Rainn Wilson & James Gunn—Super—4/2/11

Though he's best known as Dwight Schrute on NBC's hit sitcom The Office, Rainn Wilson has racked up a long list of quirky credits, including Alan Ball's HBO series Six Feet Under, Entourage, and Monk on the small screen and Monsters vs. Aliens, Juno, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Sahara, Almost Famous, Galaxy Quest and (in the title role) The Rocker on the big screen. Now he's starring as Frank Darbo (a.k.a. The Crimson Bolt) in the demented superhero comedy Super, written and directed by James Gunn. Gunn previously wrote and directed Slither, wrote and co-directed Tromeo and Juliet, and co-wrote the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. Wilson and Gunn met the press at San Francisco's Moscone Center during the 2011 WonderCon.

Groucho: From whence did this insane project spring?

Rainn Wilson: It sprang from the mind of James Gunn in…what was it, 1992?

James Gunn: (laughs) 2002.

Rainn Wilson: I'm sorry.

James Gunn: (Laughs hysterically.)

Rainn Wilson: I'm really, really drunk right now.

JG: We just tried heroin for the first time...In 2002, I wanted to write a short film, because I wanted to direct a short film, and what I had directed wasn't really worthy of showing around town, and I had been writing screenplays. So I wrote Super to be a short film, and it just kind of kept getting longer and longer. I fell in love with the characters of Frank and Libby, and I was very intrigued by the premise and how we were going about it, and so it just sort of kind of got larger from there. On the first day I wrote fifty-seven pages, and then went back and elongated it a bit.

Groucho: And you chose Rainn how?

RW: It's a story I’ve told several times before, but—

JG: Really?

RW: Pretend you've heard it for the very first time. It was on the set of The Office, and Jenna Fischer, who used to be married to James, said, “You know, I was talking to James, and I talked to him about this script that he had written years ago called Super, and I said, "Well, how come you've never done anything with that," and she said, "Wouldn’t Rainn be perfect for the lead role?” And James thought that was a good idea, sent me the script, and I totally was smitten with the script from the moment I started reading it. I just loved it. I’ve never read something so ballsy and imaginative and demented and heartfelt at the same time. And it’s a really rare thing to have a movie that can sustain all of that. I mean it's—the passions are really weird, the comedy is absurd, and the violence is grotesque, but it all fits.

G: Good answer...the best comedy and the best drama, I think, come from commitment, from an acting perspective.

RW: Mm-hm.

G: And the climax of this movie, when you're in full regalia and you're eyeballing the villain—you know, villain from your perspective—is so intense...The film strikes a delicate balance, but your performance: what did it take to find that kind of commitment in the most absurd of situations?

RW: Well, I think like you said when you prefaced it, I mean, I feel like the best comedy comes from playing it truthfully and playing it straight in the most absurd situations. And the comedy I like the least is the—it’s so checked out and tongue in cheek and above it all, all the way through, you don’t really care about the characters. For me, as an actor, I like to transform into characters and, y'know, tell stories. So it was a pretty deep commitment. As for the last scene when I’m going face to face with Kevin Bacon, I had a very different idea in my head about how that scene should be. And I think we were shooting it at like 4:30 in the morning, and James came up to me and was like, “No, this is the scene where Frank lets it all out. I mean, he just pours all of his passions out. He tells him, "You don’t deal drugs, you don’t molest kids, you don’t butt in line. The rules were set a long time ago.” You know, that whole kind of climax. And I was too tired to resist him at that point, it was 4:30 in the morning. And he had done a good job at that point, so I was like, “You want me to go for it?” And he was like,”Go for it.” I'm like, "Okay, I'm gonna go for it!"

JG: Kevin, too! I had to push Kevin, too, to get so upset in that scene.

RW: Yeah.

/content/interviews/323/2.jpgJG: To me, that was the crux of the whole movie. That’s what the movie’s about. There’s one character, who's Jacques, who’s saying—he's a moral relativist, and then there’s Frank, who believes that there’s right and wrong, and right and wrong don’t change and they stay that way forever. And that’s the central conflict in the film, and I see both of those things. I understand both sides of that.

G: And that look on your face made the whole film for me.

JG: Mm-hm.

RW: Oh, thank you...

G: What was it like pioneering female-to-male rape in cinema? Was that the first scene of its kind?

JG: I'm sure it's definitely the first superhero female-to-male rape that I’ve ever seen in a movie.

RW: It won’t be the last...

JG: Yeah, that was a tricky scene. That was always in the script, and we were very—I think all three of us had—probably Ellen and I had more nervousness than you did before we shot the scene. But for Ellen it was very difficult, because she’s been raped a number of times in movies, and she said afterwards — and this is not making light of rape, but she said afterwards, “It’s much easier getting raped on film than being the rapist, because you’re the passive one.” But to actually be the person that’s actually manhandling the other person was very hard for her to do. And I thought about it afterwards: I would hate to play a rapist in a movie.

RW: Not me.

JG: I know! (Laughs.)

RW: But she had a motivation, though! She's all gooshy!

JG: She's all gooshy, yeah! (Laughs.) So that was a hard scene, that was one of the trickier scenes, but I love her in that scene. And I told Jason Reitman the other night when he did the Q&A—'cause he was talking about how uncomfortable that scene made him—and I'm like, "There is a part of me that finds it romantic! It's like, I kind of want those two to be together! You know? And I know that, you know, Frank is not—obviously, if he was really putting up a fight, he’d just throw her off, but there’s a part of him that really wants it; he just can't—he’s got this internal battle. So it's, yeah, I find it—there’s a little bit of romance in that.

RW: Sure...

G: Costumes are really important, and your costumes for Frank and for Dwight are, of course, very different but very distinctive. So do clothes make the man? Is that an important part for you, in feeling the character out?

RW: Yeah! I mean, all of that stuff helps; y'know, all of the little details help. Frank's haircut was very important to me.

JG: Yeah, that's right. you were very big on the haircut.

RW: I worked on it a long time. I'd think about, like, "How do I have my hair so it doesn't look like Dwight, and it's not something you've seen before, but it looks relatively normal, but it's also distinct. Y'know, and that kind of side-swoop thing that he had going on was something that I found. But all those details, I think they help all actors. Y'know, Dwight's glasses and wristwatch: you put anyone in that short-sleeved shirt and those glasses and that wristwatch, and they're gonna kinda act like Dwight. Y'know, it helps you. It's a tool for an actor...