LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rainn Wilson understands the luckless drummer he portrays in new movie “The Rocker” because they both spent so many years on the outskirts of fame.
But when the movie opens on Wednesday, Wilson for the first time will enjoy Hollywood’s limelight as leading man in a major studio comedy, joining the ranks of top comic actors such as Steve Carell, Will Ferrell and Jack Black.
Wilson, 42, labored for years on Hollywood’s backlots in guest roles on television and small movie parts but three years ago he won the recurring role of oddball salesman Dwight Schrute on the NBC sitcom “The Office,” which stars Carell. Since then, Wilson has gained his own fans and become a star.
His status may take another leap with his portrayal of Robert “Fish” Fishman in “The Rocker.”
“I really felt for this guy who gets a chance to grow up, gets a second chance at fame and gets to finally live his dream,” Wilson said of his character.
“I was an actor for a long, long time before I had any real success. But I was always working so I can really relate to someone late in life getting a shot at celebrity,” he said.
Fishman is a former drummer from a 1980s metal band who languishes in obscurity until he joins his nephew’s teenage garage group. Think of a Bon Jovi wannabe joining a group of aspiring Jonas Brothers.
When the band gets signed to a record deal, Fishman lives out his dreams as a rock star on tour, pounding back beers and partying in hotel rooms -- much to the dismay of his younger but more mature bandmates.
“There’s kind of an idiocy to the rock drummer,” Wilson said. “There kind of has to be. You’re just like a big baboon off in the corner pounding on things.”
Wilson was a singer in a rock band growing up in suburban Seattle but his group, Collected Moss, failed to move much farther than the garage.
He studied acting in college and later moved to New York to work in theater. He ended up driving a moving van and waiting on tables to support himself.
Wilson met his wife, author Holiday Reinhorn, in acting class and the couple now have one son.
In Hollywood, he had many guest star roles earlier this decade on shows such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” before landing a key role as a funeral home intern on HBO’s hit drama “Six Feet Under.”
Then, in 2005, he got his big break when he was cast as the socially clueless, somewhat maladjusted Dwight on “The Office,” about the everyday working lives of employees of a paper manufacturer.
Schrute has become a popular character and his likeness has been used on bobblehead dolls and T-shirts. Wilson writes a popular blog in-character, railing against everything from laziness to Japanese comics.
Early reviews on “The Rocker” have been mixed with the movie scoring only 43 percent positive reviews on Web site rottentomatoes.com, which aggregates film reviews.
But even if the movie does not work with audiences, Wilson returns to “The Office” for a fifth season next month and with the success of that show, he said he is pretty happy.
“My whole thing is, I just wanted to be a working actor and I just wanted to stop waiting tables,” he said.