Rainn Wilson on Art, Faith and Keeping Dwight Schrute Alive (Q&A)

Rainn Wilson - H 2015
AP Images/Invision

Rainn Wilson - H 2015

In his new memoir, 'The Bassoon King,' the actor reveals himself to be much more than one of the greatest sidekicks of all time.

In his new memoir, The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith, and Idiocy, Rainn Wilson continues to embrace Dwight Schrute, the Office character that made him a household name, even letting him write full chapters of the book. The two even share some key character traits: a proudly outsider identity, an endlessly surprising life story and an affinity for dorky musical instruments. But in The Bassoon King, Wilson also reveals himself to be the antithesis of Schrute: refreshingly sincere, highly creative and deeply spiritual. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Wilson spoke about his path to The Office, why his book isn't the typical celebrity memoir and living an examined life.

First of all, why are you the Bassoon King?

For some reason when we were trying to decide the title, I was writing the section about those six years when I played the bassoon. It's such a geeky and awkward and offbeat instrument. It just kind of sums me up — and gets at what I was trying to say about my journey in the book.

Plus, I thought it would be a funny cover: me, deadpan holding the bassoon.

Are you one of those people who always knew you’d write a memoir?

I knew I needed to write a book when I wrote Soul Pancake, which came out about three or four years ago. That wasn't a memoir but it took up some of the same themes of asking big questions, and doing meaningful work. Soul Pancake had a little about me being geeky and growing up Baha'i and leaving the faith and having a hard time finding faith again. From the minute I wrote that it was like, "I don’t know if there’s enough to fill a whole book, but there’s a big story in here that warrants telling." When I was done with The Office, I had some time and it was a new chapter in my life. I didn’t know if Backstrom was going to happen or not, and that’s when I decided to tackle it.

Did you imagine a particular audience when writing this? 

Young people who maybe feel a little bit alienated — Office fans, wondering how to make the world a better place is always going to be my audience. A lot of Office fans that I meet are a little bit outsiders. There are definitely "frat boy" Office fans but usually they’re a bit quirkier.

Dwight Schrute has a big presence in this book. Why did you decide to let  him talk so much?

He’s such a huge part of who I am and how people know me. And again, a lot of the book is for Office fans. I want them to buy the book and enjoy the book, so I wanted to bring him in. I thought it was very funny for him to write the introduction and also hate the book. It made me chuckle.

Bassoon King is full of paradoxes. One of them is that you're a TV star and an entertainer and yet in the book, you worry about our obsession with watching things on screens so much. You even write: "One of the signs of a decline of an empire is the insatiable need for entertainment."

The key word there is insatiable. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment, books, movies and video games. The insatiable need is the part I was getting at. Like "I constantly need to be looking at a screen all the time. I need to be playing Candy Crush or texting, and if I’m not doing that I’m watching a movie, and if I’m not doing that I’m watching a show or I’m at a sporting event or playing football." That’s what I’m talking about.

But Daddy's got to get paid. [Laughs.] In no way should anyone quit seeking entertainment because that’s puts me out of a job. So do I believe we’re in Caligula's Rome? No, but there’s evidence of some very serious things of going wrong in our culture that need some investigating.

So much about your book is about your personal journey losing and then finding your Baha'i faith. Is a lack of genuine spirituality is the thing that's missing?

That’s a complicated question. I wouldn’t necessarily say its faith, but I think that the selfish materialistic pursuit of diversion and stuff is not the answer. So what does that leave us with? Faith, service to others, a more examined thoughtful life. What are we doing to this planet? What are we doing to our culture? Increased dialogue, acceptance and compassion — that’s really what I’m talking about.

What's in the book for non-Office fans?

I guess I want people to know that I’ve read a lot of celebrity memoirs as I was getting ready to write my own, and I found that I didn’t end up knowing any more about the person than when I started the book, which is really weird. I really wanted to put it all out there, and this is a really risky book. I’m talking about faith. I’m talking about highs and lows and failures and vulnerabilities so I’m putting myself out there. I think there’s an interesting through-line about artistic and spiritual journeys that we all make and could be interesting to everyone, not just to Office fans. Plus, I tell stories about worms coming out of my butt.

Do you have any anxiety about opening yourself up like this?

It does make me vulnerable. It does, but that’s okay. Also, I’m a little older and I don’t care as much about what people think of me. And I used to so desperately care about what others thought of me. Now, this is who I am, and it’s all out there on the page.