No stranger to the stage or screen, Emmy-nominated Rainn Wilson plays the titular character in Thom Pain, a film based on the Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, Thom Pain (Based on Nothing). A darkly funny and tragic character, his monologue tells stories that will delight and mystify the audience. He’s just like you, except worse.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Rainn and get his take on the character, penned by Will Eno (coincidentally, Rainn’s roommate in the late 80s). Filmed live at the Geffen, Thom Pain is a morose comedy like no other.
Stream Thom Pain today.
How is the character different/similar to those you've played in the past? How is he different/similar to you?
He’s very different than every character I’ve played in the past. Thom Pain is a man in a tremendous amount of pain and he’s trying to work out that pain in front of an audience. He’s trying to process his story, his history, his trauma, his broken heart. He needs an audience to spill his guts to, but at the same time he also resents that audience. He keeps them at arm’s length and does it with effortless waterfalls of language, and a really cutting sense of humor.
I’ve never gotten to play a character like that. It’s an actor’s dream to have so many aspects of the language that goes from absurd, to personal, to profound, to hilarious, to painful. His emotions bounce around like a pachinko ball, it’s not about Thom Pain crying in front of the audience. He’s a wounded character and that’s part of his problem.
For me as a person, he’s actually one of the most similar characters that I’ve ever played. I can really relate to Thom Pain. I relate to his heartbreak, I relate to his trauma, to his constant deflection of vulnerability into humor. He’s too smart and in his own head for his own good.
What made you want to be part of this production?
I was roommates with Will Eno in 1987/88 in Chelsea in Manhattan. Then a few years later, I saw a piece of his in a literary magazine called Literal Latte. I got ahold of him and we got together and it turned out he was dabbling in playwriting.
I acted in and directed some of his very, very earliest pieces, years before Thom Pain. Then I saw Thom Pain off Broadway and it got this amazing series of reviews and it was a sell out show for a year, and it was quite successful and put him on the map as a playwright. When I saw it in New York, I was blown away. James Urbaniak originated the character and I loved his performance. I always said to Will, let me do the LA production. It was a dream came true when the spot opened up at the Geffen and they were so welcoming. The rest was history.
What should audiences know before they watch?
This is not a strange piece of live theater. This is a carefully crafted hybrid of film and theater. While acknowledging that it takes place in the theater, it is also done for the camera so it’s as intimate and as nuanced as anything you’d see on a movie screen. At the same time, it feels like you’re watching a live theater event. Will and Oliver, our director, did a magnificent job of finding that delicate balance between film and theater.
What are some of the pros/cons of stage vs. TV?
I will always have a soft spot for the theater because it feels the most ancient. Human beings have had story tellers in front of a fire and told stories or told jokes and told mythologies of the people and land since the dawn of humanity. There’s something about the theater that is really primal in that way, we love to see a storyteller up in front of us. I think that will always be my favorite venue to work in, and it’s also the hardest. You have to put in all of those weeks of rehearsals and memorizing lines and put in so much hard work in order for it to make it feel effortless.
TV is great because it’s a long-form story, it’s serialized story telling. Film is fun because you get to play a character for 3-8 weeks, you’re just one character and you can intensely live that character for a brief amount of time. I’ve been lucky to work in all three, but I do love the theater the most.
How would Thom Pain react to the state of the world as it is today?
I don’t think Thom Pain would react politically at all, I don’t think he’d even notice what’s going on in happen in the world around him. To him, the world is a dark and dangerous place.
But I do think that art is universal because we’re all in pain, we’ve all experienced pain, we all use humor to get through pain, and there’s never been a more important time to watch really deeply human stories.
Are you excited for the show to be streamable for audiences worldwide?
I put in weeks of work memorizing all of these lines, and we had an intense rehearsal period, and then I only performed it for six weeks! And then we thought that was it.
But to be able to capture it where people can watch it hundreds of years from now, that the work gets to live on… I love what BroadwayHD is doing because capturing these ineffable theater productions that normally disappear into the ether, and into the memory banks of those who witness them… [this is] a great source of entertainment and storytelling.
Check out Rainn’s commanding performance of Thom Pain on BroadwayHD.