Rainn Wilson: “I’ve had agents that were, like: You need to get your teeth fixed, build muscle loads” | Movie

SSome actors associated with a signature role will tire of talking about it. Not such preciosity from Rainn Wilson, who appears on camera from his Los Angeles home wearing a gray T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Scranton.” This Pennsylvania town was the setting for the American version of the simulated sitcom The Office, which ran for nine award-winning and widely adored series. Wilson won three Emmy nominations for playing the livid and obnoxious Dwight, the Rust Belt equivalent of Mackenzie Crook’s Gareth. Today’s beard and baseball cap, along with his chipper demeanor, banish any memory of the mushy face, DIY haircut, and surprised expression he wore in this show.

Wilson has starred in everything from Juno to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and the Jason Statham shark thriller The Meg, but he knows any conversation will inevitably lead back to The Office. “Dwight is the role I’m best known for and always will be,” said the 55-year-old. “And that’s fine with me. But first, there’s his new thriller up for discussion. In Don’t Tell a Soul, a cross between A Simple Plan and Paranoid Park, he plays an unpretentious security guard who pursues after encountering two teenage brothers (Fionn Whitehead and Jack Dylan Grazer) robbing a house in the Rural Kentucky. During the chase, he dives into a hole in the forest floor, which gives the boys absolute power over him. The question is not whether they will use it, but how.

Don’t say anything to a soul

This isn’t the first time Wilson has been six feet under – he had his big luck on Alan Ball’s hit HBO series of the same name in the early 2000s, playing Arthur the Creepy Undertaker. . But when I ask him what it was like to spend most of Don’t Tell a Soul underground, he shyly admits that the “hole” was actually a room built above the ground, with a door. to the side and a platform at the top that other actors could climb up to watch it. “I’m a little claustrophobic,” he says.

The game offered its own challenges, although overcoming the fear of confined spaces was not one of them. “We see a lot of different sides of my character throughout the film. He is sympathetic, pitiful, contemptible. He has real dark sides to him. Moral ambiguity is one area Wilson is good at: he’s comfortable when the audience isn’t. In the black comedy Super, he played a potential superhero who is actually nothing more grandiose than a vicious cloaked vigilante. In the psychological thriller The Boy, he was a brooding self-assured con artist hiding in a motel after his wife died.

On screen, he can be eerily reserved and unapproachable, or awkward and awkward, as he is like a gullible alien in Galaxy Quest or a failed heavy metal drummer in The Rocker. That he can embody these disparate qualities is, he thinks, in part an accident of physiognomy. “When you put a camera on someone, you see a lot of what’s already there,” he says. “With me, it’s like – I don’t even want to talk directly about ‘weird’ – but I’m a quirky looking guy who probably has a funny side, just because I have this big weird face. will never be Josh Brolin no matter how badly I want him.

Wilson in six feet underground.
Wilson in six feet underground. Photograph: Photo 12 / Alamy

It was a lesson learned in his early days as an actor. “I had agents say, ‘You need to get your teeth fixed, build a lot of muscle and lose weight.’ But I realized very early on that I was in the tradition of character actors. Also, in terms of sensitivity, I am weird! I play chess, I play the bassoon, I read science fiction. I’m not out hunting, driving a truck, or… ”He holds up his hands in exasperation. “What do top men do in their free time? Intestinal trout? “

Wilson grew up mainly in the suburbs of Seattle and Chicago. Almost three years of his young life, however, were spent in Nicaragua with his father and stepmother, who were adherents (as Wilson still is) of the Baha’i Faith. In his autobiography The Basson King, he recounts this Central American period of his childhood in scintillating and sometimes repulsive detail. No one who reads the book will easily forget the scene in which young Wilson evacuates a 10 inch roundworm from his body (“I felt a curious sensation around my little fart fireplace …”)

Beneath its unremarkable suburban exterior, he writes, there will always be a “closet of hidden memories that includes monkeys, jungles, worms and glowing beetles.” He smiles appreciatively when I read this line to him. “It gives you a different perspective when you’ve lived abroad,” he says. “You might grow up getting Slurpees on 7/11 or making treats, but you take with you the knowledge that the world is a bigger and more mysterious place. “

As wandering bohemians, Wilson’s father and stepmother were role models he felt he needed to respect, maybe even compete with. “They had strong personalities, but I wanted to differentiate myself. Her own son, who is 16, is going through something similar. “’Child of fame’ is a strange position to be in,” he reflects. “How can he acquire his own identity? “

Wilson’s father, who died last year, published a science fiction novel, Tentacles of Dawn, in 1978, and has always dreamed of making a living as an artist. “He was a great painter and writer, but he always had to do shitty work. I paid attention to what he was not to do: he did not train and did not throw himself into it. I said, ‘I’m going to move to New York, get the best training I can, go through with it.’ “The irony that he did all of that and still ended up in a” job of office “was probably not lost on him.

As soon as Wilson read the pilot script for that show, he knew he was the man to play Dwight Schrute. “I have the strange. I’m deadpan. I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons. Who can do it better than me? He found an impenetrable quality in the character. “You can never really put your finger on him. Is he a jerk or a tyrant? A simple farmer or a sucker? He’s a bit of all of that.

A spinoff series proposed by Dwight titled The Farm never came to fruition, but hardly a day goes by that he isn’t praised for The Office. Take his first encounter with Grazer, the mischievous 18-year-old actor with whom he shares most of his scenes on Don’t Tell a Soul. “Jack was awkward and awkward, and didn’t know what to say,” Wilson recalls. “His mother said to me, ‘He’s never like that!’ The problem was nothing more complicated than hero worship. Like other young celebrities, including Timothée Chalamet and Billie Eilish (whom Wilson affectionately calls “William Eyelash” during an online quiz with the singer), Grazer is an obsessive office jester.

With Steve Carell in The Office.
With Steve Carell in The Office. Photograph: NBC Universal, Inc.

This demographic quirk still confuses Wilson. “When we were doing the show, we always thought, ‘Anyone who’s worked in an office and had a bad boss will really relate to this. Then we found out that we were especially loved by 12 to 17 year olds. The teens helped save The Office from being canceled when its ratings were nearly as low as the network’s confidence in the show. Fortuitous external circumstances, including the box office success of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which made a megastar from Wilson’s Office colleague Steve Carell, also extended his life, giving him time to flourish.

“Now people come back to it several times,” he says. For many viewers, it was a balm during lockdown. “It’s comforting, calming, anxiety-provoking. It helped people get through tough times. How very little British. “Well, the British have always looked to comedy to push the boundaries: not just The Office but The Mighty Boosh, Alan Partridge. Is he still Sir Steve Coogan, by the way? I’ll go with ‘Sir Steve’. I am such a fan. Indeed, Wilson can be heard on his own podcast, Dark Air, as Terry Carnation, a pompous radio celebrity, who he hopes could become his partridge. “This stuff is rarer in America. Our comedy is more like what you turn on after dinner to relax and have a good laugh. We really don’t want to sting the hive too much.

Don’t Tell a Soul is available as a digital download starting July 12

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