(HollywoodChicago.com)Rainn Wilson is more than just the popular NBC character Dwight Schrute. The bespectacled antagonist of “The Office” is nowhere in evidence this time around as Wilson sat down with HollywoodChicago.com to talk about his new film “The Rocker”.

The theater and TV veteran expressed a thoughtfulness and gratitude about his journey to this first feature-film lead role and spoke more about the craft of acting than the virtue of his celebrity.

Rainn Wilson in Chicago (left) for “The Rocker” with HollywoodChicago.com film critic Patrick McDonald (right).
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

“The Rocker” is a comedy about Richard “Fish” Fishman (Wilson): a drummer from the 1980s whose hair metal band “Vesuvius” is about to hit the big time.

Unfortunately, he isn’t going with them. The band decides to dump Fish right before the breakthrough. Distraught, Fish goes on a downward spiral for a few decades and ends up living in his sister’s attic in Cleveland, Ohio.

Rainn Wilson was able to play a drummer because he had a music background.

“I had a little bit of experience when I went to New Trier Township High School (in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Ill.). There was a short-lived band I was in called Collective Moss,” he said. “We only played two gigs. We were the world’s worst cover band. We were just awful.”

Rainn Wilson in Chicago for “The Rocker” on June 10, 2008.
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

Wilson added: “But I could read music and that’s how I learned the tracks for ‘The Rocker’. I would tape the ‘score’ on the drum set and learn to play that way. This made it easier for me to pick up the rhythm.”

When Fishman’s nephew (Josh Gad) finds that his fledgling band “A.D.D.” is in need of a drummer, he turns to his now-older uncle to sit in. In a calculated turn of events, this new band (with old-man Fish on drums) becomes an up-and-coming sensation.

They go on the road with their parents (including Christina Applegate) and a new manager (Jason Sudeikis) in tow.

“A lot of dialogue was improvised,” Wilson said. “Jason Sudeikus would say some of the most wildly inappropriate stuff that would come out in a stream of consciousness. Josh Gad had the strangest wiring of his brain. You never knew what he was going to do.”

Christina Applegate is Kim: the mother of and chaperone to a young rock musician in “The Rocker”.
Photo credit: George Kraychyk

He added: “It was nice to see everyone doing their thing and being allowed to do their thing. Everyone was allowed to be funny.”

Strangely enough, it is Fish who’s the wild and inappropriate child on the tour. His antics almost derail the entire band. There is one last concert chance, though, at the Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame against his old 1980s band mates.

How did the normally lower-key characters that Rainn Wilson plays get morphed into a wild-man rock star?

“It was studying the drums. There is something about a drummer,” he said. “They’re not cerebral. I have a tendency in my life to be more cerebral and a bit reserved. But he’s a big puppy dog, a physical person and a ‘talk first, think later’ type with his heart on his sleeve. It was lot of fun to plunge into that.”

“There was no specific drummer who I based my character on,” he added. “It was a compilation of watching the heavy-metal drummers on YouTube. I recommend that to anyone. Start researching hair-metal drummers.”

Wilson also talked about the inevitability of comparisons between his essential Dwight Schrute character on “The Office” and drummer Fish in “The Rocker”.

“There are similarities between Dwight Schrute and Fish and there are differences,” he reflected. “But there has to be enough similarities so ‘The Office’ fans will line up when ‘The Rocker’ opens to see the guy who plays Dwight play a heavy-metal rocker dude. It was just a blast to enter into that whole genre of music.”

Finally, Wilson discusses his experience in working at “The Office”.

“I’ve been very fortunate because Dwight Schrute comes from the writers and creator Greg Daniels. They aren’t interested in doing things the normal way things have been done,” Wilson said. “They want to find different facets and different sides to all the characters.”

“It works well,” he added. “When you see Dwight’s vulnerabilities, people respond to it and are more likely to tune in. Then we get to make more episodes.”

Note: In a unique viral marketing promotion, Rainn Wilson has “kidnapped” “The Office” mate Jenna Fischer and will not free her until “everyone” sees “The Rocker”. Visit FreeJennaNow.com to play along.

“The Rocker,” which features Rainn Wilson, Josh Gad, Christina Applegate, Emma Stone, Jason Sudeikis, Teddy Geiger, Jeff Garlin, Jane Lynch, Fred Armisen, Will Arnett and Jane Krakowski, opens on Aug. 20, 2008 everywhere.

Staff Writer

© 2008 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com