When Rainn Wilson came into my room at The Last Mimzy press day, he positioned another chair next to the one he was sitting in and stretched himself out, pretty much laying down at the head of the table. It was sort of a weird position for me, because I was sitting next to him and suddenly I was talking to the back of his head. It also made me feel sort of like the worst paid psychiatrist in history.
Wilson’s become famous thanks to The Office, where he plays the sycophantic and often deluded Dwight Schrute. His role in The Last Mimzy couldn’t be farther from that – he’s Larry White, the cool grade school science teacher who could have swung you to a career in biology. When one of his students comes into possession of strange toys from the future that could hold the key to the fate of all mankind, Larry’s dreams could make all the difference. There’s not a moment of Schrute-like obnoxiousness to be found.
The Last Mimzy opens everywhere today.
How did you end up in The Last Mimzy?
I was finishing up with the second season of The Office and I was offered a number of parts that were in very broad comedies. I didn’t want to do them, and then I was offered this script and I really responded to it. I had a visceral, emotional, gut reaction to the story. I found myself just teared up at the end of reading it, and that never happens me when reading a script. The idea of playing a three dimensional character that isn’t a comical caricature and being able to bring some real humanity and heart to a story that I felt was important is such a rare thing, so I was happy to have the opportunity.
The film is definitely a kid’s movie, but it also has a song by Roger Waters, and you’re wearing that Pink Floyd shirt, and there’s all the Tibetan mandalas and these fractal vortexes and quantum engineering… it all brings me back to my blacklight poster phase. Was that something that appealed to you?
I’m a member of the Baha’i faith and I have certain religious beliefs that very much coincide with the messages and themes that are woven into this film.
So it spoke to you on a very personal level.
It did. I think humanity is at a very important crossroads and technology can lead us to destroy ourselves and take us away from our essential human souls or technology can unite us and solve the differences of race and gender and religion, the things that divide us in the world, and can heal us as a species. Baha’is believe that, and I think the movie also teaches us that. So that was very exciting to be part of the story like that.
The film has a post-9/11 feel as well, with the Patriot Act being involved and the perceived terrorist threat.
I think what the writer and the director have managed to do is they’ve kind of made a classic little science fiction that’s very much like the classic sci-fi films of the 80s that we all grew up with, like ET and Close Encounters and even War Games. But at the same time it doesn’t feel dated, it feels very present. I think what great science fiction films do is, rather than reveal the future to us – because who knows what that will be like – they reveal the present to us, and give us a perspective on what’s happening right now. I think that’s’ what The Last Mimzy does.
Did you bring ideas to the film?
I did pick the Pink Floyd shirt, which led to Roger Waters’ eventual involvement. I was trying to pick the costume for Larry, and I grew up in the Pacific Northwest [the film takes place in Seattle] and there’s a very specific kind of guy, like a Larry White, who I went to high school who aren’t hippies. There’s not much hippie-ish that you can say about Larry White. People say, ‘Oh he’s a hippie.’ Why, because he’s sitting cross-legged or has Birkenstocks on? No. In fact, he’s making fun of his wife meditating. There’s nothing actually hippie-ish about him other than he has some alternative ideas about spirituality and has traveled the world. So his wardrobe shows that about him, there’s a kind of outdoorsman, alternative thing happening. The Pink Floyd t-shirt was part of that, and apparently getting the rights for that let Roger Waters know a little bit about the movie and [director] Bob [Shaye] had a connection with him and he wrote a song.
How do you like your directors? Do you like the strict ones, or the ones who let you do your own thing?
The best directors are like Bob, they’re collaborators. If you’re going to cast someone like me you’re going to get someone who’s going to improvise and bring their own particular spin to things. I think it would be a mistake for a didactic dictator director to cast me in one of their movies, and I hope they don’t. I don’t work well under those conditions. I don’t know how I would have done under Stanley Kubrick, where he’d be taking 107 takes because he wants a certain line reading. But Bob is a great collaborator.
Speaking of directors, you’ve had high profile guest directors on The Office this season. TV is very much not a director’s medium, so what is it like when a Joss Whedon or a JJ Abrams comes in?
I put it to one director friend of mine: ‘Whoever directs our show, it’s always going to be at least a B+ episode.’ It’s never going to suck because the scripts are really good, the actors know what they’re doing, the DP knows what he’s doing, the editors know what they’re doing, and they’re all going to do a pretty good job. It’s the director who has to take it up from the B+ area to the A-/A area, and I think that’s what an experienced director can do with more interesting shot angles, some details of character history, something to enrich the episodes. It’s not really for the director, completely. So many of these directors are huge Office fans. Harold Ramis has directed three episodes, and working with him is such a treat. He always has the best comic spins on the stuff that we’re doing. He has such a great sense of humor.
You grew up on his stuff, and here he is as your director –
It’s amazing. I grew up on Stripes and Ghostbusters.
The press kit says the Kanan Rhodes: Unkillable Servant of Justice is happening this year. I thought Banzai Shadowhands was this year?
I have a number of movie irons in the fire. It might be one of those, or it might be none of those. I’m writing Banzai Shadowhands, and we need a good script to make that happen. I hope to hear about Kanan Rhodes in a couple of days.
That’s going to be directed by Bob Odenkirk?
If it happens, it’s going to be directed by Odenkirk. We have to get it greenlit for our budget.
Your Dwight Schrute blog is interesting because it’s this new thing where you’re writing as the character –
I can’t think of anyone else who did it before me. I don’t know of anyone who blogged as the character before I did. I started that two years ago, doing blogs as Dwight’s blog.
Was that something that came from you or the studio?
The studio wanted me to blog from the set of The Office to get some online content going, and I thought that blogging would be an excellent forum for Dwight to share his views with the world.
How does that work with the writers? Do you talk about the blogs with the writers or do you just blog away?
I blog away. I don’t give away anything they’re writing in the scripts and I try and keep what Greg Daniels would want. There are times when I was blogging and I think Greg wouldn’t be happy with that, so I take it out. It’s about serving his vision.
Has blog stuff ever come back to end up on the actual show?
The writers love reading the blogs, but I can’t think of a time when something I blogged about has come back to be on the show. We’ll see.