- 11 Aug 18
Best known for his role as Dwight Schrute in the US version of The Office, Rainn Wilson’s latest movie The Meg is a rip-roaring action-adventure about a giant prehistoric shark. He talks about balancing his hugely successful Hollywood career with his philanthropic projects.
After playing the intense, nerdy and power-hungry oddball Dwight Schrute on the American version of The Office for over seven years, actor and writer Rainn Wilson is eager to confound expectations. He’s achieving this through his writing work, humanitarian efforts, and the thought-provoking website Soul Pancake, which he co-founded to ask big questions and foster creativity. But first, he has to catch a giant pre-historic shark.
Wilson features in The Meg, the sci-fi action horror flick directed by Jon Turtletaub and also starring Jason Statham. Based on the 1997 novel Meg: A Novel Of Deep Terror by Steve Alten, the film sees a 75-foot-long prehistoric shark - called a Megalodon - rise from the depths of the ocean and attack a research submersible. While Statham plays the hero, Wilson plays Jack Morris, a wealthy businessman who funded the research - but soon spots a more profitable, if dangerous, money-making venture.
“I thought it was a fun, rip-roaring adventure,” enthuses Wilson about The Meg. “I love big summer popcorn movies, I always have - it’s been a secret weakness of mine! So I was thrilled to be a part of it. I was really drawn to the character of Morris, because for a film like this, he’s surprisingly complex. He’s kind of villainous, but he’s also the comic relief. And he’s the practical one, who’s looking at the business aspects of the discovery of this giant killer shark. So there’s a lot of different facets to play with; he’s not just ‘The Goofy Guy’ or ‘The Bad Guy’.”
Describing Turtletaub as “one of the great popcorn movies directors of all time”, and Jason Statham as “hysterical”, Wilson says that shooting the action-packed, CGI-shark-filled film was a blast. Until, that is, November 8 2016, when the threat of a potentially world-destroying monster no longer felt like just a fun idea for a movie.
“The day of the American presidential election, we were shooting in this bay out in New Zealand,” recalls Wilson. “I was one of three Americans there, so other people cared but weren’t nearly as invested in the election. I barely had a phone signal out there, and I kept hitting ‘Refresh’ on CNN and the results were rolling in. It was incredibly surreal seeing it happen, and to find out that Donald Trump had become our president while in a bay in the South Pacific was bizarre.”
Though he describes himself as an Independent, Trump’s administration is a frequent topic on Wilson’s Twitter feed, particularly its dangerous negligence around gun control and environmental protection. But Wilson isn’t interested in just complaining; he wants to act. His upbringing in the Baha’i faith instilled in him a desire to spread empathy and unity, two themes which also feature heavily on Soul Pancake.
With over two million subscribers, the site features videos and content that tackle life’s big questions, such as the science of happiness. The site was created pre-Trump, but Wilson believes it is more relevant than ever.
“We have always steered clear of politics since the very beginning,” he explains. “We want to explore universal themes and what it means to be a human being in a thoughtful way. People are longing for that more than ever right now. There’s so much division and disunity and vitriol, wherever you turn. People are really looking for deeper, more profound, universal experiences. We try to both serve and steer the needs of our viewership, so the last year has been very interesting and challenging.”
Humour, by its very nature, is a unifying force - so does Wilson believe that his desire to unite people inspired his love of comedy?
“I feel a little bit schizophrenic, because I have these two lives,” he responds. “I’m known for playing these comedic characters and weirdos, and for doing really irreverent humour. Then I have this other side to me that’s more philosophical, spiritual and service-oriented. Not many committed comedy actors really engage in those worlds - at least not in LA, maybe more in London. So I feel a bit split between those two sides of my personality, but I’m trying to bring them together so I can play fun characters, while also talking about big life questions.”
Fans of The Office may be unintentionally reinforcing that divide between Wilson’s comedy career and his other projects. Another big passion of the actor’s is Lide Haiti, an educational initiative he co-founded that uses art and literacy to empower adolescent girls in rural Haiti. It’s a beyond admirable project that Wilson tweets about regularly - but sometimes his “fans” don’t appreciate him stepping out of the Dwight Schrute box.
“There’s a certain price you pay when you get really well-known for one role,” he admits. “But at the same time, being able to play Dwight has allowed me to do so many things, so I’m really grateful. But also, say online, I’ll post something about our work in Haiti, and the fans are like, ‘Shut up and say something funny like Dwight would!’ But I ignore them, because that’s some pimply guy working in a Taco Bell in Omaha who wants me to be Dwight. But I’m on my own journey, and being an actor, writer and director is part of it - and being a producer and humanitarian is also part of it. They’re all parts of the one big tie that is me.”
The Meg is in cinemas from August 10.