Rainn Wilson as “Backstrom” explores his demons on Fox TV

Rainn Wilson (photo by Margie Barron)

Rainn Wilson (photo by Margie Barron)

Rainn Wilson won acclaim by playing the oddly endearing oddball Dwight Schrute for nine seasons on The Office, starring his good friend Steve Carell. Now he’s in a role that’s a huge departure on the new Fox series Backstrom. It’s called a comedic crime procedural and he plays the title character, Dectective Everett Backstrom, a cop who’s “a real dick” who sees the worst in everyone, and he’s usually right.

How does he get into character playing such a jerk? Nice guy Wilson says, “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 instance, who I saw in Foxcatcher, he’s as sweet and kind a person as you’d ever want to meet, but he has the ability as an actor to transform into some really interesting characters. It’s the actor’s job to create that transformation. So, I definitely have my demons and my dark side, as we all do. For me this (Backstrom) was a fantastic opportunity and challenge to get to explore those colors after 10 years of playing Dwight.”

Wilson does a great job selling Det. Backstrom as an angry chauvinist, whose rants are unfiltered and offensive. But he has a knack for solving tough crimes, as well as annoying nearly everyone.

Would the affable Wilson want Backstrom as a friend? Rainn was interviewed at the Television Critics Association’s TCA winter press tour and revealed, “I can relate to someone whose life is falling apart, and they’re doing their best to get by using humor to survive. I think we all have experienced that in small doses or we know people that live that way. Backstrom really wears his heart on his sleeve, and his life is unraveling.”

What appealed to Wilson about the character is “watching a brilliant detective at work while things are just not working for him personally, and just falling apart is really interesting. I would much rather hang out with that person than a slick CSI procedural detective who’s got all the answers and effortlessly resolves everything perfectly every single week. It’s human. It’s frail. And it’s interesting,” Rainn insisted.

The Fox show is set in Portland, but based on a popular Scandinavian book series. Producer-creator Hart Hanson (Bones) said, “As the series goes on, the people learn to like him.” Wilson’s co-stars are Dennis Haysbert, Genevieve Angelson, Kristoffer Polaha, Page Kennedy, and Thomas Dekker, and they actually expressed a strange regard for the grumpy detective. Polaha said, “I play Peter Niedermayer, and my character loves Backstrom for his honesty and for his candor. He thinks he’s uniquely tapped into the universe. But in real life he’s horrible.”

Dennis Haysbert plays Detective John Almond, a kind and religious man, who tries to see Backstrom in a different light. Haysbert said, “If you’re working with a person like this, you find out what his issues are, and you find out what he’s doing is kind of a defense against not being liked. Maybe he doesn’t want to be liked because then he’d have to tell everyone, ‘Okay. I’m human.’ But I think if Det. Almond wasn’t a pastor and a detective, he probably would have shot him.”

Wilson explained that there’s a “beautiful arc to the story that Hart has written over the 13 episodes, where everyone in this ensemble gets to see some other sides of Backstrom. We’ll see what makes him tick and how he got that way. So we’re kind of asking this of the audience, to kind of take a little ride with us.” Yes, this guy is a jerk with demons, but Rainn said once you take the ride and get to know him a little bit, “you’ll learn some interesting things about him and his coping mechanisms. He has a family, and we get to meet his father, played by the great Robert Forster. We meet his ex-fiancée, played by the great Sarah Chalke. And it’s a nice through line for the first season.”

Wilson reported he embraces the opportunity to show his versatility after playing the same character for so long. He said, “You know, really interesting, varied parts with lots of different facets and colors and textures don’t come along very much for weird looking, 48 year old, pasty white dudes.” #


Frank Barron is the former editor of The Hollywood Reporter, having served twice in that capacity. In between, he was West Coast news director for Billboard Publications, supervising their five magazines. Barron also created the western TV series “The Man From Blackhawk” for the ABC network. For more than three decades he and writer-wife Margie Barron have covered Hollywood for Production Update magazine, and they currently contribute to numerous publications. Frank started in showbiz as publicity director for the KHJ radio and television station. Before moving to California, he was a sports editor in New Jersey.

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