The Rocker - Rainn Wilson interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
RAINN Wilson talks about drumming naked in The Rocker, learning to play the drums and working with former Beatle Pete Best as part of his research.
He also talks about pursuing other films outside of his role in the American version of The Office, working with Steve Carell and liasing with Juno director Jason Reitman on a future self-penned project…
Q. How did you get involved with The Rocker? And how long did you get to train on the drums?
Rainn Wilson: The movie got green-lit and I swear to God, we found out in the morning and by 2.30pm a whole drum kit arrived at my house. They moved it into my garage and the next morning a drum coach turned up and we started working. We started learning the basics of drumming, how to hold the drum-sticks and all that stuff. We then spent a long period of time looking at YouTube videos of hair metal bands. The guy’s name was Stuart Johnson, and he’d been in this heavy metal band in Kentucky, called Spanky Lee, so I actually got to see some of their videos, and him at the age of 20. So, he knew of what he taught.
But there’s a whole new level of hair drumming – stick twirling, and getting the crowd riled up, and putting on a show. You’re like a Las Vegas magician of drummers. So, that was very informative. Also, I listen to more alternative rock, and music that’s more on the cerebral side… the drummer’s take themselves a little more seriously. But the [hair metal] drummers are just like big dumb animals pounding away and screaming. It takes a certain kind of personality to do it. So, that informed the character of “Fish” a lot. He’s just the type of guy who talks first and then thought second… not cerebral in any way, shape or form.
Q. How liberating is it to drum naked?
Rainn Wilson: It’s not liberating, it’s humiliating, and I don’t recommend it to anyone. There’s a lot of flopping around and the sweat just goes right down the crack, like a funnel.
Q. How many takes?
Rainn Wilson: It wasn’t even takes… it was endless film reel. He’d load the camera and say: “No, do it like this! Look this way! I can see your pecker! Less arse crack! More sweat!” They’d come in and hose me down and all that stuff…. so that’s kind of what it was like.
Q. Did you moisturise?
Rainn Wilson: That’s personal. I was doused with every kind of sweat there is. They had spritz bottle sweat, and Vaseline they put on your skin to get it shiny. And then there’s high-tec sweat, that costs like $50 a jar, and Peter Cattaneo’s urine! Sometimes he’d just urinate on me! We shot six days a week, and we got really behind schedule, so everything got pushed backwards into nights. That meant we’d get 5pm calls and we’d get off at 11am. So, you’d be shooting a scene in which you had to be charming, funny and light-hearted at 9.30am when you’d been up all night and felt like shooting yourself in the eye.
Q. So did finally landing the starring role in your own movie not live up to expectation?
Rainn Wilson: It was crazy. The whole film feels like it was a giant, weird, fever dream. But it was really fun. The thing I love about The Rocker and the thing I responded to was that the script was so funny. There were so many outrageous, great physical gags and so many fun things to get to do in terms of physical comedy. But at the same time, there’s such heart to the movie. It’s actually quite touching because this guy grows up, comes of age and finds redemption. So, that was really great too. I also knew that with Peter Cattaneo in the equation, you could have both the absurdity of the humour and also the heart-warming aspect of the tale. So, for my first starring role, to have both of those things is really cool.
Q. What was it like meeting former Beatle Pete Best?
Rainn Wilson: Well, it was kind of scary meeting Pete Best because he does a little cameo in the film, on the bus bench. It’s not based on him but in a lot of ways he was kind of the inspiration and here he is showing up to do a cameo about a failed drummer. But he’s so at peace about it. I think he’s been talking about it for so many decades… he’s so happy and he’s a really peaceful man. He’s got grandchildren and he tours the world with the Pete Best Band. I think he made a lot of residuals from early Beatles tracks that he played on… some of the early club music they did recordings of. So, I think financially he’s doing fine. He’s just a swell guy and I got to interview him. We had a blast.
Q. Did you know that having Peter, the director of The Full Monty, would probably mean you had to get naked at some point?
Rainn Wilson: No, that was already in the script. But I’m happy to show my body for laughter. It’s been getting laughs for a long, long time. They do it in The Office sometimes. There was a scene that we couldn’t shoot for some reason, which needed to be re-worked, and they were searching for something else that would be funny… and it was like: “I know, Dwight thinks that she’s choking, so he takes off his shirt and cradles her head with it and lays her on the floor…” I was like: “Oh great, you need an instant laugh, so you need me running around with my shirt off!” But that’s comedy.
Q. There’s a lot of physical comedy in The Rocker? So how easy or painful did you find it?
Rainn Wilson: It was painful. You can actually see that when I take my shirt off at the beginning, you can see bruises all over my body because I’ve been throwing myself all over the place for so long. It was painful but it’s really fun. I love physical comedy and I think there’s nothing better than a great physical gag. It was hard riding a tricycle four times in a row at 5am! They had to blow-dry my wig and ass cheeks. But it was great fun.
Q. How much time do you have in between making The Office and pursuing other projects such as The Rocker?
Rainn Wilson: It’s entirely dependent on Steve Carell’s schedule. So, he’ll do a movie and then we’ll get an announcement such as “Steve’s going to be off for four months shooting” and we’re welcome to try and fit whatever we can into those dates. Steve may be shooting a movie in November and December this year, so I may try and fit another movie in during that time as well.
Q. Did Steve Carell give you any advice about making the leap from TV to movies?
Rainn Wilson: He’s not an advice guy. He’s a sweetheart and just a really kind, good person. I don’t think he’d ever presume to give anybody advice. You could be an actor starting out and asking him if he had any, and he’d be like: “Oh gosh, do you have any advice for me?” He’s not really an advice giver. But it’s been wonderful watching his whole development as a comedy star because when we did the first season of The Office I don’t think even Anchorman had come out. The 40-Year-Old Virgin then came out after we’d shot the first season, so it all kind of happened at the same time.
Q. Are you hoping it’ll happen to you as well?
Rainn Wilson: I don’t know about that… there’s been plenty of TV stars that have tried to have film careers. For some it works, and for others it doesn’t. It’s a tricky one because you have a very limited amount of time to try and do a movie and that means there’s very limited kinds of movies that studios will green-light for you in that time period. It’s a tricky business. I mean look at the cast of Friends. They had 20-something million people watching all of them and yet Jennifer Aniston is the only one who’s having any kind of film career.
Q. Do you have any yearning to do anything dramatic in the future?
Rainn Wilson: Well, a lot of the projects that I’m trying to develop are more darkly comic and more independent feeling. I don’t think I’ll ever be Mr Serious actor guy. I love comedy too much. But I definitely want to try and balance the comedy to show other aspects of my range as an actor. I mean, the first role that got me noticed was on Six Feet Under. It was a little bit comic, but it was also a little bit dark, strange and tragic at the same time. I come from a theatre background. I did nine years of theatre before I did a single day on a TV or movie set. I played all kinds of roles, from Shakespeare to Eugene O’Neill and there was a lot of dark stuff in those days.
Q. Are you working with Jason Reitman again?
Rainn Wilson: Yeah, I just turned in the second draft of a script I’ve written for him called Bonzai Shadowhands, about a down and out alcoholic ninja living in the San Fernando Valley. I’d play that ninja. So, we’ll see what his response is. He really liked the first draft and I think the second one is even better, so hopefully we’ll be moving that into production next spring or summer. That’s also a Fox Searchlight movie.
Q. How was your Michael Bay experience on Transformers?
Rainn Wilson: Michael Bay is a little different to Peter Cattaneo. He’s really intense. He knows what he wants and he’s always moving the camera and swivelling it in. He’s like the energiser bunny because he never stops. It’s crazy how much energy he has. But it was very fun to work with. I like to work with all different kinds of directors. I only did one day… but it was fun. Maybe I’ll be set up for Transformers 3.
Q. How did you end up being in Rob Zombie’s House Of A Thousand Corpses?
Rainn Wilson: That came out of nowhere. I’d done a couple of small movie and TV parts, but they had go in and read for this horror movie directed by Rob Zombie. I got one of the lead parts and that was pretty early on in my career in 2001. It was great fun. We had a blast doing that movie. In some ways, you could say that I was discovered by Rob Zombie.
Q. Do you have a comic inspiration?
Rainn Wilson: I grew up watching comedy. It was among all the geeky things that I did. When I was a little kid I loved the Marx brothers and discovered Monty Python when I was 10 or 11-years-old. I used to take a tape recorder and hold it up in front of the TV to record entire episodes to play over and over again, so that I could memorise it. I loved TV sitcoms like Taxi and MASH. I loved all the crazy characters. I think the greatest inspiration upon me as a child was Jerry Lewis. I loved Jerry Lewis. I loved the absurdity of this physical comedy.
One of the highlights of my life… Six Feet Under was just coming out and I was at the premiere of American Splendor in LA and right behind me was Eric Idle. When we were walking out, someone asked me if I could be interviewed about the film, so I said “yes”, and Eric Idle was next in line again. I turned round to him and he just looked at me and said: “I’m a huge fan of your work.” It was wonderful. I was quivering like a little schoolgirl.