It’s hit or miss when cast members from NBC’s “The Office” land themselves a lead role in a big-screen comedy. Steve Carell’s turn as The 40-Year-Old Virgin propelled his already growing popularity while John Krasinski, the show’s romantic everyman, just couldn’t appeal to enough swooning fans to make License to Wed a box office success. But like Carell, Rainn Wilson’s television alter-ago, beet farmer Dwight Schrute, is not exactly the most respected employee at Dunder Mifflin. Maybe that bodes well for the Seattle native, who will next be seen as the star of Peter Cattaneo’s The Rocker.
Wilson plays a washed-up former drummer of fictional 1980s hair band Vesuvius. Kicked out to appease the courting record label, Robert “Fish” Fishman lives the next 20 years full of resentment for the multi-platinum success of the band he helped create. Everything changes when that jealousy reunites Fish with his teenage nephew who, coincidentally, needs a drummer for his own rock band. Exposure by way of YouTube takes the has-been and his adolescent cohorts on the wild journey he missed out on earlier in life.
The role, for which Wilson had to learn to play drums, is a noticeable step up for the talent whose most recent movie role in Juno had him on screen for just minutes—albeit delivering one of the movie’s most memorable lines, “Your eggo is preggo.” After years of supporting roles in some of television’s most acclaimed dramas—including a turn as an apprentice undertaker on “Six Feet Under”—Wilson took on the bobble-head-loving office drone Schrute, which earned him an Emmy nomination in 2007.
Over the years, the 42-year-old thespian has contributed to films as varied as Galaxy Quest and House of 1000 Corpses, but with The Rocker he may have found his movie niche as the nerd who thinks himself too cool for school—1980s hair and all. The actor recently took 10 with MM to relive his career thus far.
1. When did you realize you wanted to be an actor?
I had this surreal experience in Boston in the mid-1980s where I had to make a life-changing decision. I was trying to decide whether to move to New York, go to NYU and become an actor or travel India for a year or two on a spiritual quest with my best friend.
On a gorgeous winter afternoon I stopped to catch a matinee of the terrible film version of A Chorus Line. I knew it was crappily made and sentimental as all hell, but when all those little aspiring actors were singing about trying to make it in New York and longing to be actors on Broadway, I started to weep.
I came out of the theater; the sun was setting, the snow was falling and I knew my course was clear. I said, ‘Fuck it,’ and went to India. Kidding.
I knew I needed to commit to trying to be the best actor I could be and undertake the best training I could find. I’ve never looked back. Thank you, A Chorus Line.
2. Which moviemaker, living or dead, inspires you most?
Paul Thomas Anderson. His films are so visceral and entertaining at the same time. They’re like gut punches. But tender, too. Like a gut punch and a butterfly kiss.
3. What is the one thing you can’t live without on set?
Some privacy. The set is a workplace of this forced, artificial social interaction. I love being social, but sometimes, to get some real work done and to connect with the character and reason I’m there, I need to really detach for a while. So I often use the Jacuzzi and sauna in Steve Carell’s huge trailer.
4. What is the goofiest thing a director has ever asked you to do for a film?
In Sahara, Breck Eisner had me doing some pretty far out things—jumping off boats, hiding in mud, shooting flare guns. But when I was asked to ride in the back of the “goat truck,” no one thought about the fact that the goats would all start peeing frantically. I was hiding in back of a truck full of goats, and with every take the lake of goat urine would wash over me. I was like a mint in a giant goat urinal.
5. As an actor, what are three things you look for in a script?
Good writing. Characters you care about. An arc of a story with a clear beginning, middle and end so that you can go on an emotional journey.
6. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten about acting?
An actor needs to separate his business from his art and craft. Put your business manager’s hat on when you’re dealing with things having to do with business. Then take that hat off and put your artist’s hat on when you are doing your work. Both sides need to be developed. As an actor, you are an artist and you’re running your own business.
7. What are three things you do to prepare for a film?
Rest up—film shoots are grueling in the extreme. Pay great attention to the details that help reveal character—wardrobe especially, but also props, make-up, hair and design elements. The right shoes or pants or shirt can do so much of the acting work for you.
Really track the arc of the character, their journey—where they start, where they end up and the bumps along the road; setbacks and obstacles; hopes and dreams. The audience has 97 minutes to go on a journey with you and this applies to supporting as well as lead characters.
8. Which movie features the best fictional rock band assembled for the screen?
That’s a no brainer: This Is Spinal Tap! Not only one of the best fictional rock bands, one of the greatest comedies ever made. There would be no “Office” without it.
9. Which popular actor from the 1980s would you like to see make a comeback?
He’s a bit more of a 1990s actor, but Dana Carvey is one of the world’s funniest people and someone needs to find something for him. He makes me pee goat pee all over myself.
10. If you were asked to describe your job in three words, what would they be?
Deeply pretend. I did it in two.
In honor of Rainn Wilson’s turn in The Rocker, MM is giving away DVD copies of “The Office” Season 4. Visit our Contests page for your chance to win!