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The Rocker: 12 Facts About The Star-Studded Movie That Bankrupted Fox Atomic

Movies about rock stars — or wannabe musicians — are often haughty and self-serious affairs that border on parodies. However, 2008's "The Rocker" — which was directed by Peter Cattaneo and starred Rainn Wilson as Robert "Fish" Fishman — showed there's still room for rock 'n' roll films that don't take themselves too seriously but also contain a whole lot of heart.

The story is simple: Fish gets booted from his band Vesuvius as they head off to support Whitesnake and become mega-stars. Two decades later, he receives the opportunity to relive his music dreams by joining his nephew's high school band. That said, the biggest lesson for Fish is about letting go of the past and falling back in love with the music — not the appeal of fame and fortune.

Despite featuring a star-studded cast that included the likes of Emma Stone, Bradley Cooper, Jane Lynch, Jason Sudeikis, and Christina Applegate, "The Rocker" didn't exactly rock the socks off the public or critics when it debuted. It also proved to be one of the movies that led to Fox Atomic — a division of 20th Century Fox — shutting down. From actors learning how to play drums in three weeks to peeling off clothes for the sake of comedy, let's take a closer look at the intriguing history of cult favorite, "The Rocker."

Rainn Wilson was a rock star in a previous life

Rainn Wilson achieved household name recognition as Dwight Schrute in "The Office." Despite Dwight being the epitome of every annoying co-worker's bad habits compounded into one bespectacled, brown suit-wearing teacher's pet, he became one of the most popular characters on the sitcom. For Wilson, though, his role in "The Rocker" afforded him the opportunity to shed Dwight's skin for a while and show there's much more to him than being the assistant to the regional manager at Dunder Mifflin.

Playing a rock star didn't feel foreign to Wilson, however, as he had harbored dreams of being a musician in his past. Speaking to PopEntertainment.com, Wilson revealed that he was the lead singer for his high school band named Collective Moss. "We played two gigs, one for a bunch of eleven-year-olds who stole our patch cords in a church basement," he said. "Our second gig was an audition for the Battle of the Bands which we didn't get into. That's how bad we were; we were not even in the top six bands at New Trier High School." Regardless of the band's short-lived career, Wilson's background in Collective Moss — arguably one of the best band names of all time — certainly gave him the footing for his later turn in "The Rocker."

The Rocker is based on a former Beatles member

Fish's story in "The Rocker" is something that many musicians may have experienced in their lives: being booted from their groups before the remaining bandmates go on to achieve global success and riches beyond their wildest dreams. Yet, this film's premise is based on one specific individual and an iconic rock band, Pete Best and The Beatles.

Emma Stone, who plays Amelia Stone in "The Rocker," told MTV, "It's a variation on the Pete Best story, and he actually came to set one day and did a line in the movie. I freaked out about it, because I'm a Beatles fanatic. I was very excited."

Best was the Beatles' drummer, who was fired a year before the band took off and was replaced by Ringo Starr. Naturally, his story has always been a curious case of what-if and bad timing, since he was a whisker away from being a part of the legendary lineup and writing his name into music history. Best makes a cameo in "The Rocker," where he appears at the bus stop and exchanges a minor — but hilariously meta — interaction with Fish.

Learning how to play drums three weeks before filming

Despite Rainn Wilson having a history with rock 'n' roll and being educated about the biggest drummers in the genre, he had no experience smashing the skins and cymbals before being cast as Fish in "The Rocker." He also didn't have much time to learn, either, as he revealed to Female.com.au. According to Wilson, "The Rocker" was only officially given the green light three weeks before it went in front of the cameras, so he had to go on a crash course in drumming.

"The first thing they did was buy me a drum kit and get me a drum coach," he said. "And I worked about three or four days a week, just hammering away with this drum coach. And kind of learned the basics of drumming."

Wilson explained how part of the process was also developing a stage presence like heavy metal drummers and understanding the nuances they utilize to get the crowd into the live show. He added how he sharpened his skills to the level where he was able to play the drum sections for the music used in the movie.

Did Emma Stone really play bass in the movie?

Fish wasn't the only musician who had to show off his skills, even though he did try to hog the limelight and steal the show whenever he had the chance. Another important component of the music was Amelia Stone, who slapped the bass in "The Rocker." However, many people wondered if actor Emma Stone truly did let her fingers do the talking over the low-end notes and channel her inner Nikki Sixx for the part.

"I wasn't actually playing the bass," Stone told CinemaBlend. "I was playing the same notes. I learned how to play the songs but the sound of bass in the songs is not by my fingers."

Stone's case isn't too dissimilar to what Rainn Wilson did, or how a music video and a film's music scenes are generally constructed. While people may see the musicians playing on screen and they try to play the songs as they would in a live setting, the music is pre-recorded so that it can be mixed in accordingly and the visuals can be matched to the timing. Sometimes, there are hilarious dead giveaways when the audience spots musicians jamming away but their instruments aren't even plugged in.

The grueling hours of the production

There are many people who suggest television is harder to do than film. After all, the cast and crew need to film multiple episodes within constrained deadlines and tighter budgets, and usually with smaller teams than a movie. Rainn Wilson already had the experience of working on "The Office" for a few seasons before "The Rocker" came along, so leaping from television to film should have been a piece of cake. However, that wasn't the case, as the actor revealed to IGN.

"This is one of the craziest shoots I've ever worked on in my life," Wilson said. "The other day I worked from 5 p.m. until 10 a.m. I go back to my hotel room, seal off the windows, and sleep. It's weird going to bed at noon."

In many ways, that is the authentic rock 'n' roll experience, as the music scene tends to come alive in the evening and wind down when the sun comes up. Maybe Wilson isn't a fan of KISS' motto of "I wanna rock 'n' roll all night and party every day."

Getting naked for the sake of comedy

Rock 'n' roll and nudity have gone together like peanut butter and jelly, or Netflix and canceling fan-favorite series. After all, the Red Hot Chili Peppers built up a reputation for shedding their clothes and performing with only their socks on — and the socks weren't on their feet. There's clearly something about the music hitting and rockers dropping their drawers, and in "The Rocker," Fish also gets a chance to play while only wearing a smile and his birthday suit.

As an actor, it can be daunting to go nude on screen, but Rainn Wilson wasn't too fazed by it. "I love to use my enormous pale flabby torso for comedic effect," he told Hollywood.com. "So any time when called upon I will expose myself for a laugh. It's been making women laugh for ... Well, the last at least 20 years."

In another interview with CinemaBlend, Wilson explained how he feels secure about himself and how he looks. He added how he knows it's unlikely that he will be as chiseled as some other actors, so he has no issue with taking off his clothes for a role if it will elicit a laugh from the audience.

Teddy Geiger found it strange to sing other people's melodies

"The Rocker" was Teddy Geiger's first foray into film. She had been building up a reputation as an upcoming and talented musician, with a few television gigs scattered along the way, before the opportunity to play Curtis in the movie presented itself. Naturally, with her musical ability and experience, Geiger was the perfect candidate to portray the soulful, young musician who believed in the power of earnest music. Producer Tom McNulty admitted to The Los Angeles Times that Geiger's musical background certainly helped, but it was also her natural stage presence that made her the right choice for the part.

The songs that Geiger performed in "The Rocker" weren't her own, though, so there was a period of adjustment she needed to make. "It was a little weird," she told The Los Angeles Times. "A lot of the melodies are melodies I wouldn't necessarily sing; they're counterintuitive to the way I would sing them. [But] I haven't really done a lot of singing of other people's material — it helped me grow a little bit."

What Rainn Wilson and Fish have in common

Watching Rainn Wilson carry himself in interviews, it's clear he shares nothing in common with Dwight Schrute and it's simply a role he played on "The Office." Most people also don't expect him to be anything like Fish from "The Rocker," however, Wilson revealed to CinemaBlend that they do have a few things in common.

They are both passionate about music, and Wilson believes that bands like The Clash shaped his life. Yet, there's another startling similarity between his and Fish's career — both didn't give up on their dreams, even as the sands of time passed them by. "I think I have a lot in common with Fish in that way," Wilson said. "I always was an actor and I was always making a living as an actor but I didn't get famous until I was in my late 30s and didn't become a celebrity until I hit 40. This is a whole second life for me as an actor."

Wilson explained how he had an actor friend who told him that he wouldn't ever reach his goal of starring in movies early on, but he refused to see it that way. Instead, he pushed on and chased his dreams.

Emma Stone couldn't hold back the laughter

Starring in a comedy is tough work. Everyone believes it's all laughter and fun and games on set, but it's actually the opposite for the most part, as actors need to show incredible restraint and compose themselves — no matter how much they want to pack up laughing at the silliness on display.

When "The Rocker" rolled into town, Emma Stone was fresh out of starring in "Superbad" a year earlier and she had enough experience from working on television shows. However, even she struggled to contain the giggles when Rainn Wilson was around. "It was a lot tougher than I thought it would be," she told CinemaBlend. "I'm a big smiler and laugher in everyday life so I didn't really realize how tough it was until I went and did my next movie."

In a separate interview with CinemaBlend, the fact Stone couldn't keep a straight face when she shared the screen with him was brought up with Wilson. The actor admitted he enjoyed trying to make people break character all the time, and it was something he had been doing to his co-stars on "The Office."

There was a proposed spinoff film

No performer or producer walks into a movie believing it will bomb. Everyone hopes for the best, and most studios pray a film will have the potential to kickstart a host of other related projects — and make a lot of money, of course. For "The Rocker," Rainn Wilson revealed to MLive that there had been discussions held about where to go with the story, permitting the 2008 movie made bank.

"[It's] a movie that really could've gone two ways," he said. "There's Fish's story, and the sequel wouldn't have Fish in it. The sequel would just be Vesuvius' rise to fame. That's all there is to it. It could be brilliant."

A film about Vesuvius would have been outstanding and a fantastic tribute to "This Is Spinal Tap." More importantly, it would have allowed the audience to see more of Will Arnett, Fred Armisen, Bradley Cooper, and Lonnie Ross as the hair metal band that would put Steel Panther to shame.

The Rocker was one of the films that led to the demise of Fox Atomic

It isn't unusual for studios to create extended arms for different styles and releases. In the mid-2000s, 20th Century Fox decided it wanted to tackle the younger market through an initiative known as Fox Atomic. The focus would be predominantly on films catering to the younger generation, such as comedies and horrors, but with a plan to run more creative and integrated promotional campaigns for these releases. In the beginning, Fox Atomic did the business with films such as "28 Weeks Later," which grossed around $65 million from a $15 million budget.

Unfortunately, not all of its projects were commercially successful. In fact, "The Rocker" was one of the last three projects to be released under the Fox Atomic label. It also proved to be a massive disappointment for the studio, as it cost $15 million and only made $8.8 million at the global box office. After a slew of duds, 20th Century Fox decided to pull the plug on Fox Atomic in 2009. All the projects that were in an active state of development, such as "I Love You, Beth Cooper" and "Jennifer's Body," moved under the 20th Century Fox umbrella.

Rainn Wilson is happy The Rocker developed a cult following

History has a funny way of correcting itself. When it comes to movies, some features aren't universally embraced when they arrive on the big screen. The audience and critics may reject them at first, as they gravitate towards the likes of other instant classics such as "Shrek" and "Snakes on a Plane." However, time proves to be the great equalizer and people eventually realize the error of their ways in hindsight.

Something similar happened to "The Rocker." It was far from a smash hit on arrival, nor did it receive rave reviews from everyone who watched it. However, it has become more appreciated over time. From its star-packed cast to the perfect combination of heart and hilarity, it's a comfort film that never fails to put a smile on a viewer's face. As a result, it's become something of a cult classic.

Speaking to The A.V. Club, Rainn Wilson revealed that he's happy the audience has softened to the film. "The Rocker — the first film with my name over the title starring role — was a big box office bomb in [2008]," he said. "And people have caught on to it and really love it. It plays a lot." In addition, he praised the cast and story of the film, believing it's an overall good movie.