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Originally published Tuesday, August 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Rainn Wilson goes from "Office" dork to aging "Rocker"

Rainn Wilson, known for his role as Dwight Schrute of "The Office," talks about his new movie, "The Rocker," opening Aug. 20.

Seattle Times staff reporter

On TV

"The Office"

Fifth season premieres Sept. 25 on KING-TV.

Bespectacled with an unsightly haircut and an air of superiority, Dwight Schrute isn't the most likable character on television. But when Rainn Wilson plays the annoying co-worker on "The Office," he steals the show.

Wilson is snatching the spotlight on the big screen, too. His new movie, "The Rocker," opens Wednesday, with some screenings late tonight. The film is about an aging drummer attempting to school all those around him.

Wilson himself was a wannabe rocker in high school — though his band failed to even make it into his high school's Battle of the Bands. The actor, 42, grew up between a 7-Eleven and a Pizza Hut in the Seattle suburbs, attending Shoreline's Shorecrest High School. The Seattle Times caught him on the phone out of Dallas.

Q: Why did you decide to take on "The Rocker?"

A: I was really taken with the outrageous comedy of it, the physical comedy, the gag of this aging dinosaur rocker guy with these kids. ... I always ask them on "The Office" to do more physical humor. I love it when they put Dwight into those kind of situations where he has to break a glass window or vomit on something. But, at the same time, what really sold me was the fact we have a chance to do something really silly — but also it's a very touching coming-of-age comedy with real heart and real characters. That's pretty rare in comedies these days.

Q: On the topic of physical humor — there's a lot of nudity in the movie. Did you have any problems with that?

A: No, my body has been making people laugh for as long as I remember. Might as well get paid for it.

Q: How was it wearing the rocker outfits, tight pants and all?

A: It's awesome. I highly recommend it to anyone. Put on some pleather pants, or spandex, leopard print, headband, scarves. Tie scarves around whatever you want to tie them around — like a kneecap, elbow, ear. You will be so sexy and cool, you can't even believe it.

Q: Did you ever want to be a rocker?

A: Sure. I don't know what kid didn't really. Absolutely, always loved rock 'n' roll music, lived for the rock, and was the lead singer of a band in high school, called Collected Moss. We were the world's worst cover band. We were so bad that we didn't even make it into the Battle of the Bands at the high school. We failed that audition, which means we were, like, not even in the top eight bands in my high school!

Q: What songs did your band cover?

A: We did everything from "Fire on the Mountain," by the Grateful Dead, to "Should I Stay or Should I Go," by the Clash, and everything in between. We had the classic-rock guys, jam-band guys, the punker guys. I was really into new wave and ska and punk. No one could see eye to eye. We had no philosophy.

Q: Did you have a rocker in mind to mirror for the movie?

A: No, not at all. I think it's a misconception that people do that as actors. You research the role. I watched a lot of YouTube videos about heavy-metal drummers, was taking drum lessons. You need to create the character in the script. ... It's all about mapping out that arc of that journey, rather than basing it on one specific heavy-metal drummer.

Q: What do you like the best and least about Dwight?

A: I love how seriously Dwight takes himself, and that's one thing I love to play, like the more absurd of stuff I can be doing or saying, and the more seriously I can take it, really trying to connect with that — that brings me no end of joy. What do I like least about Dwight? I guess I'll never get to look cool in any way, shape or form. I have the ugliest haircut, which I specifically designed to be the least flattering haircut for my particular head, and I'll always have the ugliest clothes and always be uptight and annoying. But, I pretty much made my peace with that aspect of his character.

Q: Do you have anything in common with Dwight?

A: Just the rugged good looks.

Q: So in "Transformers 2," you're transforming into a toaster?

A: I did a one-day little cameo. Love it when bread is cooked. ... I just wanted to be a part of the bread-making toasting process.

Q: You're also working on a movie about an alcoholic ninja?

A: Yes. Well, I've just finished the second draft of that script for ["Juno" director] Jason Reitman. It's called "Bonzai Shadowhands," about a down-and-out alcoholic ninja that lives in the San Fernando Valley. Hopefully, if things move forward, maybe we'll be shooting that in 2009.

Q: What does being from Seattle bring to your acting and comedy?

A: Seattleites are a nerdy, pale bunch that are maybe a little self-serious. I think I look like a big goofy Seattle on the big screen, or the small screen. So, you can take the boy out of Seattle, you know what they say.

Q: So, I have to ask about your first name — does it have any relation to our Seattle weather?

A: There's no correlation there, but my mom wanted to want to name me Thucydides after the famous Greek historian, and my dad wanted to name me Rainer, after [German poet] Rainer Maria Rilke. But, he thought that everyone would think I was named after Mount Rainier, so then it changed to Rainn. Even just Rain with one "n" was, like, too hippie-ish even for then, living on a houseboat on Lake Union in the late '60s, so they added an extra "n" — I don't know for what reason. But I always say the extra "n" is for extra nookie.

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or mliu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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