Guff Interview: Rainn Wilson on Backstrom and Fake Beer

Rainn Wilson is back on TV. After nine years playing Dwight Schrute on NBC's The Office, it was actually a bit of a challenge to get his next show. Backstrom was originally going to be on CBS but they decided not to move forward. It all worked out though, because now Backstrom is on Thursday nights on Fox. Everett Backstrom (Wilson) is a hard drinking, high cholesterol eating detective. He doesn't get along with anyone, but he sure solves crimes. As we're just getting to know Backstrom, Wilson spoke with a group of reporters from the Television Critics Association last month and we got to get his take on Backstrom. 

Q: How did the egg in the beer taste?

RW: I drank so many eggs and so much near beer, I can't even tell you. If I had to do it again, I would never stop vomiting.

Q: You eat a lot on Backstrom. Are there a lot of spit buckets?

RW: Spit buckets everywhere and a lot of accidental swallowing of food. I think I gained about 20 pounds shooting this show. It was really unfortunate.

Q: Had you always wanted to play a detective?

RW: You know, I grew up watching all these great antihero detectives in the `70s. Columbo and Rockford and Kojack. I loved those characters and I don't really watch crime shows so much, but I love a crime show when I really am intrigued by the crime solvers themselves and their personal life, what's driving them. So I was really excited to get to jump into something like this.

Q: There's a lot of rain on Backstrom. What was it like acting wet?

RW: Wet a lot, eating a lot, naked a lot. Any kind of scene of discomfort. 

Rainn Wilson as the titular detective Backstrom, FOX

Q: Did the rain make the scenes more difficult?

RW: Yeah, -when they shoot rain scenes, there are these giant rain towers that they use and they haven't figured out how to put warm water in them yet. It's like from a hose. It's ice cold, and sometimes you're shooting at three in the morning and getting rained on. It is brutal. You can wear a wetsuit, you can wear silk long johns, whatever you want. It's pretty hard. It's also really loud. It's hard to keep your focus with the fake rain pouring down over your face. It's very challenging but if this show continues for more seasons, it's something I'm going to really have to get used to. 

Q: How did Backstrom get so good at his job? Did his background that led to this personality also make him a great detective?

RW: You know, we get to meet his father who's a sheriff, played by Robert Forster. Law enforcement is in his genes. I think they're generations of working in the law industry. So it's in his bones, no pun intended. At the same time, Hart 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's almost like the ring that you wear in The Lord of the Rings. It weighs on him but it's something he's got to do.

Q: Has your son seen the show and is he a fan?

RW: Yeah, he's seen a couple of the episodes. Some of them are a little too raunchy for him. He's 10 years old but he's very excited to watch it on Thursday and he's been a part of the whole process. He was really too young to watch The Office, my son Walter. He's only now just starting to watch a few episodes but he's very excited by this whole journey of bringing the show to life and launching it on Thursday. 

Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute, NBC

Q: Were you surprised how hard it was to set up this show?

RW: Yeah, I was surprised. It's kind of crazy. It's pretty rare for a pilot to get passed on by one network and find life, and extended life on another, in the fact that they ordered 13 episodes. So it worked out great for me. I wasn't necessarily really ready to go right back into work and this is perfect to have a year separation from the office and get to work in May.

Q: Was part of the problem that they didn't want to see you in a one hour drama?

RW: CBS was very interested in the show. They had some business issues because 20th Century Fox is the studio behind it. But they had their reasons I guess and I think we found a much better home on Fox. 

Wilson fields questions, Getty Images

Q: Fox actually referred to Backstrom as "a great A-hole character in the Fox tradition." How do you feel about that description?

RW: I love it. Playing an *sshole who just says whatever he thinks is really cool. It's really fun. It's liberating for an actor. 

Q: Why is it set in Portland? 

RW: It's based on a Swedish series of books and it needed a city that has that mood to it. It's got to be a big enough city so that there's some real crime going on, but it has to have that kind of rainy Scandinavian moroseness to it. 

Q: Is Backstrom even more abrasive than Dwight could be?

RW: Yeah, in a very different way. Obviously it's not a sitcom. It's much more based in reality but obviously the fear is fans who have known me as Dwight for 200 episodes, are they going to come along on the ride with this completely new character, and I hope they will. There's enough of me in him. There's a lot of me in both characters, but it's also about as different a character as you could create from Dwight as possible. 

Drinking up, FOX

Q: How do you describe Backstrom?

RW: He's a guy who's at war with the world and at war with himself. He's addicted to pretty much everything on the planet and hates himself as well as everyone else, but he's also got a wicked sense of humor. The fear is that you alienate audiences but maybe you can coax them into liking someone as despicable as he is.

Q: Would you want to redeem him or just never let him change?

RW: If he was going to be redeemed, it would need to be in season nine or ten. You don't want to redeem a character too fast. Then the show goes downhill right away.
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