Rainn Wilson developed one of the stranger iconic characters on television: that of Dwight Schrute, the ambitious, beet farming paper salesman on “The Office.” He’ll try to do the same with detective Everett Backstrom on “Backstrom,” a new crime-solving series on Fox based on a mystery series by Swedish novelist Leif G.W. Persson, from “Bones” creator Hart Hanson. Wilson describes Backstrom as “deeply flawed. He’s like if Columbo was a self-hating alcoholic,” and the character, in the pilot alone, spouts off enough offensive things to make him “fascinatingly misanthropic,” as Wilson puts it.
How involved were you with the development of the show?
The script was already written and it was pretty close to what we did. One of the things that I added to it is more humor. I improvised a good deal and found some other quirky eccentricities for him and physicality that Hart really ran with as a writer. It was a really fun collaboration. He’s a very collaborative showrunner, just like Greg Daniels was on “The Office.” I’ve been blessed. I have worked with these three showrunners: Alan Ball, Greg Daniels and Hart Hanson, and they are just magnificent.
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How did it feel to go from a half hour sitcom to an hourlong drama?
It is so much harder, what I’m doing. It almost killed me. … I have a newfound appreciation for what Steve Carell was doing all those years. Dwight was the No. 2 guy on the show, but Steve drove all those scenes and had way more dialogue. He was the engine of the scene and that’s what I have to do with “Backstrom,” is every scene I’m in, I have to drive it. It was difficult, but as George Clooney says, no one ever wants to hear an actor complain about anything, so I will deny all of that.
Did you take any inspiration from watching Steve Carell be a leader on “The Office”?
Anyone who’s the lead of a show, they set the tone for the cast and for the producers and Steve was a hard-working, humble guy, who really was generous with everyone in the cast and he couldn’t have been a better leader for “The Office.”
So Steve Carell and George Clooney are the guys who guide you.
Yep, exactly. My two role models.
Backstrom lives in a barge with Valentine (played by Thomas Dekker), the son of a prostitute friend of his, and the duo seem to be about as close to each other as either of them are capable of being to anyone.
Does Valentine understand Backstrom the best?
Yeah, he and Valentine have a very special relationship that’s very hard to define. They get each other, love each other, can’t stand each other and don’t trust each other, all at the same time. They’re like magnets, kind of bouncing and flipping back and forth with each other. It’s a really cool relationship. It’s my favorite one to play.
Was Valentine written that way, or was that something Thomas Dekker brought?
His character was definitely greatly expanded once Hart and the producers and Fox saw how amazing he was and what he could do as an actor, because he could go from tears to absurdity at the drop of a hat. He’s got so much depth, and we just had so much good chemistry.