Rainn Wilson is returning to TV in the new Fox series, Backstrom, as a cantankerous detective. Although physically he bears little resemblance to the nerdy Dwight Schrute he formerly played on The Office, the character does continue a long line of people played by the Seattle, Washington, native who are cranky, mean-spirited and lacking greatly in social skills. Wilson himself, in an interview with StarTribune, confirmed this tendency, saying “Misfits. That’s what I love to play.”
Backstrom, which is based on Swedish crime novels by author Leif GW Persson, premieres on Fox on Jan. 22, and stars the 49-year-old as a gifted detective who can solve tough cases, all the while rankling everyone with whom he comes in contact. Off-screen, his new castmates marveled at the way the actor developed his new character. Actor Kristoffer Polaha plays a forensics expert alongside Wilson’s Everett Backstrom, and calls being able to watch while his co-star created the character “one of the highlights of my acting career.” Polaha likened the process to a “murder,” in that in certain scenes, Wilson would think about how he would act if he was Dwight Schrute, and then do something completely different.
In order to make the transformation to Backstrom complete, the star gained 15 pounds and stopped shaving. This type of method acting springs in part from his background as an actor at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis under director Joe Dowling. While at the Guthrie, Wilson starred in The Importance of Being Earnest and The Venetian Twins. He credits Dowling with teaching him how to “dive in” to a role with genuine energy and drive.
The script first landed on Wilson’s desk only days after he filmed the last episode of The Office. The actor says that at the time, he was not interested in doing another television show, but his agent told him to take a look. He was intrigued by the character of Backstrom because roles as “interesting” and “varied…. don’t come along often for a wierd-looking pasty white dude.”
This method of acting caused Wilson to decide to not play it safe with the role of Backstrom by attempting to make him more friendly in order to appeal to a broader audience. He admits a desire “to see how far we could push the envelope.” CBS, for which the pilot episode was originally filmed almost two years ago, declined to pick up the series. Looking back, Wilson believes that in the end, the show is better suited for Fox, which he believes cares more about character development than rules.
Filming the series in Vancouver took more than five months, during which time Wilson worked more than 13 hours each day. He had to learn between seven and eight pages of the script every night as well as perform stunts. In addition, much of the shooting took place outside. Wilson says the experience “almost killed” him, but he relished the opportunity to do something different after having played the role of Dwight for so long.
Backstrom is up against stiff competition: Scandal and Two and a Half Men both air opposite the show. Executive producer Kevin Hooks realizes that audiences may at first be put off by the caustic detective, but he advises viewers to remain patient as the character unfolds. Wilson is keeping his options open, saying that if the new show fails to succeed with audiences, he would love to return to the theater as an actor or director.
By Jennifer Pfalz
Article image by Lacey Gerard – License