Columbia Heights actor plays role in ‘Wilson’

An “off the beaten path” location for a feature film, “Wilson” brought a star studded cast and Hollywood spotlight to the Twin Cities in the summer of 2015. Starring actors Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern and Judy Greer, the quirky yet dark R-rated comedy tells the story of Wilson (Harrelson), a middle-aged, lonely and hilariously honest man who reunites with his estranged wife (Dern) and learns that he has a teenage daughter whom he has never met. Through his journey of self discovery, Wilson encounters a number of different characters, each that contribute to his overall transformation throughout the film.

Columbia Heights resident and actor Paul Cram plays Piper in “Wilson,” a quirky yet dark comedy that stars Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern and Judy Greer. “Wilson” was filmed in the Twin Cities in summer 2015. Cram’s character Piper is a kind and gentle soul that is Wilson’s cell mate when he ends up in prison. (Photo credit to Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Columbia Heights resident and actor Paul Cram plays Piper in “Wilson,” a quirky yet dark comedy that stars Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern and Judy Greer. “Wilson” was filmed in the Twin Cities in summer 2015. Cram’s character Piper is a kind and gentle soul that is Wilson’s cell mate when he ends up in prison. (Photo credit to Fox Searchlight Pictures)

For many of these cameos, the film cast some local actors from the area, including Columbia Heights resident and actor Paul Cram. Cram plays Piper, an eventual cell mate that Wilson meets when he ends up in prison.

“Compared to the other cell mates I’m very kind,” Cram laughs. “He’s one of the many quirky characters that Wilson comes across in the film.”

Cram described Piper as a gentle soul.  With a motivational “Jesus loves you” poster on his cell wall, Piper is a kind, sort of God-fearing prison inmate, quoting Bible verses and exhibits his own non-violent quirks as compared to the other over the top prisoners.

“The script actually never says how Piper got in prison, so for me I just made random things up in my mind,” Cram said. “Piper is just such a fun character. In the context of the quirky metamorphosis that Wilson goes through, Piper is definitely a part of that catalyst. You can definitely see how Piper is a part of this change for Wilson.”

The prison scenes were filmed at the Ramsey County Correctional Facility in St. Paul. Cram said some scenes were filmed in the cells of the facility, but remembers chuckling when he discovered Piper’s cell.

“For Piper’s cell with Wilson, they actually built a set, but they built the set in the prison on the basketball court,” Cram said. “In between takes when we had a bit of time in between set ups, I thoroughly enjoyed it because Woody and I would actually step behind set and shoot basketball hoops.”

The movie poster for Wilson that will hit theaters March 24. (Photo credit to Fox Searchlight Pictures)
The movie poster for Wilson that will hit theaters March 24. (Photo credit to Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Cram said he and Harrelson laughed about his role in 1992 film White Men Can’t Jump, a sports comedy that featured Harrelson as a former college basketball player and streetball hustler.

“He would do all these cool basketball moves, and I was like ‘oh my gosh, yes!’ It was so funny,” Cram said.

Cram said the audience can really look forward to quirky, familiar characters in the film.

“You’re going to see a character and think ‘wait a second, I know that person in my life. I’ve seen that person walking down the street, that neighbor,” Cram said. “People can expect those quirky characters that are so relatable.”

Cram said he enjoyed filming in the Twin Cities as it is so close to home, but flying out to Los Angeles or different locations to film also has its perks.

“It was nice in the fact that I could just keep moving with life with all my day to day here,” Cram said. “But on the flip of it, sometimes its fun to travel and say ‘oh, I’m just here for this, I’m going to go sit by the pool,’” Cram says with a laugh.

Cram has hit the big screen before, including Indie films Imperfect Sky and Peacock, but “Wilson” is Cram’s first union project. Playing a role in a union film allows actors to become part of the Screen Actors Guild, an American labor union that represents film and TV performers. This is also Cram’s first film that will be part of a worldwide release and will be playing in theaters nationwide.

Written by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Daniel Clowes and based on his iconic graphic novel of the same name, “Wilson” was a success at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

The film is directed by Craig Johnson, who directed the 2014 dark comedy The Skeleton Twins.
Cram and Johnson will be attending the Twin Cities premiere of “Wilson” on Wednesday, March 22, at the Twin Cities Film Fest at the Kerasota Showplace Theater in St. Louis Park.

“I’m so excited to see it, and also curious to see how it compares to the graphic novel, and the script that we shot with, and how its edited together,” Cram said. “And I’m thrilled! As you can tell I’m very excited!”

“Wilson” will open in theaters March 24.

Contact Sarah Burghardt at [email protected]