Rainn Wilson is an actor best known for his role as the egomaniacal Dwight Schrute in the NBC sitcom "The Office." He grew up in Seattle, Wash., as a member of the Baha'i faith, and attended NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. He is the founder of the Web site Soul Pancake (and the recently published book of the same name).
Question: How did your experiences growing up in a sort of unconventional family inform who you are today?
Rainn Wilson: Well, I grew up a very dorky, weird looking kid in suburban Seattle and to make matters worse another way in which I didn’t fit in was my parents were Baha’is, members of the Baha’i faith, and I grew up a member of the Baha’i faith. And one of the great things about that was that I had a very Catholic—from the original use of the word Catholic—view of religions. We soaked in all kinds of different beliefs. Jehovah’s Witnesses would knock on the door. We would invite them in and discuss the Bible with them. We would have Buddhist monks traveling through town stay with us. We had books on Sufism and Sikhism and I knew about all of these things and I was raised to think about philosophy and religious thought and the soul and the spirit of humankind in a different way, also really socially progressive teachings of the Baha’i faith, the equality of men and women, the elimination of racial prejudice, the equality of science and religion, so it was a big cauldron of big ideas in my household. And we were weird and unhappy family, but nonetheless that was a really positive thing that came out of it.
Then when I moved to New York in my 20s, I really abandoned all that—and so many people do that grow up in religious households. They just abandon the way of their parents. I decided there couldn’t be a God, that there was so much suffering in the world. Religion perpetrated so much evil. I wanted to do my own way and take my own journey and what I did was I became an artist and I just focused on being an actor and all of my attention just went to... and my kind of my fervor went to theater and acting and I really thought with my friends that went to school down at NYU we would do little basement productions of Hedda Gabler or whatever and we really thought we could change the world. If we did the right piece of theater in the right way with the right audience we could touch people’s hearts and we could just blow their minds and just open things up completely.
And I also focused on my career as an actor a great deal and I became very me-focused and me-centered, just myself and my career and what is next and how do I get a better agent and how do I get into TV and movies and then I you know I felt a yearning. I came to a crossroads. I hit bottom, in a way. I was really unhappy, and realized that I just wanted something more about.... from the experience of being alive. I was like I was doing great plays. It wasn’t changing the world. I was getting good agents and doing film and TV and I wasn’t happier. I was like "Wow, there is an unease inside of me." And that led me back on my kind of more spiritual path to the Baha’i faith in a new and fresher way and a more realized way and I came to also understand at that point that there was no difference between being devout and being an artist. There is no difference between creativity and spirituality and philosophy and that is what Soul Pancake, the book, and SoulPancake.com are about is: it’s all about human expression and it’s all about seeking to transcend. It’s about that yearning and whether it’s through science or through art, through service, through worship it’s the human experience of longing to connect with people, to connect with the energy throughout creation and we compartmentalize all of these things and I realized it’s all the same thing. I play Dwight. That is just much me being of service and worshiping as if I'm on my knees in some temple somewhere or bowing my head in prayer to God in some way. It’s really all just the same thing.
Question: What keeps you up at night?
Rainn Wilson: Boy, I sleep like a log. I always have. I just I hit the pillow and it’s like [snore sound]. What keeps my wife up at night is my horrific snoring, which I got to get taken care of. I need to get those nose strips.
Recorded November 11, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler
I think if you’re the driest accountant with the plastic pocket pen protector it’s in how you interact with the world.