Drum Solo

He’s known best as The Office’s Dwight Schrute, but this month Rainn Wilson takes on his first comedic lead as the jilted drummer of a Cleveland hair-metal band in The Rocker.
There were the gratuitously cliché exclamations of “Hello, Cleveland!” and liberties taken with our downtown geography (no one looks out the window of their suburban attic and sees the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum), but there is a charm to Rainn Wilson’s new movie, The Rocker, that connects with our Rust Belt hearts.

For many, it will be seeing the Rock Hall and Cleveland Browns Stadium splashed across a big screen (most of the movie was filmed in Canada, but Wilson shot scenes here for two days last summer). Others will connect with the story of a 1980s rock drummer who is kicked out of his band only to watch it go on to superstardom without him. It’s the tale of “fifth Beatle” Pete Best for the Superbad generation.

We talked to Wilson, who has a legion of fans thanks to his role as The Office’s Dwight Schrute, about stepping out in front (and sitting down behind a drum kit) for his first comic lead.

What about this movie attracted you to it?
I was having a conversation with my old buddy Rob Zombie and he was talking about the dangers of releasing a new album. He said you’re always in this catch, because if you don’t branch out and try something new, everyone will write you off and say, “Oh, he’s just doing the same thing over and over.” But if you go too outside the box, you’ll lose your fan base who has followed you for a specific reason

I feel the same way about The Rocker. I really wanted to do something very different than Dwight and play a very different kind of guy, and the rocker is definitely that. He’s bigger, dumber, looser, a much more heart-on-his-sleeve, wilder guy than Dwight is. He’s not uptight or strait-laced. But at the same time, he and Dwight do share a certain kind of idiocy.

Were there any particular rock drummers of the ’80s you tried to emulate?
No, but when I started studying with the drum teacher, we watched a lot of YouTube and did a lot of research of drummers of the era, and I highly recommend it. If you want to pass a really great 20 minutes, start looking at the drummers in live performances from the mid-’80s. Drummers are big baboons — let’s face it. But heavy metal drummers are big baboons in women’s clothing.

How did Pete Best end up making a cameo in the film?
The producers really loved that idea of Pete Best being a part of it. The drummer getting kicked out of the rock band is his story. He’s best known fornot making the band. We actually shot a whole scene that will be on the DVD, but they just cut it down to a cameo. He was surprisingly open and just a really nice guy. I think he does all right. I think he gets some royalties off some early Beatles tracks. He has his own band and tours around playing all over the world.

Your drumming looked pretty natural. Did you already know how to play?
No, not at all. It’s was a crash course in drums. I had two or three weeks of rehearsal every day. ... I not only needed to learn how to play the drums and some of the tricks of heavy metal drumming, but I also had to learn all of the songs that we end up playing in the movie.

What’s one hair-band CD you own that you’ll still listen to today?
I think the only one I can still listen to today is Guns N’ Roses. Guns N’ Roses still kicks ass — way more than those other bands.

Your rock video game of choice: Rock Band or Guitar Hero?
I have Rock Band. I don’t play it a whole lot, but I like that one. It’s fun. You can play and rock out with the whole family —just like the Partridge Family.
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