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Oddball role in “Office” is right up Wilson's alley

    by Virginia Rohan of The Record (Bergen County, New Jersey)
    January 22, 2006

    Rainn Wilson is supposed to be the one giving answers. Yet, on the phone during a lunch break from "The Office," he asks the first question.

    "This is not a joke. I didn't plan it this way, but do you know what I was scooping onto my fork just now?"

    Reviewing the peculiar facts about his Dwight K. Schrute character, I say, "Beets?"

    Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.

    "Yes," Wilson says. "I have some beets on top of my salad."

    Beet-farming is just one of the unusual details about the eccentric paper salesman. Since the NBC show's March debut, we've learned that Dwight: inherited many large armoires from his grandparents, is an overly eager rescue-squad volunteer and loves "Star Wars," paintball and karate.

    "And we know his grandfather fought for the Nazis," Wilson adds.

    Viewers know an awful lot about Dwight's private life.

    "The writers always tell me what a great time they have writing for Dwight," Wilson says. "If it wasn't for that damn Steve Carell, this show might be 'The Dwight Schrute Show.' "

    There's some truth to Wilson's joke. The actor with the demented cherub look, previously best known as strange mortician-intern Arthur Martin on "Six Feet Under," has broken out as the oddest oddball in "The Office" (9:30 p.m. Thursdays). Dwight even has his own blog, which Wilson writes, often while shooting "The Office."

    "We begged the producers to have working computers," Wilson says. "There's a lot of times where we'll be sitting there doing background work. We have a live Internet connection, and it's really handy."

    Dwight is a perfect foil for Carell's clueless and annoying Regional Manager Michael Scott — whom Dwight worships.

    "It's just authority," Wilson says. "Like in the 'Booze Cruise' episode, he just immediately idolizes the ship's captain. Dwight longs to be No. 2."

    Formerly "assistant to the regional manager," Dwight nagged Michael into dropping the "to." What dreams are left?

    "Like he says in the Halloween episode, 'I go wherever they value loyalty the most,' " Wilson says. "I think he'd want to be No. 2 in a larger paper company maybe."

    The victim of many pranks — his desk has been moved to the men's room and his belongings put in the vending machine — Dwight gets annoyed, but he never gets the joke.

    "To me, there's nothing funnier than someone taking themselves seriously," Wilson says. "Not to sound all pretentious 'Inside the Actors Studio'-y, but when I first started working on the character, there were a couple of things that struck me. I love a character who has no sense of humor about himself whatsoever. Combine that with his love for authority and hierarchies, and the fact that he is entirely incapable of thinking outside of any box."

    A big fan of the original British series and Mackenzie Crook's Gareth character (Dwight's counterpart), Wilson wanted to bring his "own spin."

    "I come from a deeply white-trash background. I talked to the writers about that," he says, pointing to Dwight's muscle car. "I also was a real nerd in high school, and all of those elements started to combine."

    And yet, Wilson adds, Dwight is "hard to type. You could say he's a nerd, but he's not really a nerd. He doesn't really fit in, but he's got his friends."

    He's also got his female admirers. "Chicks dig a guy in polyester short sleeves," says Wilson. Dwight is secretly dating priggish Angela (Angela Kinsey), but was kissed by Kelly (Mindy Kaling) at the Christmas party.

    Though "The Office" has an improvised feel, only about 20 percent of the cast's adlibs wind up in the "smartly written" show, says Wilson, whose favorite of Dwight's impromptus was the conversation he had as a Sith lord with Michael's fake head in the Halloween episode.

    Wilson, 38, was born on a houseboat in Seattle, where his dad was an abstract painter and his mom did experimental theater. As for that unusual first name, he wrote in a follow-up e-mail, " 'Rainn' was made up by my bohemian parents in the late '60s."

    Though raised in Seattle, Wilson finished high school in Winnetka, Illinois, and ultimately wound up at New York University. He performed on and off-Broadway and did some movies ("Almost Famous") and TV shows ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"). But "Six Feet Under" really got him noticed.

    "I had actually auditioned for about five other roles in the show before Arthur — the priest and one guy who was going to end up dead and three gay choir members," Wilson says. "I honestly thought of Arthur as an utterly guileless, innocent sweet child-man. Everyone else viewed him as this creepy, weird stalker guy who was about to blow a circuit and kill everyone in the Fisher household. People were just really freaked out by Arthur."

    The character equated consummation with cuddling, which stalled his odd romance with Frances Conroy's Ruth Fisher. "Arthur had no idea about sex, because he had never had it," Wilson says.

    The actor, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, fiction writer Holiday Reinhorn, and their infant son, Walter, recently finished the movie "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," in which he plays Luke Wilson's best friend, a "really smart" architect who fancies himself a ladies' man.

    "He's not creepy, not weird," says Wilson, who concedes to some worries about getting typecast. "I was happy to find my way into show business playing those roles, but I'm certainly capable of playing more normal people. But I really don't mind playing the eccentrics."
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