It doesn’t seem possible, but Galaxy Quest turns 20 this year. The Protector flew into theaters on Christmas Day in 1999. While few could have predicted it at the time, the sci-fi comedy classic that serves as a love letter to both Star Trek and fandom itself remains one of the most beloved films of the last two decades. A big reason why is its stellar cast. The film featured Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Daryl Mitchell, and Sam Rockwell as a group of out-of-work former actors forced to live out their old TV roles on a real alien spaceship. That vessel belonged to the Thermians, a naive, wholesome alien race. Making his big-screen debut among their ranks was an actor who would go also on to become a big star himself: Rainn Wilson.
Nerdist spoke to Wilson ahead of Galaxy Quest‘s special SteelBook 20th Anniversary Blu-ray release about what it was like working with big names on his first movie, playing an alien in an uncomfortable suit, and why the movie has endured with multiple fandoms.
Rainn Wilson: We didn’t know what that would be like, but the way they were written on the page—kind of innocent and gawky and awkward—I was also at the time, in ‘99, pretty innocent and awkward and gawky, so it came pretty naturally.
*The Thermians, large tentacled creatures, transformed into human bodies to interact with their Earthly heroes, but they didn’t exactly move like them. They had a distinct way of walking, with their arms and legs moving forward together.
A Blu-ray feature says you all had to go to alien school for an hour every day. What was alien school like?
RW: I came in late. I was supposed to play a much larger role in the movie and they needed to trim my role back because I booked a TV pilot around the same time and the TV show kind of owned me. But I was at the very beginning of Alien School. That was more like [fellow Thermians] Missi Pyle and Jed Rees. We came up with the walk, and the funny thing about how we came up with the walk was that when you’re wearing those stretchy silver alien suits, it’s kind of how you had to walk. There was something about when you lifted your arm, it brought your leg up as well.
Did you have to consciously think about doing the walk as you were doing it, or did it become second nature?
RW: The costume informed us. You didn’t even have to think about it, you just did it. If you raised your arms then it would kind of raise your leg along with that.
That comfortable, huh?
RW: It was hot, I’ll tell you that. It was like wearing tinfoil on a hot summer day. I remember a lot of sweating.
RW: There’s a deleted scene with me and Tony Shalhoub in the engine room, and I knew the lines coming in, but it was my first movie. I had done a couple little things on camera before, but seeing all of those stars—Sigourney Weaver from Alien; Tim Allen, who was huge at the time; Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, all of them—they were all standing behind me and I was so intimidated I couldn’t remember my lines. Maybe the first and last time I would do that.
And a really complex line like, “The iron capacitor and the valence protector don’t synchronize when rerouting the surveillance monitors,” or whatever I’m saying, I just couldn’t for the life of me get my lines out. It was humiliating. I kept fumbling. And I really was a theater actor, so I prided myself on knowing my lines and being able to come in and deliver. But I was sweating I was so nervous. And if you see it, if you watch the scene, you can kind of see on my face that I’m pretty intimidated and overwhelmed there. Watch it for the sheer terror on my face. Probably it fit the character.
Before it came to theaters and before it developed into a classic, how did you think the movie would be received?
RW: It was my first movie so I didn’t know anything about how movies were received. It was not on my radar to go, “How is this movie going to be received?” It’s like, “Oh, I have a part in the movie. I’m making a couple thousand dollars.” But I will say I went to the table read and it was just hysterical. I did think, “Wow, if they get some decent special effects in here and whatnot this is going to be amazing.”
RW: I was so nervous at that point I couldn’t really tell how great he was. I do know I was still trying to learn what it was to act on camera, and I just remember him being very small in his performance. He’s very subtle and understated. And I remember thinking like, “I wonder how that’s going to translate.” And of course, it translated beautifully, that he was just kind of like a weird semi-stoner. I think originally his character was supposed to be much more of a stoner—always kind of sleepy, low key and hungry—but they kind of took out the stoner aspect.
Were you ever in the discussions to do a sequel?
RW: They never contacted me about that, no. But I would certainly have been up for it.
Would you want to do a sequel now that Alan Rickman is no longer with us?
RW: Yeah, absolutely. I’m not precious that way. I don’t care about that stuff. If it’s funny, if you have a good take on it, if you can do it honor, I think Alan Rickman would be thrilled if there was a sequel being done. You know, from up on Heaven, he’d be a big thumbs up if you’re going to do it right and not just trying to make a cheap dollar.
What do you think is the number one reason Galaxy Quest has endured?
RW: The unsung hero of Galaxy Quest is the director, Dean Parisot, who has the subtlest, quirkiest sense of humor known to man. He’s a very calm, mellow, nice, low-key guy, and he took everything small. He made it more real and he grounded everything. In the hands of any kind of lesser director, a lot of that comedy would have been pumped up a little bit and it never would have worked.
How often do fans mention Galaxy Quest to you?
RW: A lot. A lot. When I go to science fiction conventions or comic cons to sign headshots, which is very rare, I take Galaxy Quest photos with me and always sell some. The rare thing about the movie is that every single science fiction fan has seen it and every single comedy fan has seen it. It’s kind of like Shaun of the Dead in that way, that it’s rare to have a horror-comedy that works as a comedy and as a horror film. And it’s rare to have a science fiction-comedy that works that way as well.
You got to work on a Star Trek show, Discovery. Was it strange to do Star Trek after doing a movie that is a tribute to Star Trek fandom itself?
RW: I appreciated it that much more. I’ve actually been to the Trekkie conventions where a bunch of people dressed as Thermains. I love that whole connection, how the worlds come together.
Galaxy Quest’s Special 20th Anniversary Steelbook Blu-ray is in stores now.
Featured Image: DreamWorks