In “The Big Year,” opening Friday, Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin play three men who devote 365 consecutive days to spotting as many species of birds as they possibly can. But what do these three movie-comedy mainstays actually know about tracking down fox sparrows and arctic loons?
Black, 42, Wilson, 42, and Martin, 66, recently discussed their knowledge of the winged set — including birdcalls of the social-media variety, otherwise known as tweets — during a conference call from New York City, where the actors were promoting their film. Turns out that these three guys have little real-life birding experience and that Black and Wilson have much to learn about Twitter from the genius 140-character-missive-sender that is Martin.
Jack Black: I had none. I was introduced to the wonderful world of birding through this script. I didn’t know that there was competitive birding. I don’t think most people do. Most people think it’s just a thing [where] you wander around with your binoculars. As with all things, of course, there’s a competitive element to it.
Owen Wilson: No, not so much. I think like most people, [my experience was] just sometimes noticing a beautiful bird. Or — is that a hawk? You know, things like that.
Steve Martin: Or — is that a bird?
Wilson: “Is that a bird?” “No, it’s Steve’s dog.”
Martin: For me, I’m going along with Jack’s answer, only just better put. [Martin’s answer is briefly interrupted by Wilson’s and Black’s laughter]. Just better phrased. I knew there was such a thing as a bird-watcher, or, as we say now, birder. That I definitely learned — you don’t call them a bird-watcher. You call them a birder. But I did not know there was competitive bird-watching. You know, I’m just rephrasing Jack.
Martin: I’ll give you something that I’ll just say my ex-wife said once. Somebody approached her; they’d sort of met a couple of times. And the person said, “I’d really like to become friends with you.” And my ex-wife said, “No, honestly, I already have enough friends. I don’t have time for any more friends in my life.” That’s the way I feel. I just don’t have time for another thing in my life.
Black: I can see going on a mission to see certain birds, but I can’t see taking a year out for birding. I’d like to go see the largest of the birds. I’m a sucker for a big bird. . . . Those big wingspans are so majestic. It only takes one flap every minute or something and glides for days. Gorgeous creatures. I think the birds of prey — it’s the talons that draw me in.
Wilson: Wasn’t that a Fat Boy Slim album?
Black: “It’s the Talons”? I don’t know.
Black: I’m not active at all on Twitter. So if you think that I am active, there’s a fraud out there.
Wilson: Really the only Twitter I’ve seen is some of Steve’s, because my friend follows Steve’s Twitter. So he’s sent me funny ones that Steve has done and said, “This is what you could do with Twitter.”
Martin: You’re not on Twitter?
Wilson: I’m not on Twitter and I’m not on Facebook. I’m really just not very computer savvy.
Black: I think we should be. I think we’d better get on Twitter just to prevent the fake Owens and Jacks.
Wilson: Why shouldn’t we let them have their place in the sun? They’d do better than me. So is there a fake Jack Black Twitter?
Black: But he’s not saying despicable things that would be like, “I heart racism,” and stuff like that?
Wilson: We’re on the fence. Sell us. Go.
Martin: I only did it on a lark because my friend Tom Hanks was doing it. I’ll tell you why I actually started it. Because, you know, I was doing a book, for example. And I would go on television shows to promote the book. And I realized that the people who are probably interested in my book that watch a television show like, say “The View” — and let’s say the audience is 4 million — are probably 50. Seriously, out of 4 million people. So I thought, if you have Twitter followers, they’re kind of by definition already interested in what you’re doing. So I started a Twitter feed.
But then it changed for me, and it became a very noncommercial thing. It became a humor outlet, and I started writing little one-liners and little stories and that actually transformed my intent. Then when it came along [and was] time to talk about the book, I actually found that the very same thing was true. That out of like — you know, now I have a million and seven followers but at the time I had 300- or 400,000. Out of those 3- or 400,000, about 50 people were interested in your book.
Martin: Not really, no.
Martin: It has been fun and I’m still doing it. It’s made me a little better as a writer. When I need material, I think, “Oh, I can do this. I do this almost every day on Twitter.”