BURBANK, Calif. (AP) — Steve Martin got the title of his latest bluegrass album from the world of bird-watching. Jack Black had a recurring dream in high school that he could fly like a bird. Owen Wilson bagged a bunch of Styrofoam decoys the one time he went duck hunting.
The three play avid birders in “The Big Year,” a comedy opening Friday that chronicles an annual competition to see who can spot the most species in one year.
Martin, Black and Wilson sat down to discuss the film, the world of birding and their own obsessions backstage before an appearance on “The Tonight Show” to promote “The Big Year.”
AP: Had any of you gone birding before you did this movie?
Wilson: I’ve done it in the sense of walking along and you notice a hawk or a bird or something, and that isn’t a big jump from that to birding.
Martin: I think you’re going to make a lot of birders angry by saying, “Well, walking along, and it’s not a big jump.” I think they think it’s a big, big jump.
Wilson: But I think any awareness of birds they probably would applaud.
Martin: I think birders would be upset. There’s a huge amount of stuff to learn. It’s not just like walking along. Don’t say that out there tonight. It’s OK to say it in front of millions and millions of people in print.
AP: Then you can just say that I misquoted you.
AP: Any other birding experiences?
Wilson: Putting out a bird feeder.
Martin: Shooting birds?
Black: Buying one of those duck-calling horns?
Wilson: Duck hunting. Have you ever been duck hunting?
Black: No, I’ve never been on any kind of hunt whatsoever. Have you gone duck hunting?
Wilson: Yeah, once.
Black: Did you take a dog? Did you take a pooch?
Wilson: No, we went in a boat. We were like 10 or 11. I went with this friend, and his dad was a big hunter. ... We were going along in the boat half-asleep. All of a sudden, we see some ducks in the water. I found out later you’re not even supposed to shoot them when they’re in the water. They’re supposed to be flying. And we just start blasting. And Styrofoam flies up. They were decoys that other hunters put up in front of their blinds. So we’re just blasting away, Styrofoam just going up in the air. That was the only duck I ever shot.
AP: Steve, ever been birding before this?
Martin: No, but my wife’s a birder, so I learned through osmosis. And of course, I’ve played “Angry Birds.” That’s the extent of it.
AP: You did use a birding term for your latest banjo album, “Rare Bird Alert.”
Martin: That actually came from the movie, learning the vernacular. I wrote the song called “Rare Bird Alert” while I was on this movie, and my wife had a suggestion. She said, “That’s a really good title for a song, ‘Rare Bird Alert.’” It made sense, also. It’s a real thing birders can call up.
AP: Jack, birding?
Black: I have not caught the fever. ... I’ve actually tried to get hooked, but the stumbling block is you look at a bird, and it’s moving, and it stops for a second, and you’re like, how am I going to remember what I’m looking at right now? You have to take a picture and then compare it to a phone-book-sized book of birds, of species. How am I going to match this? How am I going to find out what I just saw? It’s going to take me hours. That’s not going to happen without the compulsion.
AP: What compulsions have grabbed you over the years?
Black: I was really very interested in theater in high school and getting up on the stage, and the craft, and acting and improvisation. I remember in high school, I had a recurring dream, and this is pretty on the nose with regards to its meaning. I dreamt that I was in the theater at my high school, and I had the power of flight, and I would fly around the theater, and people would be amazed at my power of flight. Then I would fly outside into the lunch area and just immediately lost my powers of flight. I’m just walking around.
Martin: Boy, is that an easy dream to interpret. I could interpret that dream. Wow.
AP: Steve, obsessions?
Martin: I have been, I would say, obsessed by different things at different times. I’ve been obsessed with magic tricks, playing the banjo, been obsessed with juggling. I was obsessed with the unicycle for a while.
Wilson: Was that difficult, the unicycle?
Martin: It was. The hardest thing is getting up on it. Once you’re up on it, then you can sort of do it, but getting up on it was really hard, and I never really mastered that.
Wilson: Jack, did you do that also?
Black: Unicycling? Yes, I did. I had some circus training, yes.
Martin: I’m telling you, that’s a movie. The two of us on unicycles. Crime-fighting unicycle guys.
AP: Owen, obsessions?
Wilson: Not so much. Maybe what Steve was saying, for a short time, and that’s a good feeling. I find when you can just lose yourself in something, I like that feeling, but it usually sort of runs its course. But something about the competition, like playing a friend in pingpong, or we got into playing this soccer game on the tennis court when I was a kid. I was the kid in the neighborhood where I would get into a game and I could just play it all the time. I couldn’t find someone who would play it as much as me. I always was wishing I had a twin that could, like, match me for my interest in something.
AP: Do you appreciate birds more now?
Martin: I notice more birds. I definitely do. But I’m like a three-bird man. Hummingbird, hawks, owls. But owls are very hard to see. ... Oh, woodpeckers I like. I can identify a woodpecker.
Wilson: Yeah, I’d like to see a woodpecker. I would add a cardinal.
Martin: I don’t know what a cardinal looks like.
Martin: I know what the pope looks like.
Wilson: And a blue jay. Those would be the two I would add.
Black: The eagles are the most impressive to me. Just because in my child’s brain, I just like the most powerful, vicious ones.