Some actors associated with a signature role get tired of talking about it. No such preciousness from Rainn Wilson shown on camera from his home in Los Angeles wearing a gray T-shirt embossed with the word “Scranton”. This city in Pennsylvania was the setting for the American version of the mockumentary sitcom The Office, which ran for nine much-loved, award-winning series. Wilson received three Emmy nominations for playing the sharp, uncomfortable Dwight, Rust Belt equivalent of Mackenzie Crooks Gareth. Today̵
Wilson has starred in everything from Juno to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Jason Statham shark thriller The Meg, but he knows that any conversation will inevitably lead back to the office. “Dwight is the part I am best known for and always will be,” said the 55-year-old. “And that’s fine with me.” First, though, is his new thriller to discuss. In Don’t Tell a Soul, a cross between A Simple Plan and Paranoid Park, he plays a modest security guard who chases after encountering two teenage brothers (Fionn Whitehead and Jack Dylan Grazer) who steal from a house in Kentucky. During the chase, he crashes into a hole in the forest floor, leaving the boys with absolute power over him. The question is not whether they will use it, but how.
This is not the first time Wilson has been six yards under – he got his big break in Alan Ball’s hit HBO series of that name in the early 2000s and played Arthur the creepy undertaker. But when I ask what it was like to use most of Don’t Tell a Soul on the underground level, he mistakenly admits that the “hole” was actually a chamber built above the ground with a door at the side and a platform at the top, which the other actors could rise up to look down on him. “I’m a little claustrophobic,” he says.
The part offered its own challenges, though it was not one of them to overcome a fear of limited space. “We get to see many different sides of my character during the film. He is sympathetic, pathetic, contemptible. He has some real dark sides to him. “Moral ambiguity is an area where Wilson excels: he feels good when the audience is not. In the black comedy Super, he played an impending superhero who is actually nothing more magnificent than an evil vigilante in a cloak. In the psychological thriller The Boy, he was an angry insurance fraudster hiding in a motel after his wife’s death.
On screen, he can be eerily reserved and inaccessible or gauche and foolish as he is like a credible stranger in Galaxy Quest or a failed heavy metal drummer in The Rocker. That he can embody these different qualities is, he believes, in part an accident with physiognomy. “When you put a camera on someone, you see a lot of what’s already there,” he says. “For me, it’s like – I don’t even want to go straight to ‘odd’ – but I’m an offbeat-out guy who probably has a comic side just because I have this big, weird face. I will never be Josh Brolin, no matter how much I want it. ”
It was a lesson he learned in his earliest days as an actor. “I had agents who were like, ‘You need to get your teeth fixed, build lots of muscle and lose weight.’ But I realized early on that I was in the character actor’s tradition. Also in terms of sensitivity I am weird! I play chess, I play bassoon, I read science fiction. I’m not there hunting, driving a truck or … ”He throws his hands up in skinny irritation. “What do leading men do even in their spare time? Intestinal trout? ”
Wilson grew up primarily in the suburbs of Seattle and Chicago. However, nearly three years of his young life were spent in Nicaragua with his father and stepmother, who were followers (as Wilson still is) of the Bahá’í Faith. In his autobiography The Bassoon King, he recounts the Central American period of his childhood in shiny and occasionally repulsive details. No one reading the book easily forgets the scene where the young Wilson evacuates a fighting, 10-inch roundworm from his body (“I felt a curious sensation down around my little speed chimney …”)
Beneath his eerie suburban exterior, he writes, there will always be a “closet of hidden memories that includes monkeys and jungles and worms and glowing beetles.” He smiles appreciatively when I read that line back to him. “It gives you a different perspective when you have lived abroad,” he says. “You may be growing up getting Slurpees on 7/11 or becoming a trick-or-treat, but you carry with you the knowledge that the world is a bigger and more mysterious place.”
As a wandering bohemian, Wilson’s father and stepmother were role models he felt he had to live up to, perhaps even compete with. “They had strong personalities, but I wanted to differentiate myself.” His own son, who is 16, is undergoing something similar. “‘Celebrity child’ is a strange position to be in,” he reflects. “How can he achieve his own identity?”
Wilson’s father, who died last year, published a science fiction novel, Tentacles of Dawn, in 1978 and always longed to earn a living as an artist. “He was a great painter and writer, but he always had to work a bad day job. I was aware of what he was not it do: he was not educated or threw himself into it. I said, ‘I’m moving to New York, getting the best training I can, going the whole pig.’ The irony that he did all that and still ended up in an “office job” has probably not escaped him.
As soon as Wilson read the show’s pilot script, he knew he was the man to play Dwight Schrute. “I feel strange. I have deadpan. I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons. Who can do it better than me? “He found in the character an inevitable quality. “You can never really put your finger on him. Is he a dork or a bully? A simple farmer or a suction? He’s kind of all these things. ”
A proposed Dwight spin-off series called The Farm never came to fruition, but hardly a day goes by without him getting praise for the office. Take his first meeting with Grazer, the impish 18-year-old actor with whom he shares most of his scenes in Don’t Tell a Soul. “Jack was fumbling and awkward and did not know what to say,” Wilson recalls. “His mother told me, ‘He’s never like this! “” The problem was nothing more complicated than hero worship. Shared with other young celebrities, including Timothée Chalamet and Billie Eilish (whom Wilson affectionately refers to during an online quiz with the singer as “William Eyelash”), Grazer is an obsessive office nut.
This demographic hassle still confuses Wilson. “When we did the show, we always thought, ‘Anyone who’s worked in an office and had a bad boss will really relate to this.’ Then we found out that we were especially loved by 12 to 17 year olds. “Teenagers helped save the office from cancellation, as its ratings were almost as low as the network’s belief in the show. Random external circumstances, including the box office success of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which made a megastar out of Wilson’s Office colleague Steve Carell, also extended his life and gave it time to flourish.
“Now people are coming back to it repeatedly,” he points out. For many viewers, it was a balm during lockdown. “It’s comforting, soothing, anxious. It has helped people through troubled times. “How much non-British. “Well, the British have always looked at comedy to push boundaries: not just the office, but The Mighty Boosh, Alan Partridge. By the way, is he Sir Steve Coogan yet? I’m going with ‘Sir Steve’. I’m such a fan. In fact, Wilson can be heard in his own podcast, Dark Air, as Terry Carnation, a pompous talk radio celebrity who he hopes could prove to be his Partridge. “Those things are rarer in America. Our comedy is more like what you turn on after dinner to relax and have a good laugh. We really do not want to stick the hive too much. ”