The stirring clarion call is the tagline his character invents after deciding to fight crime with a pipe wrench and a bright red costume. Writer and director James Gunn, who sat on stage alongside Wilson, said he started with the idea of a superhero who was also a stalker, and fell in love with the characters as the story got bigger.
Wilson stars as Frank D’Arbo, also known as the powerless superhero Crimson Bolt, with Ellen Page as Libby, an insane young woman who fashions herself to be his sidekick, Boltie. D’Arbo strives to reclaim his wife Sarah, played by Liv Tyler, who relapses into drug addiction and leaves him for a drug dealer played by Kevin Bacon. Rob Zombie has a cameo as the voice of God.
“People keep asking me if I trained [to play Crimson Bolt]. No, I didn’t train. I’m a cook. I’m a short order cook with a pipe wrench,” Wilson said. “I’m not Christian Bale going to train in the mountains. It’s a guy with a pipe wrench and he hits people in the face with it who break the law.”
After a snafu left the pair without any footage to show the packed-room audience, Wilson and Gunn essentially interviewed each other for half an hour at the panel, sharing their passion for the project with the crowd while doing their best to paint a picture of the film.
“Picture some really awesome footage that’s really in your face and subversive and weird, and people getting hit in the face with a pipe wrench,” Wilson said.
Gunn added, “And Ellen Page taking sexual advantage of Rainn Wilson.”
“Super” was born in 2002 when Gunn sat down and wrote it as a short film in one sitting, hammering out 57 pages in a day. He almost had it made twice, but plans fell through. Eventually, Gunn’s ex-wife, Jenna Fischer, suggested it to Wilson on the set of “The Office.”
“I got a copy of the script, and when I was 22 pages into it I texted James and said, ‘I’m in,'” Wilson told the crowd. “I want to do this movie, I love it, my hands are trembling. And it wasn’t a sexual thing. I completely fell in love with it.”
The ensuing struggle to get the movie made shines a light on how much the people involved care about the project, Gunn said. Wilson, Bacon, Page and Tyler all worked for scale, earning a fraction of what they usually make on films to make sure it could survive, while the filmmakers tried to sell the project as “Napoleon Dynamite” meets “Taxi Driver.”
“It’s still pretty bad right now, but two years ago, independent film had just dried up,” Wilson said. “No one was going to see any indie films, they were not selling at Sundance or any of the festivals. It was a really dark time to try to get the movie made.”
Gunn said he doubts the movie will appeal to a broad audience, but he’s fine with that as he never felt it was meant to. “A lot of movies are made for everybody, but this is for outcasts, rebels, geeks and all the oddballs out there.”
Being the story of a powerless regular joe who puts on a costume and tries to fight crime, Gunn realised “Super” was inevitably going to face comparison to “Kick Ass” and a handful of other movies with similar premises, but the writer/director said he’s made something completely different.
“It’s a lot darker than anything in ‘Kick Ass,'” Gunn said. “It’s unrated. We couldn’t get an R rating. It’s also a lot more dramatic. Rainn shows a whole other side of himself as an actor that you don’t see, a great vulnerability. Kevin Bacon, we haven’t seen him in years, he’s a maniac, and Ellen Page is just really incredible. It’s her best performance ever.”
Later in the day, during a series of round table interviews, Wilson told CBR he wanted to give a performance that was true to the character, eschewing the wacky style of humor for which he’s better known in his role as Dwight Schrute on “The Office ” and give as authentic a performance as possible.
“Anyone who spends a lot of time as one character on a TV show is gonna be working their whole lives to play roles in contrast to that,” Wilson said. “I was acting for 14 or 15 years professionally before I was in ‘The Office.’
“I’m mostly just an actor. I want to play the role the way it needs to be played. I didn’t think consciously, how can I play this as different from Dwight as possible. But I did say to James, ‘Hey, if I ever sound like Dwight, let me know and we’ll do it different. Keep your radar up.’ Fortunately, that was never really an issue that came up.”
As for the chance to play a superhero, Wilson made no bones about it: “It was great. It was a dream come true. On Halloween, I dressed up like Superman three years in a row. I’d walk around in that cape feeling so awesome. I didn’t know how retarded I looked. And now the whole last act of the movie is Frank being a total badass, riding around with shotguns, blowing people up and cutting their heads off.
“It was fantastic. What else can you say? But I’m not really a superhero. People always ask, what’s your favorite super hero, and my response is always Travis Bickel.”
“Super” is playing now in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Boston and Washington, D.C., with broader openings coming in waves over the next several weeks.