When Fox’s “Backstrom” debuts on Thursday, all eyes will be on its titular lead Rainn Wilson, who plays a highly offensive yet equally effective police detective. “The Office” star feels pressure starring on a show which may well succeed or fail depending on how well audiences receive him, but isn’t preoccupied with trying to please the masses.
“I’ve been acting too long to care about whether people are going to like it or not,” he told TheWrap during an on-set press junket in Vancouver. “There is stuff that I’ve done that I thought was stupid that people loved. There is stuff I did that I thought was amazing that people just hated. I don’t know how they’re going to respond
“I feel a certain amount of pressure, but I don’t really worry about it,” he added.
Wilson, who turned 49 on Tuesday, spent nine seasons playing an idiosyncratic paper salesman on NBC’s “The Office.” On that hit series his character was a key member of an ensemble cast, whereas on “Backstrom” he’s quite clearly the focal point.
“I feel the pressure in terms of having to drive these scenes, having to learn these lines,” he continued. “I have to make sure that the arc of every episode tracks and that we’re really following Backstrom’s story throughout every episode. That’s crucial.”
Wilson never thought he’d come back to television so soon after wrapping on “The Office,” but he admits he was drawn to the provocative character and the show’s compelling script, which was adapted from a Swedish book series by “Bones” creator Hart Hanson.
“I was definitely looking for roles to play that had different colors in the palette and Backstrom is just a magnificent role,” Wilson explained. “I hadn’t read anything like it in a TV show before. He’s very cantankerous and self-hating and racist and sexist and addictive, but he’s got a lot of heart and humanity and humor and a lot of different dimensions.”
The character is an even bigger jerk — as well as a less competent detective — in the Leif G. W. Persson-penned novels. But according to Hanson, who not only penned the pilot script but also serves as the showrunner, he had to make the adjustments so his version of Backstrom would be suitable for network consumption.
“I feel like in a network series you need a character who is motivated to do the things he does,” he said. “In other words, he can’t be too lazy. I also feel like [to get] more than one season, the guy better have some skills.”
Hanson spoke highly of the network executives involved, but admitted that he picked his battles and resisted some notes that would have made this even more of a typical network procedural.
“I could see this being an absolutely wonderful cable series where he is a terrible guy — a literal anti-hero instead of a recalcitrant hero, which he is right now,” Hanson continued. “I mean, just a shit.”
Wilson, meanwhile, is just happy the show didn’t land at CBS.
As TheWrap previously reported, “Backstrom” had originally belonged to CBS, but the network eventually passed and the show wound up at Fox.
“Thank God we’re at Fox because we get to have a lot more fun with the character and the show at Fox than we would have at CBS,” Wilson said.
“CBS is looking for a sensibility of a show that fits in with ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘Hawaii Five-0’ and stuff like that,” he continued. “Whereas Fox has been known for crazy, out there characters. So they’re much more open to just letting characters live and breathe in really weird ways.”
“Backstrom” premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. ET on Fox.