Rainn Wilson of ‘The Office’ was a Seattle nerd before it was cool
Rainn Wilson gained fame as Dwight Kurt Schrute III on NBC sitcom The Office, but not many know that the actor is a born-and-bred Seattleite.
Indeed, if you had walked the halls of Shoreline’s Shorecrest High School 35 years ago, you may have spotted a young Rainn Wilson fully embracing his inner geek, perhaps carrying a “Dungeons and Dragons” handbook.
“I played bassoon in the orchestra, I was in the Model United Nations, I was on the chess team, and Computer Club, all at the same time,” he told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson, who coached basketball at Shorecrest decades later. “I was really cool … and this was back in the early ’80s when you would get your butt kicked for being a nerd.”
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He laughed that back then, before the tech boom, there “weren’t any billionaire nerds” in Seattle.
But despite his large variety of interests, one hobby soon began to stand out above the rest for Wilson.
“I took this sharp turn from being a general all-around nerd to being just a drama nerd,” he said. “I really fell in love with acting, I fell in love with the art of acting, I fell in love with the art of the theatre, and I wanted to study it, and I wanted to do it more than anything in the world.”
Wilson went on to study drama at the University of Washington, and then get a master’s at the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
The following years brought plenty of rejections, but Wilson did not give up his dream to be an actor. He said that his parents never pushed him toward careers that are typically thought of as more lucrative than trying to make it as a stage actor, something for which he is profoundly grateful.
“They really wanted me to explore what I loved, so I was really fortunate,” he said.
In 2005, Wilson landed his most famous role — that of Dwight Schrute on The Office, a role that earned Wilson three Emmy nominations in its nine-season run.
“I’m so super grateful to be a part of that show, it’s a great show, it’s got a great legacy … I will always be super grateful for the role of Dwight,” he said.
However, he wants people to remember that he is more than just a character, and is first and foremost devoted to the craft of acting, whether onstage or onscreen.
“I was acting professionally for 14 years, 15 years, before I did Dwight, and I’ll be acting for another 20 or 30 years now after Dwight,” he said. “And I’m going to play a lot of different roles, and I’m lucky that I still have those doors open to me.”
As for why The Office was so successful, Wilson believes it has to do with the fact that the show portrays a group of characters that feels to viewers like their own families.
“They’re a quirky, eclectic, lovable, flawed family that you care about as characters, and you want to hang out with them,” he said. “They keep having the same kind of dilemmas posed, and they keep kind of overcoming them in the same way, and failing to overcome them in the same way.”
This is a feature that all successful comedies, from Seinfeld to M.A.S.H. to Friends, have in common, according to Wilson.
Supporting education with Rainn Wilson
If you’d like to hear more from Wilson and support a good cause at the same time, you’re in luck — Wilson will host the Mona Foundation‘s 20th Anniversary Musical Celebration on Thursday, May 30 at the Paramount Theatre.
The Mona Foundation supports education around the world, in particular in communities that are economically disadvantaged and in places where females do not have as many educational opportunities as males.
Along with Wilson, other talents, including musician Michael Franti and Community actor Joel McHale — who once interned for Dori — will take the stage, providing “entertainment and music and comedy and hi-jinx, and some heartfelt and important discussions at the same time,” according to Wilson.
Furthering education globally is one of Wilson’s greatest passions because of the role that learning has played in his own life.
“It was my education that helped give me that spark and that inspiration … the teachers who believed in me, and the doors that were opened because of my education, really helped pave the way for me to be an actor,” he said.
To purchase a ticket for the event, click here.
“If we want to make the world a better place, helping education, putting our focus in education, is key,” Wilson said.