‘The Meg’ co-star Rainn Wilson tells The National about the challenges of filming in deep water with an imaginary shark and why this film is perfect for summer
Rainn Wilson on starring in 'The Meg' alongside a giant CGI shark
The Meg has all the ingredients to be the surprise blockbuster hit of the season. It harks back to the very first summer blockbuster – Steven Spielberg’s Jaws – with its giant aquatic villain a hit on the big screen. However, this time it is not an animatronic giant shark, but a computer generated 23-metre prehistoric megalodon that makes the shark in Jaws look like something you’d find in a garden pond. It features action movie star Jason Statham, whose stints in the Fast and Furious franchise have lifted him from Guy Ritchie’s cockney gangster of choice to Hollywood A-lister. It also throws in a dash of over-the-top humour, perhaps a nod to the successful Sharknado series, with slightly less B-movie silliness.
Of course, everybody loves a shark movie. When the beast in question is a giant, prehistoric uber-shark, all the more so, surely?
The movie’s co-star, and a regular source of comic relief, is Rainn Wilson (best-known as The Office’s nerdy Dwight Schrute), who plays businessman Jack Morris. And it seems his character is in part responsible for releasing the giant fishy menace on to the world – his funding has built the underwater research centre that discovers a hitherto unknown trench deep in the Pacific Ocean. “My character is a fascinating guy,” Wilson says. “He’s an international businessman who is, perhaps, modelled on some of the billionaires you’d find in California’s Silicon Valley. Morris has business interests all over the globe. His immense wealth enables him to fund an oceanic research station called Mana One. So, in a way, Morris is responsible for unleashing the Meg. He is also interesting to me because he’s part comic relief and part villain, though always a three-dimensional character. It was fun to explore his dramatic moments, as well as his lighter and villainous sides.”
It comes as a surprise to learn that Wilson was already something of an authority on megalodons before he signed up for The Meg, although he has his now 14-year-old son to thank for the knowledge rather than a spell in palaeontology school: “[A few years ago] my mom bought my son a megalodon tooth,” he says. “He’s always loved dinosaurs and megalodons because they were once at the top of the food chain of our entire planet. They could literally take out any other living creature, even a tyrannosaurus rex. I know I just sounded a lot like Dwight Schrute when I said that, but it’s all true,” he laughs.
Wilson isn’t a total stranger to action movies – he played a victim in Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses and a university professor in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – but he’s best-known for his comedy work, including TV’s Saturday Night Live, and films such as 1999’s Galaxy Quest and last year’s The Smurfs: The Lost Village. So how was it to be swapping the gags for CGI and green screen?
“There was at least a square kilometre of green screen on set, as well as a giant water tank” he reveals. “Our point of reference for the Meg often was when [director] Jon [Turteltaub] would be on a megaphone, telling us, ‘Okay, the Meg’s coming at you!’ Sometimes we roughly knew where the Meg’s nose and tail were. But we always had to do a lot of imagining.”
Wilson adds that he expects all actors, himself included, to get used to acting with green screen technology as computer-generated images become ever more high-tech: “I’ve done some other films with CGI imagery, and it seems that working with that technology may be the future of acting,” he says. “In fact, there should be acting with green screen classes, where you have to imagine working opposite giant monsters because it’s such a part of an actor’s toolbox these days.
It wasn’t just the green screen scenes that presented a challenge for The Meg’s cast. Unsurprisingly, given the film’s plot, much of the shooting took place at sea, and Wilson admits this wasn’t as much fun as he first hoped: “Working on or in water isn’t easy,” he says. “When everyone begins the day, they’re saying, ‘Woo, this is great, we’re on a boat! We’ve got sandwiches!’ Then, after about four or five hours of filming, we’re thinking, ‘Okay, I’m ready to go in.’ Fortunately, we weren’t on the high seas and didn’t experience big waves. We were in harbours and bays. No one got seasick. You just always want to be back on dry land.”
In fact, Wilson claims that one of the hardest things about filming on open water wasn’t the physical challenge of training to be swim-ready, or the limited space available for cast and crew to do their jobs, but a rather less physically challenging task – keeping up-to-date with the news from home: “The [American presidential] election results were coming in while we were filming in New Zealand – way, way out in the ocean,” he says. “I had terrible reception on my phone, so I had to keep hitting refresh on the CNN app to see what was happening with the election. It felt pretty wild to me because while most people in the United States were going to bed with these election results, I was reading them on this ship bobbing around on the sea, with Jason Statham, Ruby Rose and a giant shark that had yet to be created,” he adds.
Wilson’s other abiding memory of the open-water shoot could hardly be more different to the trauma of a poor phone reception: “One or two scenes called for us to jump and swim in water filled with the aftermath of a visit from the Meg, including red dye that simulated blood, as well as prosthetics of various human limbs,” he says. “That was pretty unforgettable.”
With The Meg preparing to splash into cinemas and terrorise audiences this weekend, Wilson seems confident that there’s at least one vital lesson audiences can take from watching the movie: “They’ll definitely learn to avoid giant prehistoric sharks,” he laughs.
With the likelihood of such an encounter low on most people’s risk assessments, Wilson adds that there’s plenty more to take from the film too: “This is a fun, over-the-top, exciting popcorn movie that’s also scary and with surprising moments of humour. It’s a thrill ride and the perfect film for this time of year.”
The Meg is in UAE cinemas from Thursday