"I was just longing and clawing to get out of the U.P."
When actor Steve Wiig talks about the Upper Peninsula, it's not with sentimental nostalgia. Wiig is quick to explain what it felt like to watch “Headbangers Ball,” “120 Minutes,” and “Yo! MTV Raps” as a teenager at his friends’ houses (his strict, Christian family didn't have cable). The TV shows left him yearning for the bizarre, intriguing otherness that their worlds exhibited.
The draw was enough that Wiig found himself hunting down Metallica on tour by sneaking his way backstage to gigs in the midwest, places like Green Bay and Kalamazoo. The band was quick to note his passion and sincerity, and soon offered him a job filming concerts for their personal archives. After a few years on the road, he was offered a full-time job with Metallica in their San Francisco Bay area stomping grounds and Wiig jumped at the chance to relocate to Northern California.
That foothold eventually helped pave the way for Wiig's roles in the Oscar-nominated films “Milk” (as McConnelly, an Irish Catholic liquor store owner) and “Into the Wild” (where he played the park ranger who refuses to allow Christopher McCandless to take his kayak down the Colorado River).
Since then, Wiig has been paying his dues, joining the Screen Actors Guild and staying busy doing commercials, voiceovers, independent and student films, as well as extra work on blockbusters like “Godzilla,” “Blue Jasmine,” and Marvel's “Ant-Man.” An uncredited role in “The Master” allowed him to watch Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the great American directors, work at an up-close-and-personal range. Seeing Anderson's on-the-fly cinematic decision-making, and having his own moments where, for example, he was called on to improvise with the likes of Sean Penn has been his hands-on education. His film school has been working in film itself.
Wiig is not a major star, but the actor spent much of 2014 filming some of his best roles to date, including the lead as the reclusive novelist Hank Nichols in the recently completed short film “Dead Metaphors.” Tom Waits saw an early cut of the film and granted the filmmakers use of his songs. Wiig also has upcoming supporting roles in James Franco's childhood-inspired “Yosemite,” the 1970's Bay Area historical social drama “America is Still the Place,” and Christopher Coppola's vampire opera thriller “Around Midnight.”
Wiig's path to what you might call U.P. superstardom -- he's still relatively unknown in lower Michigan, but is becoming a household name in the U.P. -- has been as wavering as an early Metallica bus tour, but the longing for the screen, if not the stage, began in the earliest memories of his youth.
As a child, Wiig recalls making cassette recordings of himself impersonating Glen Campbell doing “Rhinestone Cowboy” and talking to an invisible audience at home. Living in the outskirts of Negaunee, he and his sibling spent much of their free time playing in the woods, listening to vinyl, and having costumes around the house -- Star Wars, Frankenstein, Planet of the Apes. Thirty years later, Wiig would play a human survivor in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” Even with a background acting gig, Wiig said, "The five-year-old in me was doing backflips."
Wiig's crash course in the world of entertainment started in the 1990’s when he was asked to film concerts for the heavy metal foursome that soon became his personal friends, Metallica. In the recording studio, Wiig got to witness the power of capturing creative moments; it further stoked the fires for his interest in the power of sound and film.
Today the actor makes his home in Marin County, Calif., where he ended up getting a major career break. At a party one night at a party in the Bay Area, “Sean Penn tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I'd ever considered acting.” Wiig had been reenacting something while telling a story to Penn’s wife, Robin. Penn happened to be writing the screenplay for Jon Krakauer's “Into The Wild” and asked Wiig to come over the next day and pick a role in the script. The rest, according to Wiig, has been his “own unique, unpredictable journey.”