Gregory Pace/Corbis Sygma
Josh Wolk
May 29, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Owen Wilson may be a native Texan, but the 32-year-old actor (”Armageddon”) grew up with none of the Western training necessary to play Jackie Chan’s bank-robber sidekick in the new $60 million action comedy ”Shanghai Noon.” So early last year, when Wilson was in his home town of Dallas penning a new script with his ”Rushmore” cowriter Wes Anderson (the project’s a comedy about a clan of genius New Yorkers), he had to take constant breaks for cowboy school. ”Every day I’d have to get a pass from our writing sessions to go take horseback riding and fast-draw lessons,” Wilson tells EW Online. ”That’s one of the best things about acting. You think about working as a doctor or selling real estate, but in what other job is the work developing a fast draw?”

Wilson’s new gunslinging skills came in handy for more than just the movie. Last Thanksgiving, he trotted out his play guns and gave an exhibition for his family, who had no idea he’d been practicing. ”I started doing a little bit of the twirling, and they were freaking out,” says Wilson. ”It was like if I couldn’t dance at all and then suddenly went some place with my brothers and started moving like Travolta.”

When it came to horsemanship, though, Wilson was no urban cowboy. He never quite clicked with the animals, and only stayed in the saddle as long as he needed to. ”All the time I would say, ‘Maybe I could just be LEADING my horse in this shot rather than riding him,”’ says Wilson. Beats dancing with him.

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