THE MEG is a new movie opening this weekend about a prehistoric megalodon shark, a creature thought to be extinct that rises from the ocean and attacks a research submarine. We caught up with actor Rainn Wilson, best known for playing Dwight Schrute in ‘The Office’, to talk about the challenges of filming a blockbuster at sea.
What drew you to The Meg? My character in the film, Jack Morris is a fascinating guy. He’s an international businessman who is, perhaps, modeled on some of the billionaires you’d find in California’s Silicon Valley. But Morris’ business interests are much more wide-ranging and include mines, large building projects and international banking. 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.
Morris 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.
Did you know much about megalodons before you took on the role? I did because a few years earlier, my mom bought my son a megalodon tooth. 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 [The Office’s] Dwight Schrute when I said that, but it’s all true [laughs]!
The title character is a CG creation, so what was it like to work opposite a creature that wasn’t there, and amidst what must have been a lot of green screen. There was at least a square kilometer of green screen on set, as well as a giant water tank. 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.
Computer generated images are so extraordinary. I’ve done some other films with CG imagery, and it seems that working amongst that technology may be the future of acting. 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.
What about working on water? I heard that’s never easy for the actors. The [U.S. presidential] election results were coming in while we were filming in New Zealand – way, way out in the ocean. 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 U.S. 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.
But, yes, working on or in water isn’t easy. 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 harbors and bays. No one got seasick. You just always want to be back on dry land.
Some of the action and water scenes look daunting. Did you have to do any special physical training to prepare for them? We had to get in swim shape, so the production brought all the actors in early for swim training and to assess our swimming skills. We had to swim through a hoop, participate in swim relay races, pull ourselves out of the water, and climb various ropes and ladders in the water. It was a great, but brutal workout that gave us the skills and stamina to be comfortable in the water for the filming.
What was your most memorable moment on set, in our out of the water? 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. That was pretty unforgettable.
Had you been to New Zealand before starting work on The Meg? One of the coolest things to be a part of is a big action movie, and I feel lucky to have done a few, including The Meg. The other coolest thing is when the production schedule allows you to travel. I hadn’t been to New Zealand, but soon after arriving to begin work on The Meg I realized that it’s really paradise down there. I had the opportunity to travel a bit, and visited the South Islands, saw a glacier and did some hiking.
What kind of set did director Jon Turteltaub run? Jon is one of the funniest, quickest human beings I’ve ever worked with. On set he keeps everything light and fun and is always approachable. He’s constantly telling jokes, even while we’re doing a huge action scene. He’s like a Borscht Belt comedian. Jon has directed so many amazing movies and he really knows how to move the camera. I was impressed by the way he tells a story with a moving camera, which maintains the relentless action and suspense. He has that kind of Spielbergian quality.
What will audiences experience when they see The Meg in theaters this weekend? They’ll definitely learn to avoid giant prehistoric sharks [laughs]! This is fun, over-the-top, exciting popcorn movie that’s also scary and with surprising moments of humor. It’s a thrill ride and the perfect film for this time of year.