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Fri, 1 Apr '11

Super Star: Rainn Wilson on Playing the Crimson Bolt

Rainn Wilson contemplates unlikely superheroics and unorthodox spirituality

Generally known for playing creepy and comedic characters, Rainn Wilson is not the first guy you'd think of to play a superhero, which makes him perfect for James Gunn's over-the-top vigilante satire Super. As a fry-cook inspired by God to don spandex and free his ex-wife from a drug pusher, he's more whack-job than warrior. We caught up with the versatile comic actor to get his take.

Nerdist News: You're in a position now where you can pick your roles – what was it that drew you to a lower-budget project like Super?

Rainn Wilson: What I love about Super is that you can't really define what it is as a movie. The nearest thing I've been able to describe it as is a mix of Taxi Driver and Napoleon Dynamite. It's a comedy but it's also drama, it's adventure but it's also a romance, it's messed-up but it's also very sweet. And I love that. A lot of people love it, a lot of people hate it, but you'll never forget it. If you love seeing vomit turning into the face of Liv Tyler, you'll love Super.

NN: Your character in the movie has to familiarize himself with comics. Is that something you had to do too?

RW: I'm pretty familiar. I'm not a total comic book nerd like James Gunn, who really knows that world. I grew up reading Superman, Green Lantern, Thor, X-Men, but I kinda moved over to being a science-fiction geek. Reading Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, more into the fiction side of things.

NN: During the surreal scene where Frank is divinely inspired to become a hero, what was James Gunn telling you to imagine, and how did it compare with the final version?

RW: It was all imagined, just me sitting on the side of the bed and he would move the camera around. We had to get a ton of different camera angles to make it believable, it was maybe 25 angles. And he would just shout at me: "LOOK AT THE AIR CONDITIONER! There's TENTACLES COMING THROUGH THE AIR CONDITIONER! They’re pulsing on your face! They're grabbing your hair! They’re opening your brain! Your brain is being cut open! Look up! It hurts! What is that weird feeling?" He was just shouting at me all this stuff, and I was trying to keep it internal and keep it real. I loved how it all fit together, and it was pretty close to how I'd imagined it. I thought the finger of God was even cooler; it was very Monty-Python like.

NN: You've said in the past that you turned down some roles because they were morally repugnant. What do you make of the morality in this film? Obviously Frank has a strong moral code, but it's a little twisted.

RW: Well, this is a very twisted, violent and dark film. But I said that I've turned down a lot of roles that are morally repugnant; I've also done a lot of jobs that are morally questionable. I would put this in the morally questionable category. Let me put it this way. If you look at Super as a spiritual journey, it works as a movie. It's a guy who is stuck, and he gets his heart broken, and he prays, gets his mind expanded and goes on a mission. And by the end of the movie, instead of being stuck and having one or two good memories from his life, he has a thousand great memories. He's an actualized, realized human being. That's the hero's journey; the spiritual journey towards maturity, and I love that about the film. I love the crazy imagination, the sense of humor, the action, and everything like that. I think the morally questionable part comes in how much the film comments on violence and at the same time glorifies it.

NN: In your opinion, is Frank actually getting messages from God, or just delusional? Or does it matter?

RW: I'll leave that to the audience. I have my own take on it, but I don't really wanna say. At the end of the movie, and all through the movie, you have to decide: is this guy for real, or is he a psychopath? Is he deluded, or is he heartfelt and doing the right thing?

NN: How was the Crimson Bolt costume to wear? It looks a bit more comfortable than a big rubber Batsuit.

RW: It was terrible. Spandex sucks. It's stinky, ill-fitting, and it's not warm. I was running around outside in the freezing cold – just no fun at all. And that cowl had a little rubber headpiece in it; just torture.

NN: What were the fun moments for you?

RW: The fun scenes were the acting scenes. Getting to act with Liv Tyler, Ellen [Page] especially, and Kevin Bacon – to have actual, real scenes with great actors that I’ve admired for years. That was a blast. It was also a blast to shoot people in the face with a shotgun.

NN: In a lot of your roles, there seems to be this air of danger just waiting to get out, and occasionally unleashed. Is that something you relate to in real life?

RW: Oh no, I'm a pretty sane individual. I just play a psychopath on TV and in films.

NN: As you’re a self-described science-fiction geek who was in Galaxy Quest, we gotta ask – how was it learning Thermian?

RW: Oouh Auuuh! We didn't actually do any learning of Thermian. We just made funny noises, which was a lot of fun. That was actually my first movie!

NN: That must have been great, to debut in a movie with so many big names.

RW: Oh, it was amazing! It was great. I couldn't remember my lines, I got so nervous. There's a scene that was cut out that was all just mumbo-jumbo, and I couldn't remember the line. I was so nervous, because it was Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tim Allen, Tony Shalhoub, all these people lined up behind me. It's the hardest thing as an actor - and I don’t know how they do it on medical shows or crime shows or stuff like that - is to be able to rattle off all those technical things I had to say. Like, "The bi-catheter unit to the tri-catheter is engorged to within the limits of the chromion," or whatever it is. It was a very peculiar kind of torture.

NN: So now that you're a bigger name, do you see some of yourself from Galaxy Quest in the faces of newer actors that work with you?

RW: I don't think I'm intimidating to them, but sometimes we have guest stars that come on The Office and get kind of intimidated. It's very sweet and funny and odd to see, but we're always welcoming. Also on the show we do a ton of takes, so we'll do as many as we need to get it right.

NN: Tell us a bit about your website, SoulPancake.com. What inspired that?

RW: Soul Pancake was a passion project that I started with some friends. It's just a place to go on the web to explore life's big questions. Things that are hardly addressed any more, certainly not on the Internet. The Internet is a big land of crap, for the most part. The site is there to discuss what it means to be a human being, philosophies, creativity, spirituality, why we're alive, do we have a soul, is there life after death, is there a God. These questions are so uncool and unpopular to talk about – nothing clears a room or a party faster than to bring up one of these questions, but they're the most important questions that we ever deal with. So that's what it's for. We created a book from it, a bestseller, and now we're doing webisodes for the Oprah Winfrey Network. We have people from all walks of life: born-again Christians, atheists, and everyone in between. I don't know if anyone is really changing their belief systems, but it's a nice dialogue.

NN: You’ve directed a few episodes of The Office. Are you interested in directing features, and if so, what kind?

RW: Definitely. I really enjoy directing, but it’s very, very hard, very demanding, and it takes a lot of time and attention. I think it's one of the hardest jobs on the planet. But it's something I very much wanna do, and I'm looking forward to it. I really like dark comedies, independent films that are risky – that's probably the realm that I would look at. I thought Cedar Rapids was pretty great, and I also really liked the movie Cyrus, by the Duplass brothers – that’s right in my wheelhouse.

Super opens today, April 1.

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