Rainn Wilson teaches Capone how to be THE ROCKER!!
Published at: Aug. 19, 2008, 9:21 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
First off, if you're experiencing a bit of deja vu, it is justified. Quint's interview with Rainn Wilson ran about a month ago, and it's not only quite good, but it's also as thorough as any Rainn Wilson interview needs to be. You can skip over to his interview for the proper introductory thoughts on Wilson. I've been watching the American version of "The Office" from Day One, and a big part of the reason is Dwight Schrute. But my history with Wilson goes back to his small but memorable roles in GALAXY QUEST and ALMOST FAMOUS. But I really took notice of his with his memorable role in Rob Zombie's HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES and his sweet romantic subplot on Seasons 3 and 4 of HBO's "Six Feet Under." Quint already alluded to Wilson's wonderful spin on a Harry Knowles-like character on the Comic-Con episode of "Entourage."
Wilson's film choices of late have been a little dubious with roles in MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND and THE LAST MIMZY, but his opening-scene cameo in JUNO almost makes up for those.
When it came time to sit down with Wilson, I suspected he'd be a fun, laid-back guy to talk to, and he was all that and more. His latest film, and his first in the starring role, is the very silly affair known as THE ROCKER. Here's our supplemental Rainn Wilson interview for those of you who just can't get enough. Oh and be aware, we did this interview back in June. So some of the time-specific references are a little dated. Also, I felt I should put a Spoiler box around this because he does talk a bit about the ending of the film. You wouldn't want the suspense ruined now, would you? Enjoy…
Capone: Did I hear someone say this was your last interview of the day?
Rainn Wilson: Last one, baby.
Capone: Oh what a horrible position for me to be in. I’m the only thing that stands between you and freedom.
RW: [Looks at the recorder] This is cool. Is it also a phone or something?
Capone: No no no. It’s just a fairly expensive digital recorder, yeah.
RW: Just a surround sound kind of thing?
Capone: It is; it sounds great with headphones.
Capone: It just occurred to me this morning, and I’m glad I remembered it, that you kind of played a version of the guy that runs our site.
RW: I was Harry Knowles!
Capone: That’s right and he was very proud of that recognition. Did they actually say that to you?
RW: No, it was so funny because there were a couple actors that I think were offered the part. Who is the guy on "30 Rock"? Judah Friedlander! I think they offered it to him, and I remember running into him and he was like “Yeah man, but I know Harry Knowles and I just didn’t want to do it…” I think all of these people turned it down, because they didn’t want to piss him off or something like that. I was like “I don’t give a fuck… Harry Knowles, of course he is one of the most powerful movie reviewers, but it’s like big deal! He’s going to be happy. It’s homage to him, because it’s a new kind of position that has been created. He’s the Roger Ebert of the internet! He’s going to be thrilled.” All of these actors were just terrified of “Oh, what's Harry Knowles going to think?” Like the wrath of Harry Knowles, like “come on, he’s going to be thrilled.”
Capone: I don’t think he has actually ever gone after someone who has poked at him before. Plus you end up with porn stars at the end?
RW: With strap ons!
Capone: Who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity? I was at the Q&A last night, just to sort of sit in and watch, because I was in the theater anyways and you have a really high tolerance for very silly questions.
RW: Uh huh. There was a lot of that going on.
Capone: Yeah, maybe more than I have ever seen. Was there a defining incident or something that happened to you where you realized “Wow this "Office" thing has created fanatics… actual fanatics” around the show.
RW: There was a series of things that happened, like right during the second season and we had almost been cancelled and not picked up a whole bunch of different times, "The Office" was one of the first shows offered on iTunes on those video iPods that started to come out and we are walking through the mall and a kid goes “Hey, wait a minute, you are on my iPod!” and pulls it out and holds it up and there is my face on his iPod in his pocket. And then not long after I was in an airport and a baggage handler said “Oh my God, look” and he holds up his cell phone and shows it to me and there’s the phrase “I can and do cut my own hair.” He goes “My daughter and I, we text Dwightisms back and forth to each other, we text Dwight quotes to each other.” At that point I was like “You know what? We are going to be around for a while if people are responding like that. They are not just watching the show. It’s not just like "King of Queens" or something, like “Oh this is an amusing way to spend 22 minutes and maybe I will chuckle a few times." People are so invested that they are carrying our show in their pockets and they are sending quotes back and forth? It’s a different kind of thing.
Capone: Yeah, it is and I don’t think I even realized it until last night really, just that the people were talking to you like they thought it was OK to be obnoxious and claim that you were the father of their child. It seems like every cast member of the four main guys all have movies like right now. John’s movie [LEATHERHEADS] came out a few weeks back; Jenna has THE PROMOTION. Though I keep forgetting THE ROCKER doesn’t come out until August, but still you have all got these movies. Time management must be so critical among the people on the show, because I realize you do these sometimes in the breaks, but I know that Steve made something, was it EVAN ALMIGHTY, while the show was happening.
RW: DAN IN REAL LIFE happened in a mini hiatus, in November or December while shooting "The Office," and he might be doing the same thing this year.
Capone: OK, but that is unreal. You guys are that high demand, and yet you are all so committed to the show. And you have refused to make the choice, you have said “I’m going to either do both, or it’s the show.” It’s not like you are quick to defect or anything like that.
RW: Yeah, we are all under contract in the show, so we are not going anywhere and we get the best of both worlds. We have the best day job in the world and then we can do movies on the side and try to get a movie career going when the TV show is done and it works out great, you know?
Capone: Yeah. Do you guys go to each other’s movies and have you been keeping up? I just saw GET SMART just yesterday.
RW: How did you like it?
Capone: I thought it was really good actually. I have got to admit…
RW: With the trailer, it’s hard for me to read if it’s funny or not.
Capone: You see, I think the trailer is not that good, but the movie is actually really funny, and I was glad that I was laughing as much as I was, so yeah it’s good. THE ROCKER is actually much broader than what I have seen you do before, because I have seen you do drama… I’ve seen you do a different kind of more subtle humor, but I think you said last night, you are all about the crotch punches and stumbling.
RW: You know I have always loved physical comedy. I grew up watching Marx Brothers and Jerry Lewis and Chevy Chase and Jim Carrey, and I love that kind of physical silliness. There is just this part of me where I just giggle like a 12 year old when I see that stuff when it is done well.
Capone: You think you are good at it? This is really your first big test of physical comedy.
RW: I think Dwight does a lot of physical comedy on the show. They often write physical stuff for me to do on the show. Am I good at it? I don’t know. You tell me. I really enjoy it, so it’s a lot of fun.
Capone: I liked Fish’s… well there are a few things that I want to talk about, but one is that he clearly has some sort of sweat gland issue.
RW: Yeah [laughs]. He is one of the sweatiest characters in the history of cinema.
Capone: Because the first big laugh I had in the movie was when you were hugging all of the guys in the band and they came away just completely drenched.
RW: Yeah, completely doused, yeah.
Capone: Regular drummers are just there pounding aware, they are drumming and kind of behind everybody. Metal drummers play like they want to be as noticed as the guys in the front. They refuse to be ignored. I mean really when you watch someone like Tommy Lee, he is putting on a show that if you are paying attention to him you can almost get fixated on him. He’s just flailing and making faces. Did you study that sort of behavior?
RW: Yeah, I talked a little bit about that at the Q&A, but the drum coach I worked with, we watched tons of YouTube clips of heavy metal drummers, and their stunts are absolutely outrageous. I mean half of the time they are standing up behind the kit throwing their drum sticks, tearing their shirts off, you know their job is to get the audience riled up and get the audience on their feet. That double kick drum “Doom doom doom.” They have a very special role in rock and roll. They don’t take themselves quite so seriously. They are the showmen… Kind of showmen monkeys.
Capone: And you had, I think that Fish had a gong, but I don’t think he used it.
RW: Oh I used the gong.
Capone: Oh did you use it?
RW: Oh yeah, it’s there. It’s even in the trailer.
Capone: I don’t remember that! When was that?
RW: It’s in the montage.
Capone: Oh, OK, so do we actually hear it?
RW: I think you hear it.
Capone: OK, I didn’t remember that. I apologize for missing that. The other thing about the movie is that there is a fantastic “Who’s Who” of these great improv guys in some of the supporting parts, from the guys in the band to Jane Lynch and Jeff Garlin. That must have been pretty exciting just to have those people around and there must be tons of footage that we will hopefully see at some point.
RW: Well there’s a lot of footage. I don’t know how much extra improve stuff they kept, but extra scenes certainly. I know there were a lot of scenes cut out of the movie, but that was one of the things that was really important to the director and the producers and all of us was like “Let’s have everyone be funny in this movie. Let’s not have one of these movies were the lead guy is funny and no one else is. We want everyone to shine,” so even down to the tiniest parts like Aziz Ansari played in it from "Human Giant" and Demetri Martin as the music video director and even the tiniest roles we tried to always get someone really cool in.
Capone: It’s cool that it’s not just people reacting to you, it’s like they are also being funny. I know that music is such a big deal to you, because I listen to Steve Jones radio on the internet sometimes, so I heard when you filled in for him. I don’t know if you have done it more than once, but I heard that time when you did it and some friend of mine, who also listens to it said “Hey ask him if he can give you a list of the songs he played,” because he wanted to know what some of the stuff was.
RW: Oh, I have it on my computer upstairs, because I burned the playlist.
Capone: She wanted to know what the songs were and I’m like “OK, I’ll try to find out,” but how important was it for you that the songs in this movie be fairly credible as stand alone songs and not just some chest little soundtrack in the background.
RW: Yeah, from the beginning there was certain things that I fought for really hard, but we were all on the same page. It’s not like I was fighting this fight, but I was saying to the producers from the beginning “These songs have to sound not like the cheesy Hollywood pop that we always have. They have got to sound kind of rough and raw and have an indie flavor, granted they need to be accessible songs that everyone who goes to see the movie, whether they are 12 years old or they are 50 years old can enjoy, so it can’t be too specific and indie, but we talked about stuff like Fountains of Wayne being a great indie band and also a great pop band, you know and just that kind of being the feel musically for what we were going for. I made compilations for everyone of my favorite songs. I made a "Big Rocker" compilation and went “Here’s the feel of the songs I imagine” and the composer made a compilation. It was Ben Lee to Ben Kweller… I remember the song that I heard to me that felt that summed up the music in the movie was “Penny on a Train Track,” by Ben Kweller. You know that song?
Capone: Yeah, sure.
RW: It’s kind of small and indie feeling, but it’s really kind of majestic at the same time and I think that’s what they were going for.
Capone: It’s good. It sounds pretty authentic actually. You mentioned last night the alternate ending, that this ending that we saw was just a last minute truncated version of the one. How do you feel about the change? You almost sounded like you preferred the other version or maybe you were just used to it, I don’t know, but how do you feel about it?
RW: I was fighting for the other version, but that being said there is something to be said about… I walked in about five minutes before it was over and it was really nice to hear the crowd just really… Like it just soared on the music. They do the curtain call and they play this song and then he gets up and jumps up in the air and [Claps hand quickly] “BOOM,” just soars into the sky. It doesn’t stop and reset six months later, here’s were everyone is at and there is something to be said for that. The emotional uplift.
Capone: I guess it begs the question, do we really want to see Fish be a grown up or do we like seeing him just as the rocker…
RW: As Peter Rice who runs Fox said, he was like… He said to me specifically, he’s like “We get it. We see him grow up. We see him see Vesuvius in the hallway and make his peace with them. We see him with Christina backstage, and they have kind of a mature interaction and see them fire the manager and see him be kind of a father to the kids. We get where he is going. We don’t need that all spelled out for us.”
Capone: How did you assemble that crowd for the big arena finale or was that for another band that you just sort of borrowed?
RW: They were very ingenious, I think they got in an 8,000 seat arena, I think we had for or five hundred extras and we just kept moving them around and the rest are CGI.
Capone: Wow, OK.
RW: They would literally do things like put the camera up in such a way that they would have all of the extras in a line, so it would be shooting up at the stage as if there is like all of these people and it was cutting a slice, but the rest would be empty. They found all of these different ways.
Capone: Right, I know there was at least one shot, but I guess that was all CGI, OK. I don’t know how much time we have and I have other questions, but I did want to talk about a couple of things that you had coming up, of course TRANSFORMERS 2. How did you get involved with that?
RW: I should probably go see TRANSFORMERS 1, I just want to say that for the record.
Capone: Or not.
RW: That would be pretty cool if they did it that way. I wonder if Michael Bay would throw a hissy fit. He would probably throw a coffee mug at my head. I don’t care. I’m just fine going the rest of my life with not watching it.
Capone: How big of a role is it?
RW: It’s a cameo, it’s very small and just got a lot of press for some reason. People like the idea of having Dwight being in TRANSFORMERS 2, and it got people really excited and it spewed all over the internet and people have just been going crazy for it, but it is just a couple of days, a day or two playing a college professor. I haven’t even read the script yet, so…
Capone: And then you mentioned last night the BONZAI SHADOW HANDS. You wrote it and you are working on it with Jason Reitman?
RW: I’m almost done with my second draft, which I will then hand in to Jason Reitman in the next month or so and hopefully we will be shooting that in 2009.
Capone: Is he directing it or just producing it?
RW: Hopefully he will be directing it.
Capone: OK, so that’s the plan then.
RW: The plan is he directs it.
Capone: Can you say anything about that?
RW: It’s a down and out ninja living in the San Fernando Valley and it’s like a really fucked up KARATE KID.
Capone: Played by you?
RW: I’m not the kid.
Capone: No, you’re not the kid? [Laughs] OK, I wasn’t sure. Speaking of Reitman, you have a very memorable role in JUNO, but did you work with him before that?
RW: No, you know I worked with his dad on MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND and I was sitting in a Starbucks in Vancouver BC and in walks this young kid and he goes “Excuse me, you don’t know me, but my name is Jason Reitman, and you just worked with my dad and I want to do a movie where you play a ninja living in San Fernando Valley.” And I was like “OK, let’s do it,” so we met in LA and instead of hiring a writer, which is the normal thing to do, I was like “Let me have a shot at writing this thing, I bet you I’ve got a movie here” and I had never written before.
Capone: So the story was his idea?
RW: Well, that’s all he had. That’s all he brought to the table.
Capone: So he did want you to play the part?
RW: Yeah. Jason is the biggest "Office" fan. He is the biggest "Office" geek. I brought him in to audition to direct "The Office," and he’s going to direct again next season.
Capone: You guys have had great directors on the show.
RW: Harold Ramis…
Capone: J.J. Abrams, right?
RW: Yeah, Abrams… Joss Whedon… A lot of good ones. Yeah, so all he had was that. He said something about like “What is the real life of a ninja like? How does a ninja go to a laundromat?” He’s a very idea/concept guy, but he didn’t know anything about specifics, so I created the character and the story and the whole…
Capone: But you wrote him younger than you could play?
RW: I’m the Pat Morita.
Capone: Oh you’re the master? That makes more sense.
RW: It’s like one of my favorite movies, which was kind of an inspiration for his BAD SANTA.
Capone: Is it that… Is R rated? Is that what you are planning?
RW: It’s pretty fucked up.
Capone: I guess Jason can do that. Now it’s interesting on "The Office," the possibilities in this last season, with the relationship that Dwight has with Angela falling apart, the tension that has been there this whole season has been fantastic. And now of course with the finale, you've have opened up a whole other set of possibilities. Have you gotten any sense of where that relationship is going in the next season?
RW: I have no idea.
Capone: When do you go back to shoot?
RW: The end of July, yeah. I literally have no idea and people always ask me this “Where is 'The Office' going?” I, even in the middle of a season, I have no idea and people will be like “Oh, you and Angela are going to break up.” I’m like “Really? Oh wow” and then it’s like “You and Angela are going to have sex or something like that.” I will find out three days before we shoot it. I have no interest in knowing the through-line.
Capone: Do you prefer that?
RW: Yeah, I want to get a script, have a reaction to it ,and just go in and shoot it. If you start to get invested and become one of those actors that goes into the show runners and says “Where’s my character going?” and those kind of discussions… I trust them. They are great writers and they are taking great care of me.
Capone: If you then start doing that, then you become "Lost," I guess. "Where is this going months from now?" I wanted to ask you about your history as a fan of comedy. You mentioned Marx Brothers and things like that and those were the guys you liked, but were they the type of guys that you modeled your comedy after?
RW: I guess my biggest inspiration was Harpo Marx. I love the magic and the mystery of his comedy, being able to pull a blowtorch out of his jacket inexplicably, so I loved that. There are so many people that… an inspiration? They all were, and then I think life goes on and then all of a sudden there is Steve Martin doing what he does with his comedy albums in the late '70s and that absolutely blew my mind. I just didn't know that people could do that. And then that whole generation of comedy when it started with ANIMAL HOUSE and "Saturday Night Live" and Steve Martin. That generation, that’s what I grew up with and then AIRPLANE, so that’s where I found myself. I was a comedy nerd.
Capone: Were you?
RW: People write about nerds this and geeks that, but there’s a specific kind of comedy nerd that no one…like I have friends that have seen every episode of pretty can quote it and every "Simpsons" and every "Saturday Night Live," have the DVDs of all of these things, the stand up albums, the Howie Mandel stand up albums from the early '80s. You know what I mean? Just comedy nerds and a lot of them migrate to L.A. and start getting jobs as comedy writers and write for websites and blogs and stuff like that, but people don’t really know too much about this particular kind of nerd. They know about science fiction nerds and computer nerds, but not comedy ones.
Capone: I think I first became aware of it with Judd Apatow’s whole crew, because they all bonded over those Steve Martin albums, THE JERK, "SNL."
RW: Someone else said that too. I mentioned it and they said Judd Apatow was the biggest comedy nerd.
Capone: I talked to Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd, and they all tell the same story about bonding over Steve Martin, so he really is a focal point for so many people. Can you talk real quickly about working with the three young actors in THE ROCKER? I have seen the kid who plays your nephew before and Emma Stone I had seen, but I hadn’t seen Teddy, who I didn’t realize was an actual singer-songwriter. Did you know his stuff before he started the movie?
RW: No. I read with Josh Gadd, but I didn’t get to read with Emma and Teddy, but they did great auditions, and they just did a great job. I don’t know about working with kids. They are literally hooked up to Redbull IV machines. We would be shooting these 16-hour days in the middle of the night six days a week and they would be jabbering like little spider monkeys at eight in the morning after having been shooting for 14 hours, and it was a lesson. That’s when I felt really old, the amount of energy they had all the time. It’s crazy.
Capone: You went to New Trier High School, is that what you said last night? My college roommate went there too, but then I had also read that your of the Baha'i faith, whose temple isn't too far from New Trier.
RW: The Baha'i center is close to the temple, through the administrative offices of the Baha'i faith, so my parents went to work there.
Capone: So you were living there, because they had to work there. I remember my roommate would say “New Trier is the number one high school in the country.” I guess TIME magazine or someone had ranked them at some point and that they made the top of the list one year. I'm getting off track here.
You mentioned geeks before, and a lot of horror geeks know you from Rob Zombie’s movie. How did you get cast in that?
RW: That was just the curious thing of getting a call, like “you have an audition tomorrow for this HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES," and they had a one page of dialog of some guy driving a car. I think I might have been the first guy to audition and I knew nothing… I didn’t know Rob Zombie or anything and I went in and there was a guy with a video camera set up, and I went in the chair and I sat down and had my page of paper and was like “OK” and he ran the lines, and I was like “Boy, it sure is crazy driving over here… better find that house… Oh, I think we got a flat tire…” They were like “OK, thank you, goodbye” and then I got a call “Rob loves you. You need to go in and meet with him and get matched with people.” It was just one of those audition things and in some ways I could say Rob Zombie discovered me. My first lead in a movie, and it’s kind of a classic. It’s like a minor horror classic.
Capone: I’ve been to conventions where they have played it at like a drive-in setting, which is the greatest way to see a film like that outdoors under the stars.
RW: And Rob is a huge "Office" fan. He comes by the set sometimes. I would love to get Rob to direct an "Office" episode.
Capone: Oh God…
RW: That would be great.
Capone: Well I thought his second film was actually one of the best movies I saw that year, so…
RW: Really? DEVIL’S REJECTS?
Capone: DEVIL’S REJECTS I thought was a terrific epic horror film, just really… I had mixed feelings about 1,000 CORPSES, mainly because of the sensory overload approach to the editing, but I still watch it if I run across it, but I thought DEVIL’S REJECTS was 10 times better.
RW: What did you think of HALLOWEEN?
Capone: I didn’t really have any feelings about it. I kind of dug that he was trying to give a little history, but at the same time I’m always against that if it wasn’t there in the original, so I don’t know. I feel like it was more of a “Hey this would be a good idea…” and I like it more when he is writing something original. I know he wrote that, but it didn't feel fresh.
RW: I would love to work with him again. I think that would be really fun.
Capone: If you think of it and can email me that list of songs that you played Jones radio show…
Capone: I loved the tunes.
RW: I can tell you some of them now, I played Guided by Voices with "My Valuable Hunting Knife.” I played Cold War Kids “Hanging Out to Dry,” and I played “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. Yeah, we got some nice indie news mention on the show.
Capone: Oh yeah. Well it was great to finally meet you. Good luck with the film.
RW: Thanks. Pleasure meeting you, and please say hi to Harry.