Obvious History: Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson staged a break-in in their apartment

Published March 29, 2018

WES ANDERSON AND OWEN WILSON PHOTOGRAPHED AFTER SECURING FUNDING FOR THEIR FIRST FILM. PHOTO: UNKNOWN

In collaboration with @velvetcokeObvious History is a weekly series which unearths forgotten moments in pop culture’s past, where the famous and the fascinating collided.

Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson were roommates at the University of Texas at Austin. The two met in 1989, their sophomore year, in a play writing class. Wilson would bring newspapers to class, feverishly reading them during group seminars—this intrigued a pedantic young Anderson, so they struck up a friendship whose lowest common denominator was a shared love for directors like Cassavetes, Peckinpah, Scorsese, Altman, Malick and Huston. Soon after, they moved in together and began talking about collaborating on a film.

The apartment they lived in wasn’t exactly The Ritz. The window cranks were broken, which became a source of constant frustration for the new roomies. The landlord refused to fix them. Fed up, Anderson and Wilson hatched a plan. They would stage a break-in of the apartment and the landlord would be forced to acquiesce to their demands. They removed furniture and made it appear as though the “bandits” used the windows as their port of entry. They then called the cops, explaining the situation to the authorities with their landlord present. Both thought it was a crock and the situation didn’t get resolved.

So Anderson and Wilson stopped paying rent. The landlord, in retaliation, nicked their stuff as collateral. Anderson and Wilson decided to leave. “We ended up moving in the middle of the night, and he hunted us down with a private investigator,” Anderson told L.A. Weekly in 1999. “I went to meet [the landlord], and I proposed doing this project.”

What began as a summit to quash any ill will between the renters and their landlord ended up as a meeting to discuss making a documentary to promote Carl Hindler Properties.

“He believed in, like, death penalties for drunk driving, burglary, and he had this pet snake that died and that he had given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which didn’t work. I said, ‘Well, what was the snake’s name?’ And he said, ‘Ah, we didn’t really give it a name, we just called it baby, or snake.’ And I said, ‘Uh, well, what did you do with the snake after it died?’ And he said, ‘I have it in the freezer in the back. I’d like to take it to a taxidermist.’”

Ostensibly, their failed attempt to stage a realistic looking break-in became the inspiration for Anderson’s first feature film, Bottle Rocket—a heist drama about a staged break-in that morphs into a hilarious crime caper. When God closes a door…