Interview with Rainn Wilson from "Backstrom" on FOX - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne


Interview with Rainn Wilson of "Backstrom" on FOX 2/4/15

It was great to speak with Rainn Wilson a second time! I really love his show, and he does an excellent job with it.

Final Transcript
FBC PUBLICITY: Backstrom Conference Call
February 4, 2015/1:00 p.m. PST

Kim Kurland
Rainn Wilson


Moderator: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by and welcome to the Backstrom Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question and answer session. (Operator instructions.) As a reminder, today’s call will be recorded.

I’d like to turn the conference over to our host, Ms. Kim Kurland. Please, go ahead.

Kim: Hi, everyone. I just wanted to thank you for taking part in the call today with Rainn. As you all know, our next episode of Backstrom airs tomorrow night, on Thursday, at 9:00. Starting a guest starring run in that episode is Sarah Chalke, and Rainn can talk to you about what her character is.

I just wanted to correct one quick thing. You can ask one question and one follow-up question, and then beyond that, just hop back into the queue. So, Collin, I think we can take the first question.

Moderator: Thank you. (Operator instructions.) We’ll go to the line of Sarah Curtis with

Sarah: Hello.

Rainn: Hi.

Sarah: Great to talk to you again.

Rainn: Nice to talk to you again.

Sarah: Alright, well, I really enjoyed the two episodes that we saw that Sarah was in. I thought it was interesting – I guess I was surprised at how affectionate Amy still feels for Backstrom. Do you think he is as surprised by that, or did they end things amicably?

Rainn: There’s definitely a tension, there. There’s an energy between the two of them. There’s a lot of love. I mean, they almost got married. They’re still very attracted to each other, even though Backstrom is a grotesque lump of a man at this point in his life. I think that that was something we wanted to play with, to learn more about Backstrom’s past and she’s a door into his past because they were from 10 years ago, but also to show that – to show what he had lost back in those days. That he had blown this potentially great relationship that could have actually brought him some modicum of happiness. And to play with the tension of the possibility of a future between him and Amy.

Sarah: I agree. I was thinking her ability to kind of see through him – do you think that’s what makes the relationship work or ultimately fail or both?

Rainn: I think she sees the him inside of him. She sees the real Backstrom. She knows the good hearted, warm, funny, smart, kind Backstrom that is underneath all the scar tissue that everyone else sees of Backstrom; the hateful, cynical, guarded, offensive Backstrom.

Sarah: Well, great, like I said, it looks like a lot of fun. Good luck.

Rainn: Thank you so much.

Moderator: We have a question from the line of Tiffany Vogt with Seat42F. Please, go ahead.

Tiffany, your line is open. If your phone is on mute, could you please unmute the line?

Tiffany: Can you hear me, now?

Moderator: Yes, we can. Please, go ahead.

Tiffany: Sorry about that. I was just curious about the chemistry between all the different characters. They seem to have such a familial feeling amongst all of them, which is unusual for what seems to be characters that have just been recently working together. How did you guys work to create that chemistry?

Rainn: I’m so sorry, I just missed the first part of your question. The chemistry with whom?

Tiffany: All the different characters on the squad. They all seem to have a very familial relationship with each other, which is unusual for what seems to be a new unit that they’ve been set up amongst.

Rainn: Well, I think that it’s relatively new. When the show starts, I think what was cut out of the pilot early on was the fact that they had been working together for 6 weeks or a couple of months. So they didn’t know each other and they have a working relationship.

The chemistry, obviously, is created by the actors, but chemistry is also, really, created by the writer. Shows where people lack chemistry, usually the chemistry is lacking in the writing, that there’s not a sense of dynamism between the characters. Both on The Office and in Backstrom, both Hart and Greg Daniels focused a lot of time and energy on how do characters relate to one another. In shows that are a little bit more standard, like standard procedurals or standard comedies, there are goofy characters, but a different chemistry is created when you match any two people together. It’s like flavors in a recipe.

So you get a very different feel with Backstrom and Almond than you do with Backstrom and Gravely or Backstrom and Neidermayer. Whenever you put people together in different combinations, you want a different taste sensation.

Tiffany: Well, also as a follow-up, [audio disruption] sense that, maybe, Backstrom has a secret handshake with each of these characters. Like he has a secret relationship with each one.

Rainn: Yes, but he also knows – he’s very political; he knows how to play people against each other. He might need to call on favors – he’s got some leverage on Moto – and he knows how to play on people’s weaknesses. So yes, he might have a secret handshake, but he also kind of knows what he’s got on everybody at all times.

Tiffany: Well, it’s fascinating. Thank you so much.

Rainn: Yes, sure.

Moderator: Next we’ll go to the line of Suzanne Lanoue with TV Megasite. Please, go ahead.

Suzanne: Hi, again. How are you doing today?

Rainn: Hi, good. How are you?

Suzanne: Pretty good. I was going to ask you if you could play any other character on the show besides yours, which one would you choose and why?

Rainn: Any other character on the show besides me?

Suzanne: Yes.

Rainn: Besides the one that I’m playing?

Suzanne: Yes.

Rainn: That’s a funny question. What would I do? I guess I’d have to go with the other white guy, Neidermayer.

Suzanne: You’re not limited.

Rainn: I would probably choose – no, I guess I would go with Neidermayer. I like to consider myself a philosophical guy. I was a philosophy major before I was an acting major and I created Soul Pancake to dig into life’s big questions. I love his passion for forensics and his attempt to be almost like Backstrom, to kind of see the transcendence through his forensics.

Suzanne: Okay, well, thanks a lot. I appreciate it. I really enjoy the show.

Rainn: Oh, great. Thanks.

Moderator: (Operator instructions.) We have a follow up from the line of Tiffany Vogt. Please, go ahead.

Tiffany: Hi, I just wanted to get a follow-up a little bit on these relationships that Backstrom has. He also has a very unique relationship with his roommate, Valentine. It seems like they, themselves, have a personal history that’s not been fully mined in the show yet. How much more are we going to see of that?

Rainn: You are going to see a lot more of Valentine. You’re going to get to know him a lot better; you’re going to see a lot more of him and Backstrom. Believe me, that relationship between the two of them, that is very mysterious and is a very interesting bond, is going to be really delved into. It really is one of the most fascinating relationships in the show. It’s the one, certainly, with the most emotion and the most heart and gooey fun stuff to explore.

Thomas Dekker is blowing it away in the role. He just does such a great job, and he’s featured more and more as the season goes along.

Tiffany: Okay. Also, following up, a little bit about your character, Backstrom. It was advertised that he was going to be a total dick. Then I watched the first three episodes they provided for us and I went wow, he’s actually a little bit more lovable than I expected. Have you kind of had your way – kind of softened him or make him more humorous and inviting to the audience?

Rainn: You know, you’ve got to have a balance between relatable and likeable, in certain respects, and the exploration of the character who has so many defenses, who’s been so wounded that he’s created all of these defenses against the world. So you’ve got to have a balance of those. I don’t think of it in terms of what’s unlikable versus what’s likable – I just play what’s on the page and find what’s driving him.

He definitely wants to push people away; he’s cynical. He’s addicted to pretty much everything, and addiction does that; addiction pushes people away and causes chaos wherever you go. I wanted to be true to that. But I also know he does care. His heart is on his sleeve.

People compare him to House a lot, but House you never really knew what he was feeling. Backstrom, you know what he’s feeling all the time. You can read him straight up. If he’s miserable or heartbroken or passionate about something or vindictive or vengeful, you read his emotions. He wears them on his sleeve. He’s like a big bleeding wound.

Tiffany: Thanks again. It’s quite fun to watch and see where he comes out in the next few episodes with everybody else. Thank you.

Rainn: Yes, sure.

Moderator: Next we’ll go to the line of Renee Macek with Please, go ahead.

Renee: Hi, Rainn. How are you?

Rainn: Hi. Well, how are you doing?

Renee: Good. So one of the things that I really love about the show is I love the relationship between Backstrom and Nicole, Genevieve’s character. I always love when shows – I think that a lot of good romances start when two characters hate each other or dislike each other from the get-go. Do you think that there’s any possibility for romance down the line?

Rainn: Romance with Gravely?

Renee: Yes.

Rainn: No. That was one thing we talked about when we were – we recast the role. Mamie Gummer played the role in the original pilot, and that was one of the recast roles. Mamie was a wonderful actress, but the role, as conceived originally, was a very melancholy, dark, brooding, lesbian character. So as we did the pilot and we realized how dark Backstrom was and his energy, we realized that we needed a completely different energy in the role. We just needed someone fresh faced, by the book, enthusiastic, whip smart, with a lot of energy. That’s when we found Genevieve Angelson, who provided all of those things.

But one of the things, early on – because she’s obviously so young – we just thought it’d be a little creepy for Backstrom and Gravely to get together. We also just wanted – Hart and I kind of talked about it – let’s just not have that be one of these—

I mean, the will they/won’t they energy is really fun on television shows, and it’s fun to tease that along in X-Files and other shows where they tease it along for years and fans love it. On Bones, he did that. He didn’t want to do the same thing on Bones that he did with Backstrom, and I thought we’d look for a love interest in other places.

That would give her an opportunity – there are some episodes coming up where Gravely gets to date and have a love life outside of the unit. So you get to see some of that coming up.

Renee: Awesome. Just a quick follow-up, I just have to ask who do you think would win in a battle of wits: Dwight Schrute or Everett Backstrom?

Rainn: In a battle of wits?

Renee: Yes.

Rainn: Well, Backstrom truly is brilliant. He truly has a brilliant mind. Dwight doesn’t have much wit or brilliance. He has determination and hard work and a bizarre passion; but Everett Backstrom, 100%.

Renee: Okay. Thank you so much.

Rainn: Sure, sure.

Moderator: Next we’ll go to the line of Sarah Curtis with a follow-up from Here you are.

Sarah: Alright, thanks so much. It’s been nice to see the support of the Portland Police Department, on Twitter, at least, for the show. I just want to ask has that been nice or kind of intimidating? Have you worked with any of them or any other special crime experts?

Rainn: The only thing I wrote is – I wanted to have a beard early on and I wrote the Portland Police Department and I said do any of your detectives have beards and they said no. I thought drat, so I’ll just have my regular stubble.

It’s been great. We follow their Twitter and their news feed and Google alerts and have been learning a lot about the world of Portland through them, through the Portland Police Department. It’s been interesting reading about the real life cases there in Portland and we’ve learned a ton in that way.

I haven’t been able to – I’m hoping that if we get a second season and have a little more time to prepare, because I finished The Office and I rushed off and shot the pilot, that I could actually go visit the Portland Police Department, visit the detectives, maybe do a ride along, and get the lay of the land and learn some things procedurally about the inner workings of the department.

Sarah: That’d be cool. Follow-up, I guess, more about the episode and the relationship with Amy. Does Backstrom fear being loved and not being able to successfully reciprocate it or being unloved more? Which does he fear more?

Rainn: You know, they do a dance. She’s in several episodes, she’s in four or five episodes this season, and there’s a strange dance that they do back and forth. There’s definitely interest between the two of them, there is an on again, off again kind of feel, but I can’t really tell you more than that. Romance is definitely rekindled, and some very interesting stuff goes down. I’m sorry to be so TV actor—

Sarah: It’s okay, I get it. Great, thanks.

Moderator: Next we’ll go to the line of Jim McFarland with Detroit Metro Times. Please, go ahead.

Rainn: Hi, Jim.

Moderator: Mr. McFarland, your line is open, sir.

Rainn: He might be on mute.

Moderator: If your phone is muted, could you please unmute the line, sir?

Jim: Okay. Better?

Rainn: Yes.

Jim: Okay. A couple of old questions. Why Portland, of all the places it could have been set? And what was it, mostly, that attracted you to this role?

Rainn: The reason Portland is – hold on one second, sorry – the reason Portland is Backstrom is based on a series of Swedish books. We wanted to kind of have a place that had that same, we call it like Portland noir, it has a Scandinavian feel where it’s mossy and cloudy and dark and there’s trees and water – it just has the little feel of Scandinavia in it. We also wanted a city big enough that had some real crime to deal with, but also a quirkiness. It’s a dramedy that we’re making, and we wanted it to have a quirky vibe about the show, and Portland has that – obviously, from Portlandia.

We can get to do some different kinds of crimes in the city of Portland. It’s got a more eccentric nature. We have an episode later on that’s with an indie rock band, and there’s a lot of other cities – you can’t really do an indie rock band murder thing in Kansas City, let’s say. I don’t even know if there are indie rock bands in Kansas City. So, it gives you a lot.

Jim: What attracted you to the role of Backstrom?

Rainn: What attracted me to the role was its complexity. I had been playing Dwight for years, and as great as they wrote the part for me and as many colors as they found for him, there are only a certain number of levels that Dwight works on. It’s like he wants to run the office, he wants to sell a lot of paper, he wants to torment Jim, be liked by Michael, and wed Angela. That was it. That’s the color palette that you’re dealing with for 200 episodes.

For Backstrom it’s so much more. There’s family torment, there’s fighting crime, there’s using his kind of Sherlockian brilliance, there are potential love stories, there’s his tormented relationship with addiction – there are all these incredible things to play as an actor. When it was offered to me, I just couldn’t pass that up. It was just too great of an opportunity. Parts like that are rare. They’re just very rare.

Jim: Well, congratulations. Good luck with it.

Rainn: Thank you.

Moderator: We have a follow-up from the line of Tiffany Vogt with Seat42F. Please, go ahead.

Tiffany: Hi, happy to talk to you again. I wanted to see if there was something you felt like you’d learned from inhabiting the soul of Backstrom?

Rainn: Any, I’m sorry, any things I’ve learned?

Tiffany: Yes.

Rainn: That’s a very good question. What have I learned? I learned that I gain weight super easy in my old age. I learned what hard work it is to really do the research that you need to on the background of a character to really flesh it out and bring it to life. I didn’t ever want to be generally grumpy or generally cantankerous or surly. I knew that if I was generally just grumpy, cantankerous, and surly, people would just get bored with that. This is a tormented person and it comes out. His emotions spew out sideways, like vents out of the side of a volcano. But you’ve got to build that inner lava before you can – I’m going to go, totally, with this volcano metaphor right now – in order to really explore those.

Tiffany: Have any of the stories that you guys are working on for the show really kind of giving you chills? It seems like the show embraces some real dark storylines.

Rainn: Dark storylines – what’s the question, I’m sorry?

Tiffany: Does any of it kind of give you the chills? When you look at these stories and go wow, are we actually showing this on television?

Rainn: I’d say not the chills, no.

Tiffany: I’m thinking of [indiscernible] an episode coming up—

Rainn: I would say that I was – as I read some of the episodes that really dug into this family story, especially the stuff with his dad, and it got really dark. I was like wow, are we going to be able to be this funny and this dark at the same time? Because I’m very, very interested in that. There’s this Russian playwright, Anton Chekov, who I did a lot of work with when I was in college and as a young actor. I love Chekov’s work because they’re both really tragic and really, absurdly funny at the same time. They really reach for both; both live in the world of Chekov, and it’s very reflective of the human experience.

That’s where I do get the chills. It’s like wow, we get to be that silly sometimes and also that dark and true.

Tiffany: Again, it’s an interesting shade for the show. I appreciate it; we’re looking forward to seeing where that goes.

Rainn: Thank you.

Moderator: We have no lines in queue at this time. Please continue.

Kim: Okay, that works out well, timing-wise, for us, as well, too. So if there are no more questions, I think we’ll wrap it up there. Collin, if you just want to give replay instructions so that if anybody needs to hear this later, they know how to do that?

Moderator: Absolutely. That does conclude our conference for today. Thank you for your participation, and you may now disconnect.

Rainn: Thanks, everybody. Bye-bye.

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