VANCOUVER, BC. The video posted above, captured mid-sentence, has context.
It's a late October and Rainn Wilson's Backstrom has spent a long afternoon and evening working over a suspect in an interrogation room.
Production on “Backstrom” has been largely restricted to two or three scenes in the Portland police precinct, but those scenes have kept Wilson busy for hours, the price of being first on the call sheet.
Wilson carved out 10 minutes to chat with one small roundtable of reporters, but a second group of reporters has been waiting in the dark corner of a Vancouver stage into the early evening, occasionally getting restless and, at least once, getting silenced by an AD. [To our credit, we were only silenced because Thomas Dekker was instigating lively conversation. And the other group of scribes, befriended by co-star Kristoffer Polaha, was far noisier.]
That at least somewhat explains Wilson greeting the journalists, identified as “bloggers,” with the declaration, “You know, I'm kinda a wimpy guy, but I bet versus bloggers, I could probably take out any blogger on the planet.”
On my video recording, posted above, it comes across as amusingly threatening, but that's mostly the shadowing at our press table. In person, it was less ominous and more an extension of Wilson's new character.
“Backstrom” features Wilson as a smart detective with bedside manner, or whatever the non-medical equivalent of that phrase might be. He's a bit homophobic, a bit racist, a bit xenophobic and that's only the start of his generalized antipathy toward his fellow humans.
“Oh, I'm sure we'll get a lot of complaints,” Wilson says. “I hope FOX is ready to have people be really angry. But yeah. He just says the wrong things. He's completely politically incorrect. He's not afraid to step on toes. He's racist, sexist… But it's across-the-board. He hates everyone, too. So it's not like he likes white males. He thinks they're full of s*** too, so it's really across-the-board, misanthropically.”
Also, as so often seems to be the case with TV's most efficient cops, Backstrom doesn't play by the rules.
“Backstorm will do anything to solve a case or to get a suspect,” Wilson says. “He's not above lying, cheating, breaking the law, fudging the rules, faking paperwork. Whatever it takes, he doesn't care about any of that stuff. If he knows someone is guilty, he'll just crawl through broken glass to get them and get them behind bars.”
The “Backstrom” pilot, originally at CBS, was shot back in 2013. It came to Wilson just as he was completing his long run as Dwight on NBC's “The Office,” a role that earned him a trio of Emmy nominations. To say that Wilson wasn't looking to return to TV would be an understatement.
“I finished 'The Office' and my agents called me and they're like, 'We want you to read this TV pilot' and I was like, 'You're insane. I just did 202 episodes of television over 10 years. That's the last thing I want to do!'” Wilson recalls. “They're like, 'We know, we know, we know. Just do us this favor and just read it.' And they had this tone in their voice that a little different and I was like, 'Hmmm.' So I read it it and I was like, 'Argh. Darnit. They're pulling me back in to television.' I really wanted to just take a nice long, long vacation and do some indie films that no one would ever watch. But I really fell in love with the character. He's so fascinating and interesting and so many facets and so much texture that I knew it was gonna be something that I would love to dive into.”
Wilson's immediate commitment to this new character was evident to his co-stars.
“Watching Rainn shoot the pilot was literally like watching an act of murder. Like he was slaying Dwight and it was so remarkable to watch…” Polaha says. “And he would stop in the pilot, because he'd just finished 10 days prior shooting the last episode of 'The Office,' which he'd done for 10 years prior, and so he literally was like, 'No, no, no. That's what Dwight would do. Hold on a second.' And I was like, 'F***. He's killing Dwight. He's killing Dwight.' I don't know how people in the world will feel about that, because I think Dwight lives on in perpetuity and in syndication forever, so if you love Dwight, you can always go back. And then now you can consequently see a totally other person from the same guy. It's cool.”
Wilson doesn't want to go quite that far, murder-wise.
“It's interesting. I kinda stumbled into doing comedy television. That was never really my thing. I started doing theater and I would do Shakespeare and Eugene O'Neill and all kinds of stuff besides doing comedy and then I came to LA and kinda playing quirky, more comedic characters seemed to be my way in. And I'll always play quirky, off-beat characters,” he says. “But killing Dwight? I would never want to kill Dwight, but to get an opportunity to just explore a character that's in just a completely different range of colors has been really freeing. Yeah, I know that most people are gonna be like, 'Oh, it's Dwight as a cop.' And that's what they're gonna say and be like, 'Oh, it's Dwight.' Or it's gonna be like, 'Oh, that guy's always gonna be Dwight, he can't play a cop.' But I'm excited for the challenge.”
After some consideration, though, Wilson was eventually able to actually find similarities between Dwight and Backstrom, specifically in terms of how they relate to the ensemble around them.
“[Creator Hart Hanson] always talks about how TV shows work when you have this kinda dysfunctional family at the center of it. And his dysfunctional family are these cops in this special crimes unit and each one of them has their super-power. Each one of them has they're way into the world and what they do specially. So Backstrom needs them and can't stand that he needs them. He's contemptuous of them, but yeah, there is definitely a begrudging respect for what they do. And at the same time, he thinks they're idiots. I guess that's why Backstom and Dwight are very similar, is that they think that the people around them are mostly idiots,” he says.
Check out the ominous chunk of Rainn Wilson video interview above. I kinda love the lighting.
And “Backstrom” premieres on FOX on Thursday, January 22 at 9 p.m.