Rainn Wilson Is Ready to Rock

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 15, 2008

"Dwight has saved me in soooo many way," Rainn Wilson loudly declares by phone while tooling through the San Fernando Valley last week. In fact, the Scranton-based assistant regional -- sorry, assistant to the regional manager -- saved Wilson even as the actor was trying to extract himself from the oddball character.

As plans for Wilson's new movie, "The Rocker" were coming together (it had a director, a script, a budget and so on) the process hit a wall when the head of Fox Studios balked at the prospect of green-lighting a feature film starring an actor so closely aligned with his idiosyncratic role in "The Office."

"He was like, 'Why is this guy, this 'Office' drone, nerdy guy, why is he cast as this rocker character?' " Wilson recalls of their attempts to convince the executive that he could pull off the part of an aging drummer who wants to relive old, '80's-era glory days with his teenage nephew's band.

Then an "Office" episode aired in which Dwight and Steve Carell's character, Michael, play wild air guitars on the roof of the Dunder-Mifflin warehouse, "and the guy goes, 'Ooooooh, okay. I get it. Let's make it,' " Wilson says.

So there it was . . . salvation by way of bobblehead dolls and short-sleeved work shirts.

Which is not to say the 42-year-old Seattle native didn't share some of the Fox executive's concerns.

"Look, there's a graveyard full of TV stars who've attempted to cross over from beloved television shows to film. Remember all of those horrible David Schwimmer movies?" Wilson asks, the voice exactly Dwight's, but the humor, the self-awareness that of an innately funny, acutely perceptive, almost-middle-aged man.

" 'Friends' had 20 million people watching a week, watching and adoring them, yet people didn't want to spend $9 to go watch David Schwimmer in a romantic comedy. So . . . it's definitely a weird transition."

But one of the things that most attracted him to "The Rocker," which comes out Wednesday, is that his character, Robert "Fish" Fishman, seemed so different from Dwight. (Although to a viewer without a studied eye for "Office" nuance, both characters could be seen simply as loserish outsiders.)

"I mean, they're almost night and day," he says. "Dwight is very controlled. And is very much about hierarchies. And Fish is all about impulse."

Before shooting began, Wilson learned to play drums -- not just play them, but become a showman with a drummer's psyche. "And I realized that drummers are kind of like, they're not cerebral," he muses. "To say that they're not cerebral is an understatement. They just kind of do first. They like to pound on things."

The Emmy-nominated actor also had to immerse himself in the ethos of long-haired '80's rock bands, which were of his generation, but he was busy blasting R.E.M. at the time.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company