Rainn Wilson Interview: Galaxy Quest 20th Anniversary

For the 20th anniversary of Galaxy Quest, Screen Rant spoke with The Office's Rainn Wilson, who made his feature film debut in the 1999 cult classic.

Rainn Wilson and Missi Pyle in Galaxy Quest

Twenty years after its initial release in 1999, Galaxy Quest remains as endearingly beloved as ever. The high-concept science fiction comedy followed a group of actors from a cult sci-fi show who are recruited by an oppressed alien race to defend them from a a malevolent galactic warlord. Upon release, Galaxy Quest proved an affectionate love letter to Star Trek, the original "wagon train to the stars," and a far cry from the mean-spirited parody some may have been expecting. In addition to universal critical acclaim, the film was successful at the box office, grossing over $90 million on a budget of $45 million. In the decades since its release, Galaxy Quest has been adopted by the Star Trek fan community as an unofficial entry in the franchise's widespread canon.

Back in 1999, Rainn Wilson was almost completely unknown to the world. The Office was still six years away, and the actor, who had been struggling to make a name for himself in New York, moved to Los Angeles to make a go of it on the West Coast. Galaxy Quest marked Wilson's feature film debut, in the role of one of the Thermians who initially enlist the aid Jason Nesmith (Tim Allen) to protect them from the villainous reptilian, Sarris. Ironically, he would later be cast in Star Trek: Discovery, as Harcourt Fenton "Harry" Mudd.

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For the 20th anniversary of Galaxy Quest, Paramount Home Entertainment is releasing an exclusive Blu ray steelbook edition of the film, as well as a new project from Screen Junkies, Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary, which features interviews with the cast and crew of the movie. Time will tell if the long-awaited Galaxy Quest TV revival ever comes to fruition. Screen Rant got to speak with Wilson about his role in Galaxy Quest, from his initial audition to getting to participate in the film's first table read, at which point he knew he was involved with something truly special.

Star Trek: Discovery just launched with a new crew but a familiar era. Which famous faces will appear on the show?

Twenty years!

I know, it's crazy.

Galaxy Quest was your feature film debut. Did you get to read the script beforehand? What was your introduction to this role?

I can't remember if I read the script when I auditioned or not. But I do remember that we had a table read. They don't do those as much anymore, but they used to do them, back in the days. They'd get all the actors and executives and everyone read the film in a big room. I'm telling you, that table read, I wish they had filmed it. It was so funny. It was my first movie, so I didn't know what was good and what was not good, but I just knew that if they could add some decent special effects to this thing, it was gonna kill!

One thing that's become legend about this movie, now that you mention the table read, is that it was originally supposed to be rated R, with a lot more cursing. There's a great little moment where you can clearly see Sigourney Weaver say the F-word, even though it's dubbed over with the word "screw." Was the table read rated R?

I don't remember how much cursing was in that version. I really don't remember. I didn't even know that. I didn't know it was going to be R. I do that Tony Shalhoub's character was supposed to be a stoner. I think, in earlier drafts, he was smoking big spliffs, and that's why he's so mellow and, like, "Hey, how's it going." And his eyes are kinda half-shut and he's always hungry, he's always snacking. So I think he was a big stoner in earlier drafts. They kind of trimmed most of that out, but kept the character.

In contrast to Sam Rockwell, who seems to be playing a very coked-out character.

Yeah, totally!

Galaxy Quest TV show lands at Amazon

Looking at your career, do you trace your trajectory back to Galaxy Quest? Do you believe this is the movie that opened doors for you to become the star that you are?

I don't think it opened any doors for me, but I do think that, after struggling a long time in New York City, I came out to L.A., and I almost immediately booked a small part in Galaxy Quest, which was actually originally supposed to be larger. It was supposed to be through the entirety of the shoot, but I also had booked a pilot on NBC called The Expendables (no relation to the Sylvester Stallone film series), and I also booked a small part in Almost Famous, which was another DreamWorks film shooting that same summer. I was in both Galaxy Quest and Almost Famous, both DreamWorks films, shooting in the summer of '99. I thought, "Oh my God, I've got it made! I'm gonna work non-stop! I just did a pilot and these two movies, this is amazing!" And I promptly didn't work again for a year. The next film I did was House of 1000 Corpses, and then I got a guest star on Charmed, playing a demon alchemist. So it wasn't a sky rocket to the top after doing these two movies.

It's so interesting. I think many people don't have the mettle to be a working actor, to take the risk of not having work in between jobs. Back then, or even know, can you be choosy with roles? Does it take nerves of steel to turn down a part?

Yeah, I never really had to say "no" to that many roles. There are a couple of roles I said "no" to that I found too, kind of like, gross, that I just didn't want to participate in, or the writing was just too bad. I haven't really had to deal with that. Even now, I'm pretty well known, but I still have to audition. I still audition and not get roles, stuff like that. People have this conception that since I played Dwight I'm getting offered endless roles, but it's a little tougher than that.

Going back to the movie, since it was your feature film debut, what was your experience like on set? Did you have any kind of knee-jerk reaction when you first saw the costume and make-up and hair you had to put on?

All I remember is that it was all so new to me.

So there was no frame of reference for you, like, "This is weird, but compared to what?"

It was just all so new to me, and exciting! I remember when I got fitted, they had to measure every inch of my body because they had to make these tin foil little outfits. I had no idea that I was going to have a wig and then that makeup all over. I thought it was really cool and exciting, that's all I remember.

Movies That Deserve A Sequel - Galaxy Quest

Kinda building off that, I spent a month on the set of a movie last year and I learned so much about what happens on a film set, and it was amazing to watch so many artists do individual work that added up to a larger whole. For Galaxy Quest, was there anything you learned on that set that you've carried with you to today?

In a deleted scene with Tony Shalhoub, we're in the engine room. I had a bunch of technical gobbledygook. I kept going up on my line, I couldn't remember all the technical gobbledygook. I will say, I did learn that anytime as an actor when you have to spout some information like that, you have to stone-cold memorize it, you have to put way more work into memorizing that. It's so hard. You just can't wing it or recall it. I was like, "The molecular charger within the spherionic distributor had a capacitor rating of..." And you have to really work hard on it. I did learn that. But I guess, too, I remember the audition. I just had a lot of fun, I was having a lot of fun with the alien character. I didn't know if it was right or wrong or whatever, but I learned I could be myself and have fun and I'll be able to get roles. That was cool to learn.

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The Galaxy Quest Steelbook Blu ray is out now at Best Buy. Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary debuts via a one-night-only Fathom Events presentation on November 26.

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