PASADENA, Calif. – When TV watchers see Rainn Wilson, they probably conjure up images of him in a yellow short-sleeve collared shirt and a loud tie. But his role in Fox’s new series “Backstrom” couldn’t be more of a departure from Dwight Schrute, the character he played on “The Office.”
Wilson plays the sexist, angry and unfiltered Detective Lieutenant Everett Backstrom, who has a knack for solving tough crimes and offending nearly everyone in his path.
Still, the charismatic Wilson said he’s found ways to relate to his unlikeable character.
“I can relate to someone whose life is falling apart, and they are doing the best to get by, using humor to survive,” Wilson said while speaking to the crowd at the TCA Winter Press Tour. “Backstrom really wears his heart on his sleeve and his life is unraveling… I would much rather hang out with that person than a slick procedural detective who has all the answers… it’s human, it’s frail, it’s interesting.”
Wilson added that the role had its physical challenges as well. He said his character is “wet a lot, eating a lot, naked a lot—[in] any kind of state of discomfort.”
He said he was first given the script for the crime series just a few days after he wrapped up filming "The Office," and he was hesitant to get involved with another TV series, but his agent convinced him he had to take a look at the “Backstrom” story.
“Really interesting varied parts… don’t come along often for a weird looking pasty white dude,” Wilson quipped.
After a long talk with his wife, he decided to do the show and filmed the pilot in 2013, but the series was initially turned down by CBS and took a while to find a home at Fox.
“Rainn actually never lost hope,” creator and executive producer Hart Hanson said.
Hanson added that he thinks Wilson will be able to turn audiences in favor of the controversial lead character.
“We’re counting a lot on Rainn’s likeability,” Hanson said. “We hope that that will have viewers watching long enough to realize… to have some compassion and understanding that what he is saying does not come from a bad human being they come from a bad place in a human being.”
For Wilson, playing Backstrom is more than just a new television gig; it’s an opportunity to show his versatility after playing the same character on a top comedy series for so long.
“I think that we all have our demons and part of a job as an actor is to find what your point of relation is for any character and to delve into that. Steve Carell, for example, who I just saw in ‘Foxcatcher’… has the ability to transform... It’s kind of the actor’s job to transform,” Wilson said. “I definitely have my demons and I have my dark side and for me it was a fantastic opportunity and challenges to get to explore those colors after 10 years of playing Dwight.”
And he promised that even if some viewers hate his character, they will come to see Backstrom is a pro at his job.
“Hart [Hanson] always described it in this really wonderful way which was ‘at heart, Backstrom is an artist.’ And he really should be painting or making pottery or writing poetry or doing something like that. That’s really where his heart is, but he has this preternatural ability to solve crimes… It weighs on him but it’s something he’s got to do.”
Executive producer Kevin Hooks added that audiences should be patient, and they will see that there is more to Backstrom than meets the eye.
“That part when you realize that this is a problem that Backstrom is having with himself that he is projecting on to other people,” Hook said, “those are the moments that are going to fly.”
“Backstrom” premieres on Fox on Jan. 22.
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