Arts & Entertainment
Odd Man In
He's always playing outsiders, but Rainn Wilson doesn't care: He is one.
By Chris Azzopardi
Originally printed 8/21/08 (Issue 1634 - Between The Lines News)
With the glow of a nerd writing a mathematical proof, Rainn Wilson responds to our warning - "this is about to get gay" - like he's been building up to this moment.
"Good! Hit me. Hit me with the gayness," he says to us in mid-July, the day after a Birmingham screening of his first starring feature role in "The Rocker." That's where mostly young fans of the comic actor, known for his oddball roles on TV series "The Office" and "Six Feet Under," filled a theater in the Palladium 12 to see the goofy guy - and hear him talk about "watermeloning."
The random bad-word substitute, suggested by radio personality Mojo of local Channel 955, fit the quirky geek - who almost slipped in the f-word a few times in front of the all-ages crowd - like his thick-plastic-framed glasses: Perfectly.
Now, the morning after the preview, he's several hours into his frenzied press schedule, and is just too busy for watermeloning. And the night before? Well, he wasn't having it either.
"I was too tired," he says, disappointed. But he can't be too upset. Just a few years ago, he was embalming bodies on "Six Feet Under" as the dorky, sexually-unseasoned undertaker Arthur Martin. Then, he scored Dwight Schrute, a dorky (again), paper salesman suck-up on "The Office." Smaller stints - like a scene-stealing store clerk in indie sleeper "Juno" - were equally memorable. But now, in "The Rocker," which opened yesterday, those unacquainted with the homo-hearting jester will get a couple hours of him. And lots of ass - an easy sell (maybe?) for straight chicks, and us.
"I would love to be the next Liza Minnelli," says Wilson, 42. "I would love to be a gay icon, or a gay-con, and that could - there's enough of my butt crack showing in this movie to entice people of all sexual orientations."
As Robert "Fish" Fishman in "The Rocker," Wilson is the dumped drummer of Vesuvius, an '80s rock band on the verge of superstardom, who relives his dream - after a tedious 20-year job in an office - when his nephew has him play in his high school band A.D.D. His career, where he becomes known as the Naked Drummer, catapults with a leaked YouTube video of him literally rocking out with his cock (and ass) out. Again, Wilson's the nerdy kook - a role he won't soon give up if he plans on following his acting teacher's tip.
"He literally pulled me aside and he's like, 'You know what? You're gonna work, but it's gonna take you a loooong time to get established and you're gonna have to make your way by doing comic character parts.'"
Wilson was cool with that.
"I guess I've always felt like an outsider and always kind of alienated - and those are the parts I just gravitate toward," says Wilson, who proudly wore an Atari tee during the question-and-answer session. "I don't even know if I could play a normal, well-balanced popular guy who fits in."
Start with the shirt.
Wilson's not gay - but that hardly means he's not down with us. "Six Feet Under" was, what he calls, "the biggest gay show" for a long time. And before he was cast as Arthur - who was suspected as being a 'mo by the HBO show's core gay character, David - he received umpteen calls requesting him for countless roles; he just kept putting it off. Finally, he auditioned for the priest, and then several gay choir members.
"I never got cast," he says. "Ah, I was so pissed. I really wanted to be on the show; I just loved the show so much and I knew Michael Hall ("David") and Peter Krause ("Nate"); we actually had all gone to college together."
While trying out for the gay warbler roles, Wilson read Arthur's bio: "It described him as a Peter Sellers-type mortician intern and I was like, 'Wait a minute. This is right up my alley.'"
Arthur became a regular during season three, which scored the cast, in addition to several GLAAD Media Awards, a Screen Actors Guild Award for Ensemble in a Drama Series. "The Office," which launched in 2005 (about a year after Wilson's farewell from the Fishers' funeral home) and enters its fifth installment on Sept. 25, consecutively garnered two more SAG Awards in the ensemble-comedy category.
There, his ambition to do something queer didn't cease: He was the brain behind the gay-dar detector used in season three's anti-gay-parody premiere. On it, an employee is outed, the staff reacts (by giggling, or using hand sanitizer like they'll catch the "disease") and the boss (played by Steve Carell) proves he's OK with gay by forcefully lip-locking the co-worker. And Dwight? He does it, too - and assists Carell's character in looking for gay porn. In the office.
Then there's the contraption: the one he thinks will, like a metal detector, beep at the queers. When his belt buckle accidentally sets it off, he thinks, "Am I gay?"
"I have to say: That was my idea," Wilson says, as proud as a kid who's just learned to ride a bike. "I said to the show runner, Greg Daniels, I was like, 'You know, Dwight has to actually get the gay-dar.'"
Such a practical invention would benefit Wilson, whose queer-catching is on par with Dwight's. "I have no gay-dar. I'm terrible at that. My wife is fantastic. She can just - she's got like gay-dar in her nose."
Brookstone, you hear?Chris Azzopardi is the entertainment editor of Between The Lines. To reach him, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.