Actor Rainn Wilson is something of a cult hero. You've probably recognised his face many a time with that sense of mild frustration, your brain stubbornly trying to remember where you've seen him before. Clue: he's probably best known as Dwight in The (American) Office. He's also been popping up all over American cinema, like a recurring nightmare, except more funny and good at acting.
We thought it'd be interesting to speak to him now that he's finally taken a leading role in Super, a rather fucked up (but pretty amusing) film about the exploits of a rather unstable man who doesn't really have super powers, but does have a wrench. Much bleeding and angst ensues..
Who inspires you comically? Who do you find funny?
Peter Sellers, but would I say he’s my greatest inspiration? No. I don't know. I’ve also been watching the Marx Brothers movies with my six year old son. That was something that my dad turned me onto when I was really young. I love the anarchy, mayhem and non sequitur humour, the golden gags of those guys. Another thing that I’m trying to show my son is the classic Warner Bros. cartoons, Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. You put all that together somehow and you've got a lot of my influences.
What were you aiming for in Super in your portrayal of Frank?
Well, you know it's interesting ‘cos when I first read the movie I thought it was funny and moving, good, fucked up and violent. I was looking at the role of Frank and what I liked most about it was how unfunny it was. The movie itself is very funny, but Frank is a very normal guy. I mean, relatively speaking, he's just a sad sack, and his life is kinda a wreck and he's had these weird visions. He’s trying to do his best with what he's got and so I told the director early on, "I’m just gonna play this guy straight, heartfelt and believable, like this guy is or else the movie just won't work". That’s pretty much what I was going for.
Frank's heroic superpower is fucking up people's shit with a wrench
When did you know you wanted to go into comedy and acting?
In a lot of ways I have more of a kinship with the English actors because I started in the theatre, and I went to theatre training at New York University. I did tours of Shakespeare, off Broadway and tons of different theatres. I did some comedy; I played clowns a lot. I did comedy, some O’Neil, Chekov and a lot of darker stuff. I was seen as a weird looking character actor, and then I went to LA to try pursuing film when I was about 30 or so. That’s when the comedy gift I had been honing in the theatre could really pay off on the television. I started getting cast in mostly comic roles, not long after that was when I booked The Office.
This is Super's bad guy. He also gets his shit fucked up.
And that was when it really took off for you?
It was. People often ask you about being a comedian, writing comedy, or getting started, whatever. But I don't know jack shit about comedy! I’ve never done stand-up in my life, never done an improv group, never written comic sketches. It’s not my world, you know. One thing I’m looking forward to when The Office finally ends is going back to more serious roles. Not that I’m anti comedy…
Acting. Serious business
So what was it like for you getting the Emmy nominations?
It was fantastic! I was out in New York playing Peter in Romeo and Juliet on a truck tour, and struggling month to month to pay my bills. So for me all of a sudden being nominated for one television's highest awards was fantastic. It has surpassed my wildest dreams. I had no idea I would come this far.
Steve Carrell and Rainn Wilson are fighting to the death in a smarmy face contest
Is it true you were involved in art dealing?
Yeah, it was a little experiment I did with my dad. I really love art, I love looking at it and collecting young artists. We had a website where we tried to represent artists and showcase their work and see if we could make some money, sell some stuff. But it just didn't work, people don't buy artwork off the internet, they want to see the paintings up close and meet the artists and fall in love with it and stuff like that. We tried it for a couple of years...
Once you get your Emmy you can dress HOWEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT. Yeah!
What have you got coming up next?
Well, I don't know, The Office is going to go on for another year or two, maybe three, which is cool, but I'd like to pursue more film, maybe more indie stuff, or go back to theatre when The Office is done. In the immediate future? Nothing really lined up, there's a script I co-wrote called Renaissance Men and Neil LaBute is attached to direct it. It’s a comedy about guys in a renaissance fair, and we're getting some casts and the budget together. We’ll try and go make that this spring.
Super is out on DVD now