Uni pickup is fair play for jesters


Universal Pictures has picked up "Renaissance Men," a comedy Rainn Wilson is co-writing with fellow actor Matt Ross. Wilson, who snagged his first Emmy nomination for his work on NBC's "The Office," also will topline and produce the feature with Jay Roach.

The story follows two down-and-out community theater actors who think they've accidentally killed a co-star. In a panic, they go on the lam and hide out in a Renaissance fair.

Wilson has long been fascinated by "Ren fairs," attending them with his family during his teenage years, when he also played "Dungeons and Dragons" and fought with broomsticks and garbage-can lids in his backyard.

Wilson and Ross attended the same drama classes at the University of Washington, where Ross also took up fencing and swordfighting.

Both eventually made their way south to Hollywood, where after bit parts in movies like "Almost Famous" and TV shows Wilson found success as apparatchik Dwight Schrute on "Office." Ross has appeared in such movies as "American Psycho" and "The Aviator" and is now gaining attention for his work on HBO's "Big Love," where he plays the villainous Alby Grant.

The friends have harbored the idea of a comedy set in a Ren fair for a long time, but it was only during a general meeting with Roach that Wilson brought it up. Roach loved the idea, and after Wilson and Ross honed the story, the trio took it to Universal, where Roach is based.

"(Renaissance fairs) are fascinating," Wilson said. "Everyone has been to one, but no one really knows what makes them tick. The great thing about them is how seriously people take their duties at the fair or as their characters, whether they are doing swordfights or selling giant turkey legs. And I think that the best comedy comes from people taking ridiculous circumstances extremely seriously."

Wilson is writing "Bonzai Shadowhands," a ninja comedy that Jason Reitman will direct for Fox Searchlight. Like that project, this one will feature characters that are failures, something that is a Wilson trademark.

"I will always write only loserish kind of characters," he said. "I don't think I have a handle on winners."

Roach, who directed the "Austin Powers" movies," produced the Sacha Baron Cohen hit "Borat" and is working on Cohen's follow-up, "Bruno."

Wilson is repped by WMA, 3 Arts Entertainment and Sloane, Offer, Weber & Dern.

Ross is repped by ICM and Framework Entertainment.