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With all the mega-stars orbiting Galaxy Quest, the casual fan might not even know that Rainn Wilson is in the movie. He's only in a few scenes, and he hadn't yet been fitted for his trademark bangs or pasty white makeup. But he's there all right, in his first ever film role, filling the not-so-vital shoes of Lahnk, or what he calls a "supporting alien."
Though Wilson initially landed a much larger role in Dean Parisot's soon-to-be-20-year-old film, one that would have seen him in all his Thermian glory throughout the course of the film, he had the bad good luck of also booking a pilot around the same time, The Expendables, that only allowed him to spend a couple of weeks on the would-be classic film.
Alas, the pilot, which would have found the trained actor playing an "indestructible, television-obsessed android," was "shot like a softcore porn" didn't get picked up, as Wilson tells SYFY WIRE while promoting Galaxy Quest's 20th anniversary Steelbook. So the world missed out not just on the softcore android, but also on learning more about Lahnk. Which is even more of a tragedy since his "main scene" in the engine room with Tech Sergeant Chen (as played by Fred Kwan, as played by Tony Shalhoub) got cut from the final print.
But from the sounds of things, there wasn't all that much to know about Lahnk in the first place. While the new Steelbook's "Galactopedia" only notes the supporting alien is a "Senior Thermian requisition officer" who "graduated at the top of his class at the Thermani School of Law, Accounting, and Coffee Making," Wilson didn't even get that much to work with for his first film role.
"That's more information than I was ever given," says Wilson. "I just tried to show up and do the walk right, and keep my wig on, and not sweat so much."
Yet that in itself was a tall order. "Those suits were ungodly hot, mine was just filled with sweat. I sweat a lot, and you don't want to smell inside that suit."
While head communications officer Lieutenant Tawny Madison (as played by Gwen DeMarco, as played by Sigourney Weaver) and fellow supporting Thermian Laliari (Missi Pyle) would appear to have been directed to let the breeze in, Wilson remained mum. "I was too intimidated to ask to let my zipper down, so I just stayed in it all day just filling it with perspiration."
So how did someone so sweaty and with but one One Life to Live credit to his name land such a plum first film role playing opposite some of the day's biggest stars? After moving to Los Angeles, "right out of the gate" Wilson booked said pilot and a small role in another DreamWorks film, Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous. That got him the audition for Galaxy Quest, and then he just had to be himself. "And I remember goofing off with Dean Parisot, and just being a goofy alien and my natural kind of awkward, gawky self, you know, misfit self."
Of course, it's one thing to go into an audition and nail it, and something else entirely stepping onto a film set for the first time and finding your alien footing.
"I had never experienced anything like it before. We filled up several soundstages, there were lots of sets built, and all these movie stars working around — Sigourney Weaver was one of my absolute heroes," says Wilson. "And Tim Allen was probably the biggest TV star on the planet at the time, so I was really overwhelmed and intimidated."
So how did he get comfortable enough to deliver the goods?
"I never did. I still am not. Twenty years later, I'm still intimidated and overwhelmed."
Just the same, that anxiety helped fuel his perfectly fidgety supporting alien (as perhaps his lingering unease helped inform some of his other characters). But Wilson was just keeping up with his fellow Thermians, who had been hired on earlier, and had seemingly already attended space camp.
"I wasn't in it from the very beginning, but I heard that the aliens did, they figured out their vocal patterns and their walking patterns, and they got on the same page about how their vocals translators worked," says Wilson. "So I had crash course when I got onto the set about like: Here's how Thermians walk, here's how Thermians talk, here's how Thermians see the world."
But what about arguably the most Thermian trait there is? The laugh?
"Yeah, that one's pretty easy. I was doing fake laughs similar to that in college."
Though he was only on set for "maybe eight days," Wilson still found "a real nice camaraderie amongst the cast." One that obviously made its way on screen, so much so that Wilson, like many of us, calls it an all-timer.
"I think it's a classic film that people will be watching for hundreds or thousands of years, if we're still around on the planet, and I'm so happy that I got to be in it."
Indeed, other than the sweat, it sounds like it was a lovely experience, all in all. But was it a life-altering one for Wilson?
"No it didn't change my life, in fact I did that pilot, I did Galaxy Quest, I did Almost Famous, I thought, 'Oh, this is a cinch, I'll be getting work nonstop for the rest of my life.' And I probably did not work for over a year after that," says Wilson. "And also, don't forget that this movie fizzled at the box office, and it wasn't until it came out on DVD a few years later and people started really seeing it, and all of a sudden people were like, 'You were in Galaxy Quest! You were in Galaxy Quest!' People loved it. David Mamet described it as one of his perfect movies. And it started kind of being considered a classic."
One that Wilson's proud to be a part of. But even with all that love, which fans continue to bestow upon the man behind Lahnk, Wilson says he wouldn't want to revisit the character. Or at least, not as he was written previously.
"Supporting alien role? I've already done that. I want to play something a little more interesting."
That said, Wilson does have a winning title for a spinoff: "The Missing Lahnk! See, there we go."
While there's no release date yet on that series that we will never give up and never surrender hope for, the Galaxy Quest Limited Collector's Edition Blu-ray Steelbook is available now.