Luke Wilson Explains Why He Signed Up for the Grueling Four-Part 'Horizon' Series

That voice! Luke Wilson’s slow-burn Texas drawl is so instantly recognizable that a phone introduction is laughably unnecessary. The actor also doesn’t need to apologize for requesting that our interview take place on a rainy holiday afternoon, but he does it anyway.

“I’m so sorry about this,” he says. “I didn’t know it was Memorial Day. I’ve been working nights out here in the middle of nowhere in Utah, and it just completely fries you.”

He’s referring to Chapter Three of the sprawling original film franchise Horizon: An American Saga—and it happens to be the biggest acting undertaking of Wilson’s career. Starring, co-written and directed by Kevin Costner, the saga chronicles various settlers in the 19th century venturing into a new land in Arizona. The first installment is now in theaters, with Chapter Two due Aug. 16.

Wilson, 52, plays Matthew Van Weyden, a military captain tasked with leading a wagon train. En route, he must deal with disputes and ensure that everyone contributes to the workload. “When Kevin hired me, he told me it’s not a black-hat and white-hat Western and the characters were not either all the way good or bad,” he explains. “This was a complicated time.”

Horizon is not Wilson’s first Western. He popped up in the 2007 film 3:10 to Yuma and 2015’s The Ridiculous Six with Adam Sandler (which he says does indeed count). Let’s just say it’s not his first rodeo, either. More than 30 years have passed since the actor made his onscreen debut alongside his older brothers Owen and Andrew in a 13-minute short called Bottle Rocket directed by Owen’s University of Texas pal Wes Anderson. The effort was so buzzy that the guys got the money to turn it into a full-length 1996 feature. Careers were promptly launched.

The youngest Wilson parlayed his relaxed charm and dark-haired good looks into a mix of high-profile movie and TV roles—nearly 100 in all. He’s still beloved as the kind-hearted Harvard law teaching assistant who advised Reese Witherspoon’s Elle Woods in 2001’s Legally Blonde. A different set of fans want to talk to him about his raunchy 2003 comedy Old School, in which he played a divorcee who starts a fraternity with his pals (Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn). Wilson is also quick to point out that he’s acted alongside the greats, from Gene Hackman (2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums) to Diane Keaton (2005’s The Family Stone). Most recently, he went the superhero route as Pat Dugan/S.T.R.I.P.E. in The CW’s Stargirl. (BTW, though he’s dated both Gwyneth Paltrow and Drew Barrymore, Wilson remains a bachelor.)

With that kind of work ethic, Wilson jokes that he’s not quite as easy-breezy as his onscreen persona implies. “Sometimes I wish I were more laid back!” he says. “I’ve definitely had people say to me, ‘Hey, people think you’re easy-going but you’re really wound up.’”

That said, Wilson only showed off his calm and cool side in this week’s Parade cover story.

Mara Reinstein: We’re talking just a week after Horizon’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in France. How was that?

Luke Wilson: I’ve been there a few times over the years just to sell a movie at the marketplace but I’ve never had a film at the festival. It was very moving to see 2,500 people inside the theater at the Palais being so respectful to Kevin and his body of work. And just being in the theater felt like hallowed ground. To have a new experience after 30 years of being in the business made me feel like a kid again.

What’s it like being directed by Kevin Costner?

I call him “KC” to keep it short! I've never been in the position where I'm getting directed by a person who could play my part to the hilt. So it's an interesting way to work. He gets compared to stoics like Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen, but you don’t know what a sensitive person he is until you get the chance to work with him. He’s just kind and intuitive.

Related: Kevin Costner Poses With 5 of His Kids at Red Carpet Premiere

How did he sell you on the time commitment?

That was another thing that appealed to me. I always enjoy reading about Hollywood history with movies like Apocalypse Now, and you hear about how it took two years to film and consumed people's lives. Nowadays, there are 19-day shoots where Shreveport is supposed to be Manhattan to save a buck. These epic productions don't come around often. So when Kevin hired me, he explained the plan and that I needed to be loyal to the project, whether it was a year or three years. I like the idea of being a part of a team, which is an unusual feeling in Hollywood.

Which movies inspired the Wilson brothers back in Dallas?

We didn't have a VCR at home, so we’d wind up watching our friends’ VHS tapes on their machine over and over. Stripes with Bill Murray always made us laugh. Once Upon a Time in America was a big movie for us. We loved Scarface, too. Or we’d see a poster for something like Escape from New York and think, OK, even though I'm 10 I've got to figure out a way to get into the theater for this because it’s Rated R! And we did!

When you did Bottle Rocket, did it feel like the beginning of a career to you?

Well, we were dedicated to movies without having made one. And when Owen met Wes Anderson at the University of Texas, things kicked into gear. On Bottle Rocket, I just loved being on a set with Owen and Wes and my brother Andrew and a few other friends we grew up with. But yeah, we did have the feeling that this would probably be the only movie we'd ever get to make. So it was a really happy time when Owen and Wes got a deal to do a second feature and wrote [1999’s] Rushmore. That felt like the beginning of a little bit of momentum or wind in our sails.

It seems like you and Owen don’t have any sort of sibling rivalry. How is that possible?

I mean, I feel like we're still so competitive when it comes to playing sports! In Hollywood, it’s like we're a part of the same company and root for each other. You know, it’s a tough enough business without having to feel like you're in a competition with someone you love and grew up with. So I've never felt it, and I know Owen doesn't feel it either.

Owen aside, who are some of your other favorite co-stars of all time?

Gene Hackman was unbelievable. He was a very formidable presence. He was a Marine and one of those guys that really put his time in before he became a star. So you felt that he was someone who had lived a life. Gene never left the set, never went back to his trailer and was always ready to work. My favorite part of my career is getting to work with the people that I grew up watching, whether it’s Gene or James Caan or Nick Nolte or Martin Sheen or Diane Keaton. All these guys are so interesting and fun and creative to be around.

You also worked with Reese Witherspoon, of course. When you first read the Legally Blonde script, did you honestly think it would be this phenomenon?

Oh, yeah. I had seen Reese in Election and just thought she was unbelievably funny. So I thought it seemed like a good funny kind of movie aimed at females. Then I'll never forget seeing Reese entering wardrobe for the first time and hearing the voice she was using and seeing her walk. There was a lot on the line with that movie, but she really took a chance and went for it. I’ve always admired her for that.

Related: Is 'Legally Blonde 3' Still Happening? Everything We Know So Far

Is that the movie fans always want to talk to you about?

Now I’m on the second generation! Girls who saw it when they were a little now have kids that are loving it.

What is the status of the third Legally Blonde film? Do you know something we don’t?

I really don't. I heard somebody was working on a script, but I don't know. I'd always be up to work with Reese again, but we would need a good, smart and funny script.

In the early aughts, you and Owen and Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell were tagged with a “Frat Pack” label. How did you feel about that?

I was glad that name really caught on! I’d see it and think Ugh, I don’t really love that. But I think Old School is a really well-made comedy. Sometimes it’s easy to take those comedies for granted just because it's such a rolling, raucous experience. But there’s good writing and directing, too. And I would have loved to have done an Old School sequel. There was once talk of one, and I still keep in touch with Will and Vince, so maybe it’s not too late.

Was there ever a time when you felt too famous?

I've always been kind of lucky in that I can go about my life. People that do come up to me are generally always nice and it’s nice to connect with them. I'm sure it's hard on those people that can’t move around without every move being documented.

So, what’s your life like when you’re not making movies? Are you the fun uncle?

I go back to Texas a lot. My mother [Laura] is in Dallas. I have a lot of friends in Austin, so I spend a lot of time back there. And then in Los Angeles, I’m always trying to get some writing done and get a few projects up and running. But other than that, I always like being around Owen and Andrew and their kids.

You really do give off a laid-back vibe. Is it a Texas thing?

I certainly feel like you wind up being a product of wherever you're from, whether you like it or not. I think it’s the same whether you’re from Brooklyn or a Midwesterner. People will kid around with me and Owen about our accents, but if you go to Dallas, these guys sound exactly like we do. You can't help but be affected.

Do you have to love what you do to be happy?

For sure. There are days where I'm like, OK, I have to do this 18 more times or I start counting the days I have left on something, even if I enjoy it. But on every single project, I’m always meeting people and learning something. I still have to put in the time so I come in prepared. So it's always different, and that's still the fun part of it. Like anything, the business has its ups and downs—but I love it.

Can you imagine doing anything else?

I don’t know. Maybe it would be fun to run a class on film, where I get to work with students and talk about certain movies. I can see myself doing that at some point. But as an older person!

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Next, Kevin Costner’s 'Horizon' Movie: Everything to Know about the Multi-Part Western