Owen Wilson: 'Voice-overs are a pure form of acting... it's total make believe'
Owen Wilson is back in the driving seat for Cars 3, but both Lightning McQueen and him are feeling their age. The actor tells Laura Harding why getting older isn't all it's cracked up to be, but he's still a kid at heart.
Lightning McQueen was once the fastest car on the track. The fictional stock car blew away the competition and helped propel the first animated Cars movie to the title of the most profitable Disney Pixar film of all time.
Cars 3 comes 11 years after the first instalment was released and Lightning is older and fending off competition from younger, more technologically-advanced rookies.
The same might be said for 48-year-old Owen Wilson, who has lent his voice to the character for all three movies, as well as numerous toys, rides, games and spin-offs.
He has aged just as much as Lightning - and he's feeling it.
"I wonder if my voice has changed from the first one," he says. "Do people's voices change as they get older?
"For an actor you play a certain type of role in your 20s and 30s and I don't know if those roles would be appropriate for me now.
"I kind of felt that at least I didn't have to worry about that in the animated world, the ageing, and then I get this script for Cars 3 and even Lightning McQueen is getting older.
"Is nothing safe from the ravages of time? It is brutal."
Wilson is aware he's not far off 50, but says of ageing: "It's more something that I would ignore or pretend isn't happening than something where I'm thinking 'yes I can't wait to get older'. When you're a kid you like getting older, but once you're older I don't know that you like getting older."
When it's put to him that the passage of time might bring with it a greater sense of contentment, he replies: "I guess that is the sort of thing you can say to console yourself."
The young new pretender threatening to topple Lightning from the top spot is rookie Jackson Storm, who is voiced by The Social Network star Armie Hammer. As Hammer says: "Jackson Storm epitomises the next-gen racers. They're young, brash and confident. Jackson Storm is newer and faster."
But our hero finds a new sense of purpose when he meets innovative trainer Cruz Ramirez, voiced by Cristela Alonzo, who helps him discover he has an important contribution to make, and Wilson says this idea particularly resonated with him as a father to two little boys.
He says: "As parents you try to teach your children. You want them to learn the lessons you've learned along the way and hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls. I think it applies to the world of Cars, too.
"One of the most important things in life is finding those mentors. For me, when I was just starting out, it was James L Brooks. He brought Wes Anderson and me out to Los Angeles and produced our first movie [Bottle Rocket]. He worked with us for a year on the script.
"To have somebody like that take the time to help us get that movie made - it made all the difference in our lives."
Collaboration is an important part of Wilson's career - until 2012's Moonrise Kingdom he had either helped write or starred in every film Anderson, his college roommate, had made.
He has also starred in 11 films with Ben Stiller, his pal of more than 20 years, so for an actor who works so closely and so frequently with other creatives, it must be strange for him to return to the relatively solitary life of the voice-over booth to make the Cars films.
He said: "A few times they would bring in other actors for some sessions, Bonnie Hunt I worked with on Cars 2 and with Paul Newman (who voiced Doc Hudson in Cars before his death in 2008) we had a day together, and then Cruz Ramirez and Lightning McQueen, we recorded together on the same day.
"But it is mostly by yourself but in a way it's a more pure form of acting, in the sense that it's child-like and how you are as a kid when it's total make believe, and luckily I'm very in touch with that and I'm able to do it.
"I think and I would hope that I'm not too cynical.
"When you're beginning, it's new and then you've done something for over 20 years, but it's still that feeling of when you feel like you did a good job or came up with an idea to make the story better always makes you feel good."
Now Wilson is more interested in taking control, musing: "I would love to write something, I started off as a writer, at some point I would like to maybe try writing again.
"I think because it's one thing to act, where you are sort of serving somebody else's vision and within that you may contribute ideas, but obviously if you're writing something from start to finish then it's more a reflection of your sensibility. It would be nice to do that again."
Wilson will next be seen in person in Wonder, an adaptation of the book of the same name about a little boy with facial differences who enters a mainstream school for the first time.
He stars opposite Julia Roberts (left) and Room's Jacob Tremblay in the movie, which will be released in the UK in December, and he has also wrapped production on comedy Who's Your Daddy, opposite The Hangover's Ed Helms and Glenn Close.
So where does that leave the future of Cars?
"I don't know," Wilson admits. "Right now it's a trilogy and I felt the story completed the circle in a way. It was done in a moving way so if this was the last one it would be a nice one, but if they came up with a new idea I would certainly be doing it."
Cars 3 is in cinemas now