‘Backstrom’s’ Rainn Wilson on His Character: ‘Yes, This Guy’s an A–hole, But Get to Know Him’

TCA 2015: “The Office” alum discusses the challenge of making a miserable character worth watching

Rainn Wilson is moving on from playing an eccentric weasel/suck-up on “The Office” to starring as a brilliant but misanthropic detective on Fox’s upcoming series “Backstrom.” During the panel for the new show at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena on Saturday, Wilson tackled the topic of why audiences should tune in to watch a character whose disdain for mankind sometimes extends into racism and sexism.

Wilson’s conclusion: Sure, Det. Lt. Everett Backstrom is “an asshole” — who’s worth getting to know.

“We’re kind of asking this of the audience, to kind of take a litte ride with us; yes, this guy’s an asshole, but get to know him a little bit. You’re going to start learning some really interesting things about him and his coping mechanisms,” Wilson offered.

Wilson, along with his castmates and series creator Hart Hanson, assured reporters that Backstrom’s flaws, struggles and humanity will allow viewers to relate to Backstrom, despite his scabrous worldview.

“What he’s saying is not coming from a bad human being place, but from a bad place in a human being,” Hanson suggested.

“I can relate to someone whose life is falling apart and they’re doing their best to get by using humor to survive, and i think we all have experienced that in small doses,” Wilson offered. “Watching a brilliant detective at work while things are just not working for him anymore and falling apart, I think is really interesting,” the actor added, comparing Backstrom favorably to the slick, quip-ready lawmen who typically populate crime shows. “It’ human, it’s frail, and it’s interesting.”

Besides, he could have been a lot worse. The series is based on the Swedish book series by Leif G. W. Persson, and as Hanson noted, the Backstrom on the printed page is even less lovable than the one that will appear on the small screen.

“In the books, Backstrom had absolutely no redeeming qualities. He’s not even a very good detective, he just takes credit for what other people do, much like a showrunner,” Hanson quipped.

“Backstrom” was initially intended for CBS, which eventually passed on it. Wilson expressed relief that the show ultimately wound up on Fox, which he called “the right network for the show.” Hanson added that he was “very surprised” when CBS passed on the show, but even more surprised when it found a new home.

Not so with Wilson, Hanson said.

“Rainn never lost hope, and I had pretended that I was optimistic too,” Hanson recalled.

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