As Dwight Shrute on The Office, Rainn Wilson portrays an intense, and often misunderstood, nerd. But Shrute is just another character in Wilson's playbook.
The Seattle native has been trying his hand at directing the popular TV series, now in its seventh season. The 44-year-old also has three films in the works — playing a superhero, a grieving father and a neurotic brother. He also has a new book coming out next month. He talked by phone from Los Angeles.
What's it like to direct?
It's really brutal. The number of decisions, like if there's a salt shaker in the scene and they come up with 12 different salt shakers, and they're like, which one do you want? Then you've got to say, "Oh, I like this one, but which one would Jim have? Would it be silver or is that too fancy? I don't know. Maybe it's the funny one, but maybe that's too jokey." There's a lot of weird self-doubt going on.
What's going to happen when Steve Carrell leaves the show at the end of this season?
I don't know. … I know a couple of people they've been talking to, like Nick Nolte and Dakota Fanning. We'll see how that works.
How long are you going to stay?
I'm under contract for a couple more years. We'll see if the show lasts beyond Steve.
Do you have a lot of fun with the Dwight character?
It's really fun. The writers keep writing me really interesting things to play and … romance and vendettas and power plays. I just get a lot of fun stuff to do. On any ordinary show, they would just have me sit around being a nerd. I would have a plastic pocket protector and a calculator and say "nerdy things." That's the great thing about Dwight, how out of the box he is. You can't really define who he is.
Are there limits on how far the character can go?
I think Dwight porn would be pretty upsetting, probably would not go there.
How much are you like Dwight?
I am just very different from Dwight. … I definitely have an affinity to playing oddballs, people who are nonconformists. … But, I'm a pretty normal guy. I watch football. I play with my 6-year-old. I have fun with my wife. I play some Xbox, walk the dogs. But I also happen to like playing these out-there characters.
Tell me about your upcoming book: Soul Pancake, out Nov. 2. It looks like a compilation of items from a website you started with some friends, a kind of clearinghouse for big, metaphysical questions.
It's a passion of mine to tackle getting people thinking about what it is to be a human being. We talk a lot about what kind of cellphone we have, whether we like Verizon or AT&T better, but we don't talk a lot about what happens to us when we die, and I just want to encourage the conversation.