On Court with Luke Wilson

WHEN Luke Wilson first read the Royal Tenenbaums, the 2002 Oscar-nominated script cowritten by his brother Owen, and learned that his character, Richie Tenenbaum, was a tennis-star flame-out, memories came flowing back from his childhood days in Dallas. "My brothers (Owen and Andrew) and I would have spirited doubles matches, the three of us and my dad," Wilson says. "Sometimes racquets were thrown, but it was fun."

Wilson, 3r, an intermediate, says he had a blast portraying Richie and Credits Tenenbaums director and cowriter Wes Anderson with giving the character his tennis backstory. "Wes modelled him on Bjorn Borg," says Wilson, who stars with Kate Hudson in the film Alex and Emma, out this month.

Wilson, who has appeared in Legally Blonde, Charlie's Angels, and Old School, knows Tenenbaums was a hit with fans of the vintage tennis stars. " I saw ack Nicholson at a party and he was saying that he was a big tennis fan and that he thought I did a good job," Wilson says. "Then he whispers, "All those guys love me, Johnny Mac, Jimmy, Bjorn... ' "

Digging Dirt: "Fortunately, growing up, my family had access to a clay court in the neighborhood. Clay was the best — being able to slide around and read the ball marks. When I started playing on hard courts, I really missed the dirt."

Wilson VS. Penn: Wilson has been playing with actor Sean Penn on Penn's home court. " He's fast and in good shape. And he's a good sport. We're pretty evenly matched, and the last time we kept score. He beat me, but barely. It's worth noting that I wasn't feeling great."

Stand and Deliver: "I'm most happy with my serve. I've always been able to crank it and I've also added a lot of spin on it. And I've got a good second serve."

Method Acting: In preparing for Tenenbaums, "I played on clay in New York with (producer) Barry Mendel, who's a good player. He worked me hard. I finally complained. `Ah, Barry, you know I don't have to even play tennis well in the movie. Richie plays while he's having a breakdown.' "

Kevin O'Keefe