‘Super”s Ellen Page & Rainn Wilson on Vigilantism, Misogynistic Pigs & Kevin Bacon

Although he appears in 2007’s Juno for just a few minutes, Rainn Wilson’s quip, “This is one doodle that can’t be un-did, Homeskillet,” which he says to Ellen Page’s title character, became one of the most quoted lines from Diablo Cody’s verbose, hilarious, and Academy Award-winning script. (Page was also nominated for an Oscar for her performance as the pregnant and conflicted protagonist.) After spending a day shooting his scenes for Juno in British Columbia, Wilson, now 45, took Page for a drink and cemented their friendship.

When Wilson, most recognizable for his portrayal of Dwight Schrute on NBC’s hit series The Office, met with filmmaker James Gunn to discuss the latter’s balls-out vigilante tale, a midnight-black comedy called Super, they knew the film needed a strong female lead. They were looking for an “Ellen Page type,” but couldn’t quite decide who that was, so instead of scouring agencies for imitations, they went straight to the source. Wilson, who also appears alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman in this month’s Hesher, emailed the 24-year-old Canadian actor to gauge her interest in playing Libby, a comic book store employee who befriends Frank (Rainn Wilson), a scorned everyman who conceives of Crimson Bolt, the superhero alter ego he adopts in his quest to win back his wife (Liv Tyler). Together, Crimson Bolt and Boltie (Libby’s superhero name) do battle with drug-peddling heavies and a sweetly sickening Kevin Bacon. Bolt attacks his targets with a wrench. Boltie runs people over in her car. It’s all very Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, but with sex and less hairy feet (hers anyway).

From their homes in Los Angeles, Page and Wilson reminisce about spandex and discover their mutual appreciation for Salt.

Were you at all apprehensive about being in such a violent film? ELLEN PAGE: Even though I have a hard time with violence, I didn’t have any reservations about this film. It doesn’t always seep into my brain that—[The sound of a chiming bell indicates that Rainn Wilson has been connected to the conference call.] Fancy you showing up.

RAINN WILSON: I always get on conference calls four minutes late, because it’s not so late that it pisses people off, but it’s just late enough to show how important I am. What are you guys talking about?

We were just acknowledging the violence in Super. RW: I was talking to a friend the other day about that movie with John Cusack where the world gets destroyed—2012? In it, something like five or six billion people die, and it’s the most preposterous thing you’ve ever seen in your life, but no one really talked about the violence in that movie. They just talk about the special effects. In Super, about 11 people die and a few get bashed in the head, but people are so freaked out by the violence. The reason why the violence doesn’t bother me is because I think the movie makes a statement about violence, which has to do with this world where we’re like, Are these people insane or are they heroes? What’s the difference between a vigilante and a superhero? What are the real effects of violence? I don’t want to give anything away, but with Ellen’s adorable character, we really see the consequences of people trying to play superhero. Without the violence, the movie would feel false.

EP: When I did Hard Candy, which is also a vigilante movie, I was constantly getting comments about the violence. Men would chuckle and say, “I don’t want to go anywhere near you!” But every time you turn on the news women are being raped, murdered, and left in dumpsters. It’s the beginning of every Law & Order episode. I don’t know how this happened, but I watched Salt last night, and, sweet Jesus, that lady kills a lot of people. She is just constantly killing people.

RW: In Salt, she blows away 347 people, but it’s a movie about how badass Angelina Jolie looks in leather pants. The camera doesn’t linger on the smoldering, decimated skulls of the people she’s just killed, and it doesn’t show the families weeping at their funerals. image

You know who could die in Super without too many tears? Kevin Bacon’s character. RW: I was 11 years old when I first saw him in Animal House, and he’s always been so memorable in—[A beeping noise indicates that someone has been dropped from the call.]

Did Ellen just hang up? Maybe she didn’t feel like talking about Kevin Bacon. RW: Let’s just come out and say it: Kevin Bacon broke her heart. Seriously, though, I think his characterization is unlike anything we’ve ever seen him play before. He’s so sleazy and charming, and you really just want to put a gun in his mouth. [The chiming bell indicates that Page has been reconnected to the conference call.]

EP: Sorry, sorry! I got knocked off! I’m a huge Kevin Bacon fan—I think any self-respecting person is a Kevin Bacon fan—although I didn’t get to work with him in this movie and I’ve never met him. But I still think I’ve earned the right to say there are zero degrees of separation between us since we’re in the same movie.

Along with Kick-Ass, Super exemplifies a larger trend in film, one that ignores big-budget superhero epics in favor of smaller pictures about regular guys who take it upon themselves to fight crime. Why do you think that is? RW: There are so many superhero films coming out, and there are more and more on the way because they’ve proven to be box-office gold. Get a young star with six-pack abs and put him in a tight outfit, then tell audiences the story of how he discovered he was a superhero and watch the magic happen. Super is a reaction to that. It’s like the real Watchmen, or the underbelly of the superhero tale. Superheroes are like the myths of our time, like our Greek gods, but the way studios package these stories for 14-year-old boys isn’t all that true to their roots.

Having worked together, however briefly, in Juno, was it easier to share scenes in Super? EP: When I trust someone, I’m better able to uninhibitedly pour myself into a character. Rainn and I have a sex scene in the movie that’s kind of delicate—well, not delicate in the way it’s acted out, but delicate for an actor to shoot. I don’t immediately connect to being a sexual predator, so it felt especially strange for me, but it’s so easy when you’re working with someone like Rainn. He takes the craft very seriously, but he doesn’t take himself very seriously. I’m crazy about the guy to the extent that he’s someone I miss, and you don’t always miss, or stay in touch with, your costars.

You two recently joked on Twitter that you’d consider co-starring in a remake of The Bodyguard. What would that version look like? RW: In my low-rent version of The Bodyguard, Ellen Page is the lead singer of a punk band, let’s say Sleater-Kinney, and I’m the doorman at a place like…

EP: Echoplex? Spaceland?

RW: Spaceland! I’m the doorman at Spaceland and she’s a singer in a punk band. I realize that some jilted ex-lover of hers is planning to take her out, but I don’t have a gun or a walkie-talkie in my earbud. All I have as a weapon is…

A clipboard? RW: Yes, that’s right! I’d defend her honor, we’d fall in love, and then we’d make love all night, surround by coyotes, up by the Silver Lake Reservoir tower. EP: It’ll be just like the original, but mixed with a little (500) Days of Summer.

Almost everything we say or do is documented and archived online. You’re both computer-literate, obviously, and so I’m curious to know if you read what’s written about you on blogs. EP: I read some stuff, but not in any OCD manner. My relationship with the internet comes and goes. I think it’s kind of rad that I get to be alive during a time when there’s all this new shit that’s super-relevant and changing things—like YouTube, which made that little kid from Canada ridiculously famous. Who knows if all of this technology is healthy or unhealthy, or what the fuck it all means, but it’s fascinating and I’m curious about it.

RW: When I first created my Twitter account, I read all of the @replies I got. When I started getting known for The Office, I’d read what people were saying on the IMDb message boards, but I got so bummed out by all the negative stuff. Say there’s an online clip of me doing something. If someone enjoys that clip, they’re not going to write anything. It’s only angry, unemployed screenwriters or teenagers from Des Moines with pencils in their butts who anonymously write their hate screeds. My life is so much better than reading about why some pimply fan of the English version of The Office hates me.

EP: As an actor, there came a time in my life when people were suddenly writing about me, which is a weird transition unto itself, realizing that my name somehow resonates with random people I’ve never met. That’s still such a weird concept to me. I’ve read insanely horrible things about myself on the internet, which can be really overwhelming when you’re 21 and it’s about things that are extremely, invasively personal. At one point someone wrote that he would rape me, and I think that’s when I was like, Um, okay, I’m now done reading these things.

RW: Ellen… that was me.

But he feels really bad about it. RW: I’m sorry!

When did you two become friends? EP: I wouldn’t necessarily call us friends. RW: I only spent one day on the set of Juno, but Ellen and I had a great time together. I was such a huge fan of hers because she’s so funny and low-key and real. After that, we stayed in touch. EP: And then we became butt buddies! RW: On set, whenever one of us shouted “butt buddies,” we had to find each other and jump up and down, rubbing our butts together. There’s nothing like butt cheeks and spandex, rubbing up against each other in a friendly, butt buddy kind of way.

Sounds like a Platonic hoot! EP: Who said anything about Platonic?

SxSW ‘Super’ Interview with James Gunn

Early on the second evening of Austin’s epic SxSW 2011, the eagerly-awaited symphony of spandex otherwise known as Super premiered, with director James Gunn and stars Rainn Wilson and Ellen Paige in attendance. A few days prior, 40-year-old Gunn, who’s 1999 Tromeo and Juliet became a cult hit (Motorhead’s Lemmy narrates the film), talked with me about this bizarre, violent, and remarkably emotional new film about an everyday Joe who decides to become a super.

How would you categorize this film? I went from laughing to being disturbed to nearly crying by the final scenes. Yeah, um… you can’t. I think that’s what we were trying to do: have a lot of emotional responses within one movie. A lot of people want to make things by very strict genre standards, but I notice with my life there isn’t just one genre. One minute it’s a comedy, the next it’s a romance… most times it’s a tragedy. I wanted to make a film that incorporated a little bit of everything. I was influenced a lot by Asian films in that way. They don’t seem to be bound by the confines by the same genre necessities as American films are.

It seems like you focus on different things throughout the film, rather then the plot from scene to scene. We have certain themes in the film and we comment on them from a number of different directions. We have the theme of what it means to be a superhero, the theme of morality, the theme of man’s relationship to god, and the theme questioning exactly what insanity is. We are taking Frank Darbo [Rainn Wilson’s character] and coming at him from as many different angles as we possibly can. It’s more modeled after post-modern fiction then a standard superhero story.

What audience was this film intended for? It seems set in the Midwest and there’s a lot of religious influences as well. Did this play a part? I wasn’t thinking of a particular audience at all. I originally wrote this as a short film and it just kept growing and growing until it became a feature film. To be honest, I never expected to be making this movie at all. By the time I had finished the script, I honestly felt this calling to make this film. The Middle America and God stuff seems more taboo then incest and drugs and sex and violence these days. We have whole movies of people dying from cancer, yet these people never bring up what they think of as God once. I feel like if you have a well-rounded character, that’s something they think about, in some way, shape, or form. Your ex-wife Jenna Fischer had encouraged you to pursue this and make it into a feature. Did this play into Frank’s character trying to chase down his wife in the film? I don’t think it did. Truthfully, I wrote the film while Jenna and I were still married and almost nothing changed from that draft to what’s onscreen. My relationship with Jenna is as a friend today. After it almost got made a couple of times and then it didn’t, she just started riding my ass about why I hadn’t made it yet. She said it was her favorite screenplay I had ever written and suggested bringing Rainn into the mix, as she thought it would be a good role for him. That’s what really got the film started, actually.

Have you heard about the people in and around Seattle who are actually acting like superheroes? Not only have I heard about them, but Rainn and I were just in Seattle a few weekends ago at the Emerald City Comicon where we did a sneak peek of the film. The whole time we had been trying to get a hold of this guy named Phoenix Jones, who is the guy who dresses up as a superhero and patrols neighborhoods there. And while we were doing our panel in front of 700 people, all of a sudden this guy walks in from the back of the crowd and walks though the 700 people to the front, in a full rubber costume.

Isn’t Phoenix Jones wanted by the police? I know he does not have a good relationship with the police. He’d been stabbed the day before, while doing one of his “patrols,” and he’d had his nose broken a little while back.

Well, did he at least like the movie? He didn’t see the movie. He just came to the panel.

March Movie Reviews: ‘Super,’ ‘Take Me Home Tonight,’ ‘Potiche’

SUPER The title of director James Gunn’s sadistic tale of metamorphosis—in Super, Joe the Plumber (Rainn Wilson) becomes Joe the Wrench-Wielding, Tights-Wearing, Retribution-Seeking Maniac—is a delightful misnomer. As Frank, a hapless schmuck who loses the love of his life to her slimy drug dealer (Kevin Bacon), Wilson plays a saccharine, nondescript everyman with a broken heart and a backbone made of Twizzlers.

All of this changes, however, when he conceives of Crimson Bolt, his heroic alter ego, who, along with sidekick Boltie (a hopped-up and hilarious Ellen Page), sets out to rid the world of pedophiles, gang members, and queue-cutters. Justice against petty criminals, however, is all foreplay leading up to the showdown between Frank and the man who’s now bolting his wife. To say Super ends in tears—bloody, bloody tears—would be an understatement, but the crescendo of violence building up to its tragic climax is giddily thrilling. —Nick Haramis

HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE Happythankyoumoreplease, winner of the Audience Award at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, oozes just the right mix of charm and quirk to make Josh Radnor’s directorial debut the next Garden State. The sitcom star (CBS’s How I Met Your Mother) also acts in this crosscutting narrative that follows six New Yorkers, all of them deep in the throes of a quarter-life crisis. Radnor plays Sam, a struggling writer who decides—on a whim—to take in Rasheen (Michael Algieri), an orphaned boy he meets while riding the subway. Predictably, Rasheen touches the lives of Sam and his friends, among them Annie (Malin Akerman), a chronically single gal with alopecia; Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan), a young woman struggling with her boyfriend’s planned move to LA; and Mississippi (Kate Mara), a cabaret singer and Sam’s budding love interest. It’s all very Three Men and a Baby for urban misfits, and although the sugary coming-of-age plotting and hackneyed New York undertones grow tiring early in the film, charming performances by Radnor and Akerman reinvigorate a genre left dormant after Zach Braff, well, grew up. —Cayte Grieve

CEDAR RAPIDS Mild spoiler alert: At the end of Cedar Rapids, Ed Helms’ character tells a flight attendant, “I got beat up, completely blottoed, and befriended a prostitute.” If this debauched hat trick sounds familiar, it’s because you saw The Hangover, in which Ed Helms’ character gets beat up, completely blottoed, and befriends a prostitute. Clearly, the makers of Rapids saw something in Helms—namely his ability to tap into his inner frat boy—when they cast him as an emotionally neutered, small-town insurance agent who finds his inner Hendrix via drugs and booze during an insurance-firm convention in Iowa. Cedar Rapids has many charms—a vampy Anne Heche among them—but it’s John C. Reilly who steals the show as an abrasive agent who’d rather get shit-faced than sell insurance. We, however, are sold. —Ben Barna

TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT One night. One party. One girl. The formula is as predictable as a pimple on prom night, but Take Me Home Tonight nails it. That ’70s Show’s Topher Grace, suddenly leading man material, plays Matt Franklin, a rudderless MIT grad whose career ambitions extend no further than Suncoast Video, where he reunites with Tori Frederking, his high school crush, played by a golden-haired, golden-lamé-d Teresa Palmer. White lies involving Goldman Sachs ensue, and by sundown, the two star-crossed lovers—along with Anna Faris in the role of the nerd-chic sister, and Dan Fogler as the chubby, coke-snorting sidekick—are at the party of a lifetime. Whether Grace gets the girl hardly matters. With grand theft auto, sappy speeches about the Future, and something called “riding the ball,” Take Me Home Tonight is as fun a post-collegiate romp as you’re likely to see all year. —Megan Conway

POTICHE Set in provincial France in 1977, François Ozon’s kitschy comedy stars Catherine Deneuve as Suzanne Pujol, a neglected potiche—French slang for “trophy wife”—whose husband, Robert (Fabrice Luchini), runs her family’s umbrella factory with the same cruelty as he does his household. He cheats on and patronizes his wife, all the while alienating his children. Suzanne endures the tyranny with tight-lipped complacency until an incident with Robert’s workers, who are on strike, leaves Suzanne in charge of the company. The plot picks up pace when Suzanne seeks help from an old friend and former lover, the communist mayor Maurice Babin, played by an endearingly doughy Gérard Depardieu, and sets out to prove herself a capable and assertive leader. Deneuve’s portrayal of a reawakened matriarch injects sparkle into the film, opening fire on a campy and comical war between the sexes. —CG

Wish List: Oak NYC

Recognized for carrying edgy designers both new and known, Oak NYC is a mandatory stop for local style mavens and in-the-know out-of-towners. Last year Oak launched an in-house line, A.OK, offering the same unique luxe but with a lower price point (most items are under $100). Their e-boutique draws the same appeal, stocking coveted designs from the likes of Commes Des Garcons, Damir Doma, and Rad Hourani.

Clockwise from left: Super Black/Gold Lucia Sunglasses, $212; Graphic Image Grey Cayman Python iPad Case, $118; A.OK Acid White Leather Pocket Backpack, $288; Acne Fog Hybria Platform Wedge, $474.60; Skingraft Studded Knuckles, $125.