Luke Wilson on What It Takes to Play Roger Goodell

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Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

He’s starred in some of the most memorable films of his generation, but if you ask Luke Wilson the philosophy behind his career, he doesn’t really have an answer for you. He makes it sound like he stumbled on the West Texas set of Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket in 1995, in which he starred with his brother Owen, and just kept making movies because it was the easiest way to go. The same way the he stumbled into the suit he’s wearing right now at the New York launch party for his new film, which he’s “pretty sure” Calvin Klein had sent to his hotel.
“You know, it hits me sometimes that I’ve been doing this for about 20 years and I’ve never really had much of a strategy,” says Wilson introspectively.
Despite a game plan, his movies are frequently broadcast on weekend cable runs across the world, most likely after some sort of censoring, introducing him to new fans all the time. He’s often reminded of the laughs he’s brought to people of all ages, sharing a recent interaction with a bold Idiocracy fan who sidled up next to him while Wilson was ordering at Starbucks to ask if he was there for the handjobs. The second shock occurred when Wilson turned around to see a smiling old man.

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“The time before that it was a college-age girl who made that same joke. I guess a lot of people still enjoy it,” laughs Wilson. He’s keeping his voice down in a New York bar, perhaps conscious that people could overhear the word handjob and get the wrong idea. Or perhaps just some of those Texas manners that have held him back before. Wilson is still a little shocked at the kind of R-rated humor they got away with while filming with Mike Judge, who he earnestly admits to doubting at first. 
“Listen, I consider myself to be an immature guy, but I felt like a parent on that set saying, ‘This is too much,'” Wilson admits. “But in the end, it was just perfect.”
Wilson is set to release three dramatic films this year, including the emotionally charged thriller Meadowland, out now, in which, in one of his most tense offerings to date, he plays a policeman whose son has been abducted. For an actor widely recognized for his comedy, it’s a dark turn, as is his next film, Concussion, a movie based on the true story of Nigerian-born doctor Bennet Omalu, who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of professional football players.
Set to premiere at the AFI Film Festival, Concussion is already generating discussion while being heralded as a potential Oscar push for Will Smith, who portrays Omalu. Opposite him, Wilson took on the difficult task of portraying ridiculed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and finding his own defense for one of the most controversial men in American sports today.

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“I don’t think he’s a bad guy. The NFL is a juggernaut that’s already moving, and he’s just trying to keep it moving,” Wilson says. “Obviously it’s bad that they tried to cover up the brain injury to begin with, but even that you can kind of understand if you try. We just weren’t in an age with our understanding of mental health, and people weren’t as accepting of it. Today people are much better with that information. It’s almost like the Volkswagen situation; it sounds stupid that they would even try to get away with it. But I hope that VW will be a better company for getting caught. It’s clear that the NFL will be a better company at the end of this.”
When preparing for the part, Wilson noticed that the commissioner never seemed at ease. Never. “There is no such thing as a casual question for him,” Wilson notes. “He answers everything like he’s front and center at a senate hearing.”
Luckily for Wilson, he’s not really the commissioner, and rarely has to stand up to tougher questions than whether he’d prefer a latte or a handjob. So for now he plans to continue celebrating the almost accidental 20-year career that he loves, the ability to work with his brother frequently, and a brand new Calvin Klein suit.

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