Rainn Wilson on Backstrom’s Detective Superpowers (And What Would Happen If He Met Dwight)

Rainn Wilson as Detective Lieutenant Everett Backstrom
Sergei Bachlakov/FOX
Rainn Wilson as Detective Lieutenant Everett Backstrom

He spent nine seasons as obnoxious paper peddler Dwight Schrute on The Office. Now, Rainn Wilson is trading his Jell-O–enclosed stapler for a police badge to play an irascible special-crimes detective who has a knack for solving mysterious murders and a tendency to overindulge on Backstrom, a procedural based on a Swedish book series.

After costarring on The Office for all those years, are you glad to step away from a desk and go outside to take down bad guys?

[Laughs] Yeah, it’s a lot more locations, definitely. Although sometimes when we’re shooting in Vancouver at two in the morning and it’s raining, I long for the office cubicles of Dunder Mifflin.

Do you see any similarities between Backstrom and Dwight?

I don’t, really. Dwight would love to be a cop, I’m sure, but Dwight is very rigid, while Backstrom doesn’t do anything by the book. If they were ever to confront each other, I think Backstrom would simply shoot Dwight in the face and try to plant it on someone else. [Laughs]

How would you describe Backstrom?

He is a very warped guy. He’s also got a little sprinkling of misogyny, but he’s an equal opportunity misanthrope who hates everybody. There’s no filter—he’ll say the first thing that pops into his head, but there’s usually a lot of truth to it. And he’s addicted to any substance you can think of: alcohol, food, sex, gambling. He’s wrestling with a lot of personal demons.

Are there any classic TV detectives you would compare him to?

Backstrom is Columbo, if Columbo were a self-hating alcoholic with a great sense of humor. [Laughs] And he lives on a barge, so it’s like The Rockford Files, with Rockford living in a trailer home on the beach in Malibu.

What makes Backstrom good at his job?

If detectives had superpowers, his would be that he has this deep, visceral understanding of the dark side of the world. He sees the worst in everyone and everything; he’s able to completely get inside the mind and the motives of these criminals. You will also learn more about his ex-fiancée Amy [Scrubs vet Sarah Chalke], how he was raised by his father, and the abuse he suffered. As the show goes along, you’ll get why this guy is such an a–hole.

With all of Backstrom’s overeating, drinking, and smoking, are you worried about your own health?

[Laughs] I gained so much weight shooting this show because, in the back of my mind, the fatter I got, the better it was for this character. It’s not like I sought out to get fat, but that extra jelly donut or piece of bacon or bucket of cream cheese, I’d just finish it off. Now I’ve got to lose 15 pounds for my own personal satisfaction. Maybe I’ll get padding or a fat suit for Season 2!

Premieres Thursday, Jan. 22, 9/8c, Fox