Being a superhero ain’t easy according to Rainn Wilson. For one, the costumes suck. Rainn was talking about his latest film Super, which hits theaters and VOD Friday. The character James Gunn came up with for him is a slightly disturbed short-order cook, who loses his wife (Liv Tyler) to a scumbag and is told by God to become a superhero. It’s a strange film but Wilson was more than game to play his slightly off leading man, who gets a superhero side kick in Libby (Ellen Page) – a comic book fanatic more than happy to play along and forces her way into being his side kick and names herself “Bolty.” Check it out.
How do you like wearing spandex?
Rainn Wilson: Spandex sucks. It looks cool – well, supposedly it looks cool – but Shreveport in the winter, where they promised it was only going to be fifty degrees, was seventeen degrees the whole shoot. And we were running around all night and all day in spandex and it was crazy. It was not fun and stinky, it gets really stinky fast. And that cowl I wore was really sweaty and awful. But I don’t want to complain. Spandex was not the highlight so I don’t recommend it.
So they put you with a serious trainer in order for you to pull off this role?
RW: No training happened. I did have a stunt guy who did some of the stuff but the only thing I had to learn was how to shoot a gun. I’ve never been in a gun range before and I’ve never shot guns. Michael Rooker – who plays Abe in the movie who’s one of the thugs – is a big gun enthusiast. He has all kinds of guns and he took me to the gun range and we blasted away at targets. I was the only Prius in the parking lot. I went with my poet friend and he’s literally a poet who lives outside of Woodstock. The biggest peace-knick you’d ever know and he loves the gun range and he wants to go back. It’s so much fun and it’s really powerful.
In addition to your gun training and handling, any training for welding that pipe wrench (his character’s favorite weapon)?
RW: You know, the important thing here as why I didn’t do any training is that Frank is an ordinary guy. He’s an ordinary line-cooker, an ordinary schlub who becomes a superhero. And I never wanted him to feel that all of a sudden he becomes Chuck Norris or anything like that. He doesn’t do a triple back ninja flip or anything like that. He’s just an ordinary guy who’s on a mission. He’s obsessed, he’s driven and he just smashes in heads and that’s what I wanted. He puts on that costume and it changes how you walk, changes how you move, changes how you view the world. And then he just comes up to people and just bashes them. There’s nothing fancy about it.
When did you become involved with the project?
RW: James Gunn used to be married to Jenna Fisher who plays Pam in “The Office.” We were on the set of “The Office,” and this is a true story, this wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Jenna Fisher. She said, “Rainn, I was talking to James the other night and I asked him how come he never did anything with that script called Super. It was my favorite script he ever wrote. He said, ‘Well I don’t really have anyone to play the lead role of Frank.’” And she said, “What about Rainn?” And he said, “Oh, that’s a great idea.” He sent me the script right over on Dwight’s desk and I printed it out and read it in my trailer. I was on board from then on. I’d seen and loved Slither, and I thought he mixed humor, horror and psychology really well. When I read the script I fell in love. It’s so messed up in so many different ways, but in a good way because it blends — It’s hard putting your finger on what the movie is. Is it a dark comedy? Is it an action movie? Is it a romance? Is it a drama? It’s got aspects of all of it and I love how he weaves all of those things into one world.
Speaking of all of that, what was it like working with Ellen Page – who’s the complete opposite of your character?
RW: It was important that Frank, my character, stays grounded and be really believable and heartfelt. He’s the steady kind of bass line of the movie in a way so that weird characters like Boltie (Ellen Page) and Jacques (Kevin Bacon) could spin out. It was great working with Ellen. We’ve worked together for one day on Juno before and this was another opportunity. We get along great, we have really similar sense of humor and she made me laugh like crazy. She’s phenomenal in the movie, she’s kind of the comical part. It interesting for me to sit back and let someone else kind of do the comedy.
The character is inspired by comic books, but it strikes me that cinematically this is more along the lines of Death Wish or even Taxi Driver. Was there a frame of reference for you when you were making this? Was there anything you watched to get in the mood?
RW: I’m glad you brought that up because people always ask those superhero movie questions but really it is a lot more like Falling Down, Death Wish or Taxi Driver than it is like Iron Man, Batman or something like that. It’s a character driven study and he just happens to dress up like a superhero. If he just went like Rambo and put on fatigues it’d be a very different movie. The absurdity is that he puts on this costume. But did I watch something? No, I don’t really do that so much. I think that my tradition as an actor – not to get all into the actor’s studio on your ass- I just get into the character. Who is this guy? Where does he start and where does he end? What does he go through all the way? What aspects of him are important physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically. So it’s just about really investing in the character.
Now along that same line, there’s an innocence that Frank has. When he was trying to create his costume, looking for things and trying to sew, when he gets the crayons to color pictures and things like that. Does that take you back, did you draw on your own childhood in dreams of playing superheroes?
RW: I think we all have that aspect of us where every kid at some point pretended to be a superhero, even girls. And to have magical powers, be able to fly and to just feel that power. Sure, I mean I always draw, I think every actor draws on themselves when playing a role. What would this be like and what was this like for me when I was a kid. So sure, it was definitely part of — I had a rich, deep fantasy life when I was a child. It was definitely along those lines.
Do you like having people dress up like your characters? I’m assuming that every Halloween now there’s a bunch of Dwights.
RW: Yeah, I read them on Twitter. There’s a lot of Dwights during Halloween, Dwight and Angela’s and stuff like that. I really like the bobble heads and the merchandising and the Clue games. There’s all kind of “Office”-themed games.
Did James (Gunn) just give you a lot of leeway in terms of ad-libbing or did you have a script that, because of the satiric quality of the material…
RW:I told him early on, I said “look, I’m playing this character pretty seriously and I’m going to go on this journey as Frank. My job is to bring heart to it, nobility and life to the role. I’m not going to really approach it as a comedic role. If you want extra comedy or you think something should be funny and let me know, I’ll improvise but I’m going to come in and pretty much stick to the script.” I love the script, I just love the way it was written. There were a couple of scenes we improvised between me and Ellen (Page), but I really wanted to really believably and truthfully bring the role of Frank to life. Cause it’s such a crazy movie with the special effects and violence.
What did you take away from this experience of making Super?
RW: This movie was a labor of love from the beginning. It was a real bitch to get made, it was really hard to get funding, wasn’t actually that hard to pull the cast together but it was just hard to get made. Its a really tough environment for films right now, young people just aren’t going out to the movie theaters to see independent films. They’ll go see Transformers 2 but they’re not going to pay ten dollars to go see 500 Days of Summer or an interesting indie. So it’s a tough environment and what I learned is that you can do and it was kind of like we we’re all in this together and it almost felt like we’re doing theatre. We’re all in this, lets put on a show and let’s make this movie happen. It was just a labor of love and what did I get out of it was just a really good feeling of just a really exciting feeling of having made something really special I believed in from the very beginning.
Super comes out Friday, April 1st. Check it out.