Rainn Wilson only had a few weeks to master the drums.
THE ROCKER directed by Peter Cattaneo, written by Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarsky, with Rainn Wilson, Teddy Geiger, Emma Stone, Josh Gad and Christina Applegate. A 20th Century Fox release. 102 minutes. Opens Wednesday (August 20). See review in next week’s issue. For venues and times, see Movies.
The Office's bug-eyed assistant sticks it to the man in The Rocker
After four seasons on the office as Dwight K. Schrute, the squinty, authoritarian assistant to Steve Carell's hapless Michael Scott, and amassing a resumé of movie credits that includes Galaxy Quest, Almost Famous and Juno, Rainn Wilson has parlayed his geek star cred into a leading role.
The Rocker casts Wilson as Robert "Fish" Fishman, an almost-famous drummer (dumped from the band he founded just hours before they went global) who gets a second chance at stardom with his nephew's high-school combo. Wackiness ensues, as well as some surprisingly hummable pop numbers.
Accepting the script, he says, was a no-brainer.
"There are pratfalls, there's drum humour, there's gonna be music - I love rock 'n' roll movies. But there's a great story," says Wilson, in town for the film's NXNE premiere in June.
"The guy who's coming of age isn't one of the 18-year-olds. It's the 40-year-old guy who needs to get on with his life and become a man who gets a really beautiful transitional arc from the beginning of the story to the end."
Never having played an instrument, Wilson found himself going through rock-music boot camp in a hurry.
"The whole thing happened so quickly. The movie got green-lit and I needed to be back working (on The Office) in three months. They needed to prep the movie in, like, a month and a half. I started taking drum lessons a couple of weeks before we had a single song to work on, and all of a sudden more and more songs were pouring in that we needed to learn."
Another crossover point between rock and comedy is that it's possible for performers with unconventional looks to become major stars. That's a little tougher in movies, though Wilson - who never hesitates to exploit his big-foreheaded, bug-eyed face for a laugh - does believe it's become a lot easier recently.
"You've got people like Jack Black and Will Ferrell becoming huge movie stars, people who are really smart, have been around a long time and are truly funny," he says. "Audiences are now open to seeing more character-type guys in lead roles. You don't have to look like Jim Carrey, who looks almost dashing."
Wilson also thinks writer and director Judd Apatow has brought comedies down to earth.
"He's shown that you don't have to have someone dressing like a giant baby. You can have characters who work at Best Buy. All of a sudden, young people are hearing dialogue that sounds like the actual conversations young people have."
Not that The Rocker is an Apatow knock-off; its gross-out moments are pretty gentle by comparison.
"Apatow's movies are R-rated sex comedies," Wilson says, "and I think the difference with The Rocker, in a summer of a lot of harder-hitting stuff - like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where you see cock, or Tropic Thunder or Pineapple Express - is that this is just a sweet movie. It's a coming-of-age film. I like to compare it to Say Anything, which is about teenagers and the teenage experience, but adults can like it just as much."
During the interview, Wilson's understandably preoccupied with a potential Screen Actors Guild strike that could paralyze the TV and movie industry and halt production on the fifth season of The Office. (At press time, after several extensions, the strike remains a possibility.)
Taking a moment to check his iPhone for any news, he explains the issue behind the dispute.
"Studios want to use unlimited clips of actors - up to five minutes from anything in their library - on the Internet, without even asking permission, without paying. And they call it ‘promotion,' you know?
"The studios are corporations, and they're always going try to go for profit, and the quote-unquote new media are just old media in a new format. It's all about selling advertising, and if they're making money off advertising - no matter what you call it, you can call it promotion or whatever - using the faces and the work of other people, then they need to get paid."
Rainn Wilson on the poster campaign, part one:
Rainn Wilson on the poster campaign, part two:
On the music in the film:
On the kind of movie he's made: