The Man Behind 'The Office's' Favorite Suck-Up, Dwight Schrute

'The Office' star Rainn Wilson on why taking yourself seriously is so funny.


LOS ANGELES, Sept. 7, 2007 — -- Words barely describe Dwight Schrute, the suck-up salesman and assistant regional manager of the Scranton branch for the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

But Rainn Wilson, the actor who plays schrute on NBC's "The Office," has a few for you. "Dweeby, fascistic, power-grubbing, hierarchical. Is that a word? Annoying and self-serious. How's that? Those would be, those are seven words. I was counting them on my fingers," Wilson said during an interview in his home outside Los Angeles. "And bizarre," Wilson added. "Did I say bizarre? I didn't say bizarre, throw that in the mix."

Dwight, as played by the 41-year-old Wilson, has become one of the breakout characters in television comedy. Dwight is a survivalist geek, a student of karate who likes to shoot a crossbow and watch "Battlestar Galactica" on television. And he takes himself very, very seriously.

Dwight wears a pager, a cell phone and a calculator watch. He refuses to play computer games in the office because "that would be inappropriate." And he lives for the approval of the office's boss, Michael Scott.

"I think the greatest comedy comes from people taking themselves seriously," Wilson said. "The circumstances can be just, be just absolutely absurd, but if the person is taking the stakes really seriously and taking themselves really seriously, it really is a great comedy mine to dig from."

A little like Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on HBO, "The Office" is part of an emerging school of sitcom humor in which there are no jokes and no punch lines, just characters and situations that make you squirm.

"I say make 'em squirm," said Wilson. "Yeah, yeah, make them try and turn the channel."

Wilson talked to ABC News in the comfort of his home in an equestrian neighborhood outside of Los Angeles, a long way from the apartment of New York City where he once struggled to become a serious theatrical actor.

"There's nothing like having a role, and being on a stage and having 600 people or 1,000 people, or 1,200 people eating out of the palm of your hands," Wilson said. "It's live and they can see you spit and they can see you sweat, and it's a great communal experience, and there's nothing like it."

But it didn't pay enough to make a living. For a time, he and his wife Holiday Reinhorn, a fiction writer, were living on those instant-credit checks that come with credit card bills. Wilson slowly broke into television and film with bit parts in a soap opera and movies like "Almost Famous" in which he briefly played an editor at Rolling Stone magazine. Every time he was ready to quit acting, a slightly better part came along.

Then in 2003, HBO was looking to cast the character of an apprentice mortician named Arthur Martin and Wilson said to himself, "Oh my god, I can do that. I can so do that."

Arthur Martin established the actor as a memorable character player, which led to the role of the very memorable character of Dwight.

The geekiness comes from his own life, Wilson said.

"There was one time in high school," he said, "when I was literally on marching band, model United Nations, ceramics club, the chess team, computer club -- and did I say model United Nations?"

Wilson and his wife own horses, one of them a miniature that is welcomed into the house every day to eat carrots out of the refrigerator.

"We want to teach her to be housebroken," he said.

Wilson's religion is also a little different. He is a member of the Bahaii faith, a religion founded in Iran 150 years ago that teaches that there is only one god and that all the great religious prophets from Jesus and Mohammed to Buddha and Krishna all preached the same message of unity and peace.

As part of his religious practice, Wilson doesn't drink alcohol.

"Bahaiis don't drink alcohol or do drugs because they feel that they get in the way of your spiritual journey, " he said. "But in the Bahaii faith there's not really a concept of sin either. There's not a hell. You're not really a bad person if you drink or do drugs."

In the past year as the cult of Dwight has grown — there's even a Dwight bobblehead doll — Wilson has turned geek to cool. He even hosted NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

In the upcoming movie "The Rocker," he plays lead drummer in a rock band, a part for which he learned to play the drums pretty well. Banging it out in his garage one afternoon he declared, "I'm cool dude. I'm cool baby. Yes, I'm no longer the geek."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events