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BRIEF ENCOUNTER

The Dwight stuff

Away from `The Office,' Rainn Wilson gets out from under those bangs.

July 23, 2006|Susan King

IN just a few short years, Rainn Wilson has become one of the busiest character actors working on television and film.

The tall, bespectacled Seattle native first came to attention as the eccentric mortuary intern Arthur Martin on HBO's "Six Feet Under" and currently provides a lot of the deadpan laughs in the NBC comedy series "The Office," based on the 2001 BBC hit. His Dwight Schrute, the officious, weaselly assistant to the regional manager of a Scranton, Penn., paper supply company, has spawned his own bobble-head, and Wilson writes Dwight's blog, which appears on www.nbc.com.

No stranger to feature films, Wilson has appeared in "Almost Famous," "Full Frontal" -- as the "first fired employee" -- the gore-fest "House of 1000 Corpses" and "Sahara."

His latest voyage into the feature film world, "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," opened Friday. In the comedy, directed by Ivan Reitman of "Ghostbusters" fame, Wilson plays Vaughn, a loser with the ladies who mistakenly believes he is a player. Though women turn down his advances at every turn, Vaughn loves to dole out advice on love to his best friend and co-worker, Matt (Luke Wilson).

"The Office" isn't a traditional sitcom because the ruse is that a crew is filming a documentary. Does that make it difficult to find the right tone?

That actually makes it easier for me. I have never been able to book sitcoms -- you know brightly lit, multicamera standard sitcoms. I am just not so good at delivering funny punch lines. I am much better with character, environment and through-line. I find it much easier to lose yourself in Dwight and allow the cameras to capture that.

I imagine it would be easy to lose yourself in Dwight because so many people working in offices are like him.

Oh, yeah. I think offices across this great nation are stocked with people like Dwight Schrute -- self-important middle managers with bad haircuts.

Dwight definitely has an odd coif -- with the part in the middle and those curls around the bangs. Did you come up with that 'do?

I have a huge forehead and I wanted to show it off to the maximum comedic effect. And I definitely stole a little bit from Mackenzie Crook [he played the role in the British version], who also had a ridiculous kind of haircut.

I styled it around my forehead, basically, and then the two little curls came in at the sides -- very kind of baroque. I thought he had it feathered in high school and parted in the middle from when he was like 14 and never changed his hairstyle.

How did you come to write the Schrute-Space blog on the "Office" website?

They came to me and said, "Do you want to do a behind-the-scenes blog at 'The Office'?" But actually, when I first shot the pilot, I was doing a fake blog and it was up on my computer screen and a producer saw it and said, "Dwight should have a blog."

I think it's perfect for him -- he would love to pontificate about boring and inane things.

Your character Vaughn in "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" is another familiar office fixture.

Absolutely. There are a lot of guys who fancy themselves players. They are scattered around all of the big cities, and they give out the world's worst advice about women, sex and dating. I think everyone knows a Vaughn.

What are Reitman's strengths as a comedy director?

He knows everything about comedy in terms of timing and how jokes work. He totally lets you improvise off of the script, but at the same time, if you start to get off track from what the scene is about or what the character wants, he very quickly brings you back to trying to make it all about the scene.

I am helping write a script for his production company; right now it's tentatively called "A Girlfriend Experience." It's about an Internet billionaire who hires a prostitute to be his girlfriend. That is for myself to be in.

So you get to play sort of the romantic lead?

Maybe the most offbeat romantic lead we have ever seen.

Have you ever played a regular Joe?

I guess I am thinking back to "House of 1000 Corpses," that classic horror movie; I am kind of a normal guy there who is brutally hacked to pieces. But you know, I started out in theater and did a ton of roles in New York and regional theater that were pretty normal guys. I was with the Acting Company for years. I played "Long Day's Journey Into Night" at the Arena Stage. I was at the Guthrie, I did a number of plays up there. I worked at the Public.

Have you done theater in Los Angeles?

I originally came to L.A. doing a theater piece. It was called "The "New Bozena." It was a show we created off Broadway in New York.

So did you automatically start getting roles in film and TV?

I invited my agent to the premiere of "The New Bozena," and after the show I looked around for someone who looked like an agent. Then this young kid came up and said: "I am the assistant. He couldn't make it. But I went and here's my friend." This girl he had brought said, "I am assisting these TV producers who are doing a TV pilot; I am going to call you all in for auditions." Then I went and booked that pilot for NBC in 1999; it was called "The Expendables." It was the world's worst pilot.

Why?

It was about these indestructible androids who loved to watch television. It looked like the director had shot a lot of soft-corn porn. And we actually spent a good amount of the pilot naked. I don't what they were thinking.

-- Susan King

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