A few months ago I was lucky enough to meet up with the very lovely and funny Rainn Wilson for a Q+A session about his new movie The Rocker (out today in the UK). In the movie he stars as Robert "Fish" Fishman, a talented drummer in a hair metal band that gets kicked out by his bandmates before they go on to rock glory. He then gets a second chance at success when his nephew's rock band are looking for a new drummer, and here's what he had to say when we spoke earlier this year:
- So, Rainn, how good are you at drumming really? Check this out [drums on the table, with a little rhythm] How was that? Did you get that? So... in other words, not very good. Passable.
- How much training did you do for this movie? The movie got greenlit and, I swear to God, we found out in the morning and by 2.30 in the afternoon a whole drum kit had arrived at my house! I moved it in my garage and the next day a drum coach showed up and we started working, started learning the basics — how to hold the drumsticks and all that stuff! And then I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos of old hair metal bands. There’s a whole other level of drumming in hair metal drumming — stick twirling, getting the crowd riled up, putting on a show, you’re like the Las Vegas magician of drummers! That was very informative... also, the music I listen to is alternative rock, maybe a little more on the cerebral side, and the drummers take themselves a little more seriously. The heavy metal drummers are like — sorry — big dumb animals, pounding away shouting “Yeeeeahhh”, flashing the heavy metal horns in between beats, and stuff like that. That informed the character of Fish a lot. He's an instinctual guy, who talks first and thinks second, not cerebral in any way shape or form.
To read lots more from Rainn, on naked drumming, The Office, Pete Best and Bonsai Shadow Hands, just read more.
- How liberating is it to drum naked? [Shakes his head] It’s not liberating, it’s humiliating, I don’t recommend it to anyone. There’s a lot of flopping around, and the sweat just goes right down the crack, it’s like a funnel. Not terribly liberating. It wasn’t even just takes, it was endless film reels, [in a British accent] “No, do it this way, no I can see your pecker, less arse crack, more sweat” They’d come in and hose me down… I was doused with every sweat they had, spritz bottle, Vaseline, high tech, like a glycerine sweat, and Peter Cattaneo’s (the director) urine.
- Nice! So what was your overall experience of shooting this movie? [smiles] It was painful, if you see when I take my shirt off at the beginning you can see bruises all over my body from where I was throwing myself all over the place for so long. It was painful, but it’s really fun — I love physical comedy, I think there’s nothing greater than a physical gag. And it was hard, you know, riding a tricycle into a pool at 5am four times in a row, and they have to blow dry my wig, and ass cheeks to get me to do it again. It was crazy, the whole film was like a giant weird fever dream. The thing I really like about it, and really responded to, is that the script is so funny, and there are so many great physical gags, but at the same time there’s such heart to the movie, and it’s quite touching. This guy grows up and finds redemption and comes of age. I knew that with Peter in the equation we’d have the humour and the heartwarming aspect of the tale. So for my first starring role to have that... [nods happily] We shot six days a week and we got really behind schedule, everything got pushed backwards into nights, like 5pm calls shooting through to 11am, having to film scenes where you’re supposed to be charming and funny at 9.30am when you’ve been up all night, and you really just feel like shooting yourself in the eye! So, that was my experience.
- Were you quite comfortable with the nudity in the movie?! I’m happy to be show my body for laughter, it’s been getting laughs for a long, long time. They do that on The Office sometimes — we had one scene which didn’t work and they had to do a rewrite, and they told me to take my shirt off. I was like ‘Oh great, you need an instant laugh so you need me running around with my shirt off to get it….' That’s comedy.
- How long do you have between seasons of The Office? It’s entirely dependent on Steve Carell’s schedule, and so he’ll do a movie and we’ll get an announcement that he’s going to be away for four months and we’ll fit what we can into those dates. I think there'll be at least two or three if not more seasons of the show, Steve’s under contract for three more years, but I think he could get out of that if he wanted to... There have been plenty of TV stars that have tried to become film stars, and for some it works and some it doesn’t. You have a very limited amount of time to make a movie in between seasons, look at the cast of Friends — Jennifer Aniston is the only one who’s had some kind of permanent film career. We’re all [The Office cast] successfully doing movies, so we’re very happy with that...
- Who were your comedy heroes growing up? I was a total comedy geek when I was a kid, among all the geeky things I did. I loved the Marx Brothers, and found Monty Python on public television in America, and I used to take a tape recorder and hold it in front of the TV and play it over and over and memorise it. I loved TV sitcoms like Taxi, and Mash, and all the comedy characters. I’d say the greatest inspiration for me growing up was Jerry Lewis. I loved him, growing up, I loved the absurdity of his physical comedy. I don’t think I’m much like Jerry Lewis, but I loved his movies... If I could go back to 1975 and join Monty Python just as they’re getting started, that would be my dream.
- Do you want to go back to less comedic projects in the future? A lot of the projects I’m trying to develop for myself are darkly comic and more independent feeling, not as broad as studio comedy. You know 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 the other aspects of my range. The first role that got me noticed was on Six Feet Under, which was a little comic, but also a little bit dark and a little bit tragic. I did nine years of theatre before I ever did a day on a movie set.
- Does your religion impact much on your work? I’m a member of the B’ahai faith... I can do whatever I want, but I definitely want to do movies that make the world a better place. But at the same time you have to know not to take it too seriously. It’s fine for me to show my ass crack and have a good time because it’s all in good fun, but there’s definitely some material I get which is just in bad taste.
- Is it true you're hoping to work with Jason Reitman again? Yeah, I just turned in the second draft of a script for Jason Reitman called Bonsai Shadow Hands about a down and out alcoholic ninja living in the San Fernando Valley. We’ll see what his response is, but hopefully we’ll be moving towards production next summer.
- Even the title of that one is funny! What was it like meeting Pete Best (the ex-Beatles drummer who never saw the band's major success)? Oh yeah, he was in a cameo on the bus bench, it was kinda scary, because — it’s not based on him — but here he is turning up to do a cameo in a movie about a failed drummer... He’s so happy, he’s still playing music, he’s a swell guy. Great sense of humour, really fun.
- Thank you Rainn! Thank you!
Rainn was a lot of fun to interview and left handing out enthusiastic high fives to everyone around. The Rocker stars Rainn, Christina Applegate, Emma Stone and Teddy Geiger, and is out now.