The Office: Rainn Wilson Reflects on Series, Avoiding Similar Roles

When it comes to those who benefitted the most in their careers from their time on The Office, many can point to stars Steve Carell and John Krasinski. One can also make quite the argument for Rainn Wilson, who played Jim's (Krasinski) rival and Michael's (Carell) second-in-command, Dwight Schrute on the long-running NBC comedy. While promoting his latest Amazon series Utopia, the actor spoke with The Hollywood Reporter to reflect on the time on the series and why he avoids taking similar roles.

Rainn Wilson arrives to the "The Meg" US Premiere on August 6, 2018 in Hollywood, CA. Editorial credit: DFree /
Rainn Wilson arrives to the "The Meg" US Premiere on August 6, 2018 in Hollywood, CA. Editorial credit: DFree /

"Well, it's been a very strange rollercoaster because we went from on the verge of cancellation in the first year that we existed and really thinking like, 'Oh, this will be one of those shows where we did 13 episodes, it'll be a cult favorite, but no one's going to watch it. We'll go on, we'll get some cache and we'll be able to go do a big dumb network sitcom that sticks around for a longer amount of time,'" Wilson said. "Then, all of a sudden, it became hugely popular in 2007-2008 right out of the gate, and seasons two, three, and four were super popular. Then, we started to wane, and people were kind of like, 'Been there, done that.' They were on to the next thing, and we really wanted by the time Steve (Carell) had left the show. So, no one was really paying attention to us anymore, even though we were still very highly rated in our time slot, back when they had actual time slots for shows. And then, no one really thought about The Office for many years after we ended in 2013. We just weren't on anybody's radar whatsoever. It was like, 'Oh, remember that old show?'"

Wilson noticed as The Office gained more of a cult following since the series ended in 2013 after a nine-run, how it gained a second life after the fact as an Internet sensation as fans generated a meme culture. "All of a sudden, I just noticed like, 'This is getting recognized. I'm getting recognized more and more. What is happening? It's not going away,'" the actor added. "There's more memes. There's more pictures. There's more videos. There's more YouTube content being shared.' And it was the Netflix effect. I kind of think we were the show that launched Netflix in a weird way. Obviously, they had some other good shows, but I think The Office has been the anchor for Netflix the last five years. The popularity of the show, especially with young people, is ridiculous; I'm talking 10-11-year-olds. It's preposterous. So I don't know what's going to happen when it leaves Netflix and goes to another streaming service that people don't necessarily want to subscribe to, but it's been an incredible ride."

To the unaware, The Office will stream on the NBC Universal streamer Peacock starting in 2021. "I'm just grateful because I think we made a terrific show that's got a lot of heart," Wilson continues. "It also moves people and makes them laugh. It's been a great balm for people during some really trying times and I hear that all the time. I get messages on my social media — hundreds a day — just like, 'Thank you for this show. It's helped me so much during this time.' And the other oddity is that The Office has gone hand in hand with binge-watching and watching shows over and over again. Although, I don't know if people watch other shows over and over again. I don't know if people are like, 'Oh, I need to watch Bones for the fourth time,' or something like that, but they're watching The Office again and again. So that's weird, but I'm glad people are enjoying it. It's every actor's dream to be part of a show that is (a) funny and (b) socially relevant."

Since his final goodbye as Dwight, Wilson took dissimilar roles to avoid being typecast. "Yeah, I have been very fortunate," he said "I've gotten to play a whole bunch of really cool, awesome roles that are very, very different from Dwight over the last seven years. Whether it was Backstrom, which was my failed show on Fox, or my indie films that no one has seen, I'm very proud of my work as an actor; it's been great. I've been really astounded and happy about that." To read about Wilson talking about his other roles in Six Feet Under, Utopia, Backstrom, and Blackbird, you can check the rest of the interview at THR.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangora. As a professional writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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