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You may know Rainn Wilson primarily from his work on The Office, but hopefully a lot of cinematic doors will open for the 42 year old actor this year with the release of the The Rocker. In the film Wilson plays a washed up heavy metal drummer with a major chip on his sholder – a far cry from his dweeby, vaguely creepy character on The Office. In an interview with the L.A. press, Wilson was funny and charming and talked a lot about his commitment to comedy, the travails of being an actor, and what dealing with rabid Office fans is like.
Emma Stone talked about how she had to keep a straight face during the filming of the movie. Did you see that as a challenge, trying to make her crack a smile?
Yeah it’s great fun. Something we do on The Office a lot, knowing when people need to have deadpan faces and you have the opportunity to make them laugh. You should always go for that and always try and break people.
It must have been great fun to develop your drumming technique and all the faces that go with it. Was that always part of it or did it just happen naturally?
I started taking some drum lessons when I got cast in this. The guy also worked with me a lot on being a specifically heavy metal drummer. That’s a whole other art form. You can play guitar, but lead guitar in a metal band is a whole different thing. Working the crowd, getting the crowd riled up, using the kick drum, stick tricks, cuing the pyrotechnics, getting the audience involved is all part of heavy metal drumming. That really informed the character a lot. Fish is such a heart on his sleeve kind of guy and a heavy metal drummer is all about having a good time and propelling the crowd to have a good time.
Was there any drummer that inspired you?
No drummer specifically. We studied a lot of different drummers and looked at a lot of YouTube videos of a lot of heavy metal drummers. We just tried to capture that essence of what the heavy metal drummer does.
Is music a big part of your life?
Music is a huge part of my life and always has been. I grew up listening to classic rock and then around 1982 or so, when I was in high school, somebody gave me a tape of the Clash and that changed my whole life. I loved the Clash and lot of that British Invasion of time, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, and XTC. Then I discovered punk in reverse and X and Black Flag and Dead Kennedys from California. Right around the mid-80’s when hair metal was taking off, I was going the other direction. I listen to a lot of music, I go to a lot of concert, and collect a lot of new bands, a lot of alternative bands. It was really fun when on promotion for this film I went up to the Sasquatch Music Festival in Washington State and got to see a lot of cool bands and promote The Rocker. Hopefully I’ll be going to some more rock shows.
It’s harder for young people to identify with this but as you get older you have to give up some dreams, which is what your character Fish goes through. You’ve been able to make your dreams come true with acting but did you hit a point when you doubted that?
I think I have a lot in common with Fish in that way. I always was an actor and I was always making a living as an actor but I didn’t get famous until I was in my late 30’s and didn’t become a celebrity until I hit 40. This is a whole second life for me as an actor. I had my whole life working in theater and doing small parts in films and TV for years and years. Now, hosting SNL or doing the MTV Movie Awards, and starring in a movie, it’s a whole other ballgame. I remember being in New York and I ran into an old friend of mine who I’d done a Midsummer’s Night Dream with. She said to me, “Let’s face it Rainn, you and I are never going to be movie stars.” I kind of thought that what she said didn’t sit right with me. I wasn’t going to give up so easily and so early, I wanted to see the acting thing through to the bitter end.
One of the messages in the movie is about holding grudges. How does that apply to an acting life?
There’s a certain point in everyone’s life where you need to let something from the past go so you can live your life in the present. Fish gets to experience that on a big scale. We all have things we wished would’ve happened. There comes a certain point where you realize it’s your life and you’re living it.
Did you get the sense of being a rock star when you were doing the arena scene in the film?
All actors want to be rock stars and all rock stars want to be actors. I’ve never experienced what that’s like. I’ve done Broadway and had an audience of 1,500 or 2,000 but I’ve never had 20,000, 40,000 screaming fans with lighters and beach balls and Frisbees and t-shirts. I would love to experience that. We got a little taste of it in the scenes in the movie, but it’d be awesome.
Do you enjoy being naked?
I always enjoy taking my clothes off to comedic effect. I’ve been making women laugh with my naked body for the last 20 years and hopefully audiences across America will find it just as amusing as many of the ladies.
Were you always comfortable with nudity?
I’ve always been comfortable with my body. It is what it is. I’m just a character guy, I’m never going to look like Brad Pitt. So why not just enjoy taking my clothes off for comedic effect?
When you got Peter Cattaneo’s script, did you think, “Where’s the Full Monty scene?”
In this case it was the naked drummer scene. Peter’s very good at using naked men to reach his goals.
Do you have the idea that there should be no shame in comedy?
A lot of comedy is about commitment. I’m definitely in the commitment school of comedy where you throw yourself in 100%, entering the character, and going balls out. Not standing back and commenting on it or winking at it or being better than it. You can’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. I hope that never changes for me.
There were a few scenes in the movie that were pretty absurd and didn’t seem quite real. Does that attitude help you get through scenes like that?
I don’t really worry about that. We do that on The Office all the time. People will be like, “That couldn’t happen, that’s not real.” Then you hear about things in real life that are way more absurd than anything you do on a TV show. The Office is supposed to be a documentary about the workplace but we’ve done some of the most absurd stuff. Like raccoons in cars, vomit, urine, and paintball, fire alarms: you name it, we’ve done it. If you keep it grounded enough and you keep people believing in the story, you can do as absurd stuff as you want and make it real.
Is The Office on hiatus right now or are you filming it?
We’re on hiatus.
You’re in Transformers 2 coming up. What drew you to it?
I’d never seen a Michael Bay movie and I really should start with Transformers 1 to get prepared. I love the idea of doing a giant big budget movie and doing a small part. It’s basically a cameo. I enjoy doing that kind of thing. I was like, “What the hell!”
What’s happening with Bonzai Shadowhands?
Bonzai Shadowhands is almost done. Jason Reitman read a draft and we’ve been working on a second draft. We’ve got something we’ll be shooting in 2009.
You have a terrific working relationship with Jason Reitman. Is it cool having somebody whose comic sensibility meshes with yours?
Comedy doesn’t come in a vacuum. It comes out of collaboration. If you’re making a comedic movie you need a great script and a great director and a great actor and you need to find that common ground. I’m always looking for people that want to collaborate. I was fortunate to find Jason and get going with some projects with him early on in his career before Juno.
Do you watch your cast mates from The Office’s movies?
None of our movies have done so well. It’s just a numbers game, really. You try and make the best decision you can, but we see all each other’s movies. I think they’re all just tremendous actors. I’ll always go see a John, Jenna, or Steve movie for as long as they’re working. I hope they’ll come and see The Rocker. This is an official invitation: if you guys aren’t so busy, come see The Rocker, it opens on August 1st. Steve? Please?
In talking about the work on The Office, you guys have reached a folk hero status. Are you cool with that?
The great thing about The Office is that it grew slowly in popularity so people kind of discovered the show on their own. They have a deeper affinity for it and people really have a connection to the show and take it personally. They just love the characters. There’s a particular kind of fan for The Office that might be different than a fan of a bigger TV Show. People might enjoy watching it but with The Office they’re so invested. People that I meet are like, “No, you don’t understand. I watch the show. I love the show. You don’t understand.” No, I really, really understand!