Published Aug 09, 2018During a conversation about shark movies, it's only a matter of time before someone mentions Jaws. When I ask Rainn Wilson about Steven Spielberg's seminal 1975 thriller, a hint of awe enters the actor's voice as he reminisces about seeing it in theatres as a preteen.
"I had never seen a movie like that before," he tells Exclaim! "Absolutely terrifying. It's filmed like a documentary — it felt so real. I had no idea that sharks were such a potential threat, and it definitely put me off from swimming in the ocean for years. I could only think about that fin moving back and forth."
Wilson is carrying on the tradition with his latest role in The Meg. Directed by Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, National Treasure) and starring Jason Statham, this raucous action movie follows a team of scientists who inadvertently discover a gigantic shark known as a megalodon. But while the film's namesake is an undeniably ferocious beast, Wilson is quick to point out that The Meg is nowhere near as traumatic as Jaws.
"I think this is a little closer to Deep Blue Sea meets Jurassic Park," he reflects. "It's not a realistic shark movie at all. It's not based on real events. It's not set in the real world — it's set in an underwater research facility that's exploring the bottom of the Mariana Trench and unearths this prehistoric, non-existent-for-millions-of-years dinosaur."
Sure, The Meg isn't particularly scary, but it's tons of fun. With action sequences galore and plenty of comic relief, it's a low-stakes action flick that's highly entertaining in its larger-than-life tone.
For Wilson, who's best known for playing the dorky Dwight Schrute in the American adaptation of The Office, branching out into action is a relatively unfamiliar challenge. But even though he has limited experience when it comes to adventure movies, he's always jumped at any opportunity to get his hands dirty.
"I love anything where I get to do a stunt, something physical," he reveals. "It's really exciting. I used to beg them on The Office to write me physical comedy and physical gags. Let me get hurt, let me fall off something."
Wilson plays one of the film's most memorable characters, a billionaire named Jack Morris who's funding the deep-sea research project. He plays the role with a perfect mix: part shlubby, part suave. Put it this way: he's a businessman who wears original-model Air Jordans.
"He's part villain, he's part comedic relief, he's part goofball, he's part billionaire industrialist authority figure," Wilson explains. "There are a lot of different colours to play. I really appreciated that he wasn't just a stock character. So many of these movies have the greedy industrialist villain, and he's got some traces that, but it's not exactly who he is."
The actor modelled the character after real-life billionaires he has encountered, whom he describes as "boyish" and "entitled narcissists." Morris is selfish and motivated by money, but he also has a charming exuberance, making him a pleasure to watch despite his questionable morals.
"I want to make everyone I play relatable and three-dimensional," says Wilson. "He's all things. It's kind of like we all are. He's likeable and he's also kind of a bastard. I'm kind of the same way."
Wilson takes a long pause and adds wryly, "There's your headline: likeable bastard."