RAINN WILSON: RIDICULOUS VILLIANS AND STUFF THAT MATTERS
Actor, author and comedian Rainn Wilson spoke with Steve Daugherty on the porch recently about his role in the upcoming movie, Smurfs: The Lost Village. Rainn’s heart beats in tune with the very same things ours beats for here at The Porch, (have a look at his SoulPancake site for more) and we’re delighted to join him in slow conversations about beautiful, difficult things. Smurfs: The Lost Village opens Friday, April 7th.
STEVE DAUGHERTY: Rainn, I feel like I should tell you right off the bat that sometimes I look at a picture of you as Lahnk from Galaxy Quest just to make me smile, and I wanted to thank you for that.
RAINN WILSON: Oh nice. [laughs] Excellent. Thank you!
SD: Summer of 2015 you had said that you had landed your dream role as Gargamel, and I’d love to hear more about how that went for you.
RW: You know, I love playing ridiculous villains. Comedic villains are so much fun! I didn’t really grow up with the Smurfs—I’m a little too old for that—but I always loved those little blue guys and I always really felt for Gargamel. You know he’s so lonely, with his ugly cat. I was really thrilled to get to try and bring him to life in a fresh, new, fun, comedic way.
SD: What is it about playing comedic villains for you? Is that something from your childhood—a way of disarming them?
RW: Well, they’re so rich to play because they're so deeply flawed and they have such giant character defects; big egos, giant blindspots, huge narcissism. But they don’t recognize how idiotic they are. They take themselves way too seriously. And that’s just like a comedy playground. That’s just a hoot to play around in.
SD: Why is it those guys always end up with cat? I’m thinking of Dr. Evil…what is that?
RW: Oh- that’s true isn’t it! Gargamel and Dr. Evil both have a cat. And the Bond Villain that had a cat– that white cat. I think Donald Pleasance played him. Um, maybe it was Dr. No, I forget which one.
SD: I do too. But it occurs to me Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget had a cat.
RW: Oh! Interesting. Interesting. I don’t know, maybe it’s the only person that can give them unconditional love, and a cat gives them that? They certainly can’t get it from any human. That’s what I am gonna go with.
SD: Ok. A cat kind of embodies that narcissistic detachment so it’s really a perfect pet for the villain you just described.
RW: Oh yeah. It’s never a dog though is it?
SD: It never is a dog, no. The new Smurfs movie is obviously going to be gorgeous to look at, and has an amazing cast. What are you hoping kids, families, will take away from the film?
RW: Listen, the world is in a lot of turmoil right now. There’s a lot of pain and fear and disunity, and I think that the Smurfs can be the thing that we can all unite around. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, whether you're a Muslim or a Christian, whether you're from Iran or Mexico or the United States; everyone will love these little blue guys. And I think it can be a really fun uplifting movie.
SD: It sounds a little bit like it comes from the same place for you that SoulPancake did; being a hopeful, unitive storyteller. Would you say that?
RW: Yeah. I think that’s what we should strive for. We should strive for telling good stories that bring people together and make the world a better place. And the Smurfs in all seriousness is about people finding their identity, coming together as a family, finding their voice, this is a very girl-power Smurfs movie; so there’s a lot of positive things about it.
SD: At SoulPancake the motto is “We Make Stuff That Matters.” I’m fascinated by the fact that you didn’t feel the need to define those words. I’d love to hear you talk about how come you have a sense of what matters and what doesn’t.
RW: That’s a real good point. I think that to us, what matters is basic human stuff. So we go for basic human questions. Like, who are we? What is love? Where are we going? Do we have purpose? Just some real core human stuff that no matter who you are is basic in our human DNA.
SD: Yeah. It’s basic—it’s fundamental. I don’t know very many people who would disagree with what you just said. So what do you think it is that makes people willfully deemphasize things that we know matter to us?
RW: It’s easy to get off track. We’re like monkeys with, you know, shiny pieces of tinfoil. You can look at a Kardashian Instagram feed and kinda go “Oh maybe I should do corset training,” or “Maybe I need to buy the brand of lipstick,” and “Maybe I should be more like this person.” It’s easy to get very distracted from what unites us as human beings.
SD: Would you mind if I asked you about faith and spirituality and how that plays a role in your work?
RW: So, I’m a member of the Bahá'í faith and one thing that Bahá'í ‘s hold the most prized is to attempt to be of service to the world and to humanity. Both in our work and in our lives. It’s something I certainly don’t always succeed at but something I strive for is to look at where the service is, how it is helping others. My wife and I have a nonprofit educational initiative in Haiti called LIDÈ and that’s balancing my work life, my life as a storyteller and an entertainer and a comedian with service that gives back to the world. It’s difficult, but it’s very worthwhile.
SD: Talk to me about the difficulties. Obviously you’re a public figure and I would assume everyone wants a piece of you. What are the difficulties of being you and servant?
RW: It’s not me. It’s any human being. We live in a society and a culture that prizes taking care of yourself. Living a life of comfort. Living a life with a tremendous amount of distraction, whether that’s video games or shows or sports or social media. So finding that balance between your inner and outward life—a life of service and trying to support yourself and your family—it’s difficult for every human being on this planet.
SD: Have you heard of, in psychology, of the Hedonic Treadmill?
RW: Hm, no. Hedonic treadmill. I assume it has to do with hedonism but I have no idea what is it.
SD: It’s what you’re talking about. We seem to have convinced ourselves that going from one thing that mitigates pain to one thing that protects us from vulnerability to a thing that brings us pleasure, that we’ve conflated feeling good with doing good. So we can’t figure out how to get off the treadmill. We can’t figure out why do we feel so bad when we’ve done so good at feeling good?
RW: I need to look into that. That’s a really good analogy.
SD: Really good storytellers can use their platform to tell us these things—in a way they’re really reminding us of these things. What do you think Hollywood could improve upon regarding these things you have in your heart?
RW: Well, I think Hollywood does a lot of great stuff. I think like for example, Hidden Figureswas really entertaining, super funny, dealt with race in a really inspiring and interesting way, it made everyone a ton of money. But Hollywood doesn’t green light the next Hidden Figures kind of movie, they green light action tentpoles. And I think Hollywood can have action tentpoles and balance it with other movies that are inspirational and positive, and moneymaking, and I think audiences need to speak with their dollars. Not just go see tentpole action films but see movies that bring people together.
SD: We seem to better fund distraction.
SD: One more question; as you look out at the landscape of entertainment and storytelling, what makes you hopeful, Rainn?
RW: Oh I think there’s a lot of really positive stuff out there. I mean on Netflix there’s a hundred different titles that you can see that are super interesting and challenging about race, about environment, about religion, all those difficult topics of the day.There’s a ton to be hopeful about. More and more people coming together and telling great stories. Telling difficult stories. There’s more venues for those stories to get told.