Make no mistake, it takes a strong man — think Denzel Washington in Crimson Tide, Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, and Will Smith in Enemy of the State — to get in the face of Gene Hackman, whose long resume boasts many rigid roles. As such, Owen Wilson — who had the excellent fortune to be on Robert De Niro's good side in Meet the Parents — chose to capitalize on any intimidation he felt when working opposite the two-time Oscar winner in Behind Enemy Lines (opening Friday).

"Even though you know it's a movie, and cameras are rolling, when Gene Hackman is hard on you, it's kind of scary," admits Wilson, who plays a restless subordinate to Hackman's Navy admiral in the military thriller. "He's an intimidating guy!

"As a result, it was believable for me to play those [combative] scenes," Wilson adds. "It's nice the way that worked in the movie."

Others working with Hackman for the first time included the many real-life Navy pilots assigned to the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier that played host to the Behind Enemy Lines shoot. "It isn't a cockiness, but a real confidence, that pilots have," Wilson observes. "I've noticed a lot of people get starstruck talking to Gene Hackman, but these pilots... Sure, they were excited to meet him, but they know they have the best job in the world, that what they're doing is important.

"The feeling you get is that these are the best people we could have out there," adds the actor, filled with admiration for the flyboys who now are stationed off the Arabian peninsula. "These are the people we want defending our country."