pull any pranks on each other on set?
Martin: I’m not a prankster.
Wilson: Come on Steve, on April Fools day – you wait for that day.
Martin: On April Fools I go around changing people’s calendars to the second. When I hear about a prank-filled set, I just think ugh I’m so glad I’m not in that movie.
Black: Every time I’m on a press junket I always regret that I didn’t pull some kind of George Clooney prank, so that I would have a prank to talk about later. We really missed an opportunity there, guys.
Wilson and Black debate the value of the American Eagle
Wilson: One of the highlights for me was seeing an eagle. Then it turns out, we saw thousands of eagles, so it lost its excitement but the first time, we were filming in Canada. But then it was odd to see that eagles are like buzzards. They’re scavengers.
Black: How dare you? The American Eagle.
Wilson: But at the dump was where we saw the most eagles. They were just hanging out. They were-
Black: I don’t like where this conversation is going. Can we change the subject? I’m very patriotic.