Vanity Fair speaks to The Office’s Rainn Wilson about his third Emmy nomination, his role in the Twitterverse, and spirituality through vomiting. (Warning: NSFW for language)
Rainn Wilson is a Hollywood conundrum. How could a regular cast member on one of the best sitcoms currently on television, NBC’s The Office, also have a role, even a small role, in one of the worst indignities to humanity and the written word, this summer’s cinematic trainwreck Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? It makes no sense, but that’s just how Rainn Wilson rolls. One minute you think you’ve got him pegged—he pops up on hipster TV shows like Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! and Reno 911, and hipster movies like Juno and The Rocker—and then he surprises everybody by launching a seemingly non-satiric website called Soul Pancake, which purports to “make discussions about spirituality, creativity, and philosophy cool again.” Wilson is either a comedic mastermind, working on levels the rest of us couldn’t begin to understand, or he’s a real-life Dwight Schrute who just got very, very lucky.
I called Rainn to discuss his Emmy nomination—his third since 2007, for his flawless and occasionally transcendent portrayal of Dwight on The Office (which returns for a sixth season in late September)—and his confusing new status as a Twitter superstar, joining the ranks of such over-sharing, techno-savvy celebs as Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears. Wilson, who at press time had 1,165,884 fans, caused a minor sensation a few weeks ago when he tweeted “DO NOT RE-TWEET THIS” and thousands of people tweeted it anyway, creating an unexpected “trending topic”. I’m not sure what any of that means, much less why it qualifies as news and how it affects Wilson’s Emmy chances, but I was determined to find out.
Eric Spitznagel: You’re up for your third Emmy this September. Is it really an honor just to be nominated, or will you lose your fucking shit if you don’t win this time?
Rainn Wilson: I feel like there’s going to be another sad, brutal Hollywood suicide if I don’t win one of these suckers by the time I’m done playing Dwight. I’m going to be another statistic, another chalk mark in the Hollywood Hills.
Have you seen the Vegas odds for the Emmys? They have you just behind Tracy Morgan and Neil Patrick Harris. That’s gotta be a hopeful sign, right?
Just behind those two? Wow. No, I haven’t seen that. That’s pretty sad, isn’t it? It seems pretty pathetic to me. I need to talk to my bookie.
The way I see it, stealing an Emmy from you is bad luck.
Is it? How so?
Look what happened to poor Jeremy Piven. He beat you in 2007 and 2008, and then the poor bastard came down with mercury poisoning.
(Laughs.) That’s true. Thank you for noticing that.
It’s part of my job.
I’d like to say I had nothing to do with it, but we both know that’s not true. I was the culprit who snuck into the sushi bar and laced Piven’s sushi with extra mercury. I dumped a vial of mercury on his Toro when he wasn’t looking.
So you’re not necessarily threatening the other nominees in your category but, well…
(Laughs.) Exactly. I’d certainly never suggest that anything bad will happen to Neil Patrick Harris or Tracy Morgan if they win an Emmy this year, but I’m not saying it won’t.
You’re just looking out for their best interests. Offering your “protection”, if you will.
I’ll just say this. Brake cables have a funny way of getting cut.
Almost immediately after the Emmy nominations were announced, you bragged about your nom to the “Twitterverse”. When you get good news, is your first impulse to share it with a few million strangers?
I do, I do. I successfully lanced a boil on my neck and my Twitter followers were the first to know. I let them know pretty much everything that’s happening in my life.
Can you explain Twitter to me? Not how it works, I know that much. I just don’t understand why.
What’s the appeal of sharing the minutiae of your life with complete strangers?
I went on Twitter as a way of promoting a website I’d just launched with some friends called Soul Pancake. And it just kinda took off after that. I guess I joined at the right time or something. I went from two thousand followers to 20,000 to 200,000 to 800,000 and now I’m at a little over a million. I’ll admit that it’s a ridiculous time waster, but for somebody like me, it’s also a valuable way to connect with the fans and let them know what I’m listening to or watching or thinking about and how the next season of The Office is shaping up. It’s just a very convenient and useful way to promote stuff.
I understand the promotional aspect. But for average adult, it just seems kinda sad and alienating. Why exert so much energy trying to impress people you don’t know with pithy one-liners?
Well, see that’s the thing. People who don’t like Twitter always say things like, “Oh, you must spend all day on Twitter.” Really? You think so? I don’t know how long it takes most people to compose a 140-character message, but I find it very easy. It takes me maybe 37 seconds to type a tweet in my phone and hit send and it goes out to million people. Three or four of those a day adds up to like a few minutes at the very most. It’s not exactly a second job. But yeah, I understand what you’re saying. When people tweet about picking up their dry cleaning or the size and consistency of their feces, that’s when I think Twitter breaks down and gets boring. It’s important to have something to say. You need a reason to be there, whether it’s to network or connect with your friends or promote something.
So what’s next? What’s going to be the retarded techno-trend of tomorrow?
Well, I don’t know if I’m the best guy to be making predictions, but I’m pretty excited about this new social networking site called Friendster. Have you heard of it?
I have. It’s all the rage on AOL message boards.
It’s pretty exciting stuff. I’d definitely recommend looking into it. It’s the wave of the future.
So let’s talk about your “DO NOT RE-TWEET THIS” tweet that got re-tweeted.
Just saying that sentence gave me the bends.
(Laughs.) I understand your confusion.
What exactly does large-scale re-tweeting prove, other than that some people are easily coaxed into stupid and pointless acts of civil disobedience?
That was only a test. It was like a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The next time it’s going to be something really important.
You’re just gearing up to demonstrate your despot-like control over the Twitter masses?
I think the White House will contact me in case of a national emergency. They’ll want me to tweet about it. It’ll probably be the fastest way for them to disseminate information.
You were raised in the Baha’i faith and continue to be a follower. I admittedly don’t know much about the religion, but I’m assuming there’s some kind of Baha’i juju you can invoke to increase your Emmy chances.
(Laughs.) That’s very funny. No, sorry, we don’t have anything like that. I wish it was true, though. A voodoo doll of Doogie Howser would really give me a leg up.
Baha’i believes in the spiritual unity of all humankind. That doesn’t sound like the talk of a winner to me.
(Laughs.) Oh, man! You may have me on that one.
Where’s your competitive spirit? Please don’t tell me that if you win, you’re gonna be one of those wimps who say “This award belongs to all my fellow nominees?”
Actually, if I win I’m going to share my award with the children of Bangladesh. That’s how my Baha’i faith factors into this.
Neil Patrick Harris is an Episcopalian, and I’m pretty sure that if he wins the Emmy, it counts as a victory for the entire Episcopalian faith. It’s basically saying, “Jesus is Lord, motherfuckers!”
Really? Nice. I didn’t know that.
As an openly spiritual person, don’t you think that’s what the Emmy Awards really signify? It’s not about who’s the best actor or actress, it’s about who believes in the correct religion.
I honestly never thought of it that way before. What is Tracy Morgan bringing to the table?
I’m not sure. I know Jon Cryer is Jewish. And Kevin Dillon… I guess he belongs to whatever religion encourages furrowed brows. Catholicism, I guess?
I think the Emmys need to be a little more like Battle of the Network Stars. We should be acting like wrestlers before a match, screaming at your competitors like you intend to do them harm. “You’re going down!” I really think there needs to be something like that among Emmy contenders. “You’re going down, Tracy Morgan! I’m going to wipe the mat with you! You say you can win this Emmy? I’m gonna take this Emmy and… shove it in your nose!” Or whatever.
Even if religion doesn’t factor into it, you’ve still got an uphill battle. You’re the sole white guy among a lot of minorities. The Supporting Actor in a Comedy category includes an openly gay man, a Jewish person and an African-American. What chance do you have, really?
Wow. You’re right, I’d never considered that before. Well, maybe I should have a limb amputated so that people would feel sorry for me. Then I could play the handicapped card.
I think most Emmy voters know that if Tracy Morgan wins, he’ll probably take off his shirt and announce that he wants to get everybody pregnant. Let’s sweeten the pot. How will your Emmy acceptance speech be a thousand times more entertaining?
I have the funniest, most memorable acceptance speech that has been crafted by a team of Hollywood’s greatest comedy writers over the past four years. They’ve been constantly revising my speech, fine-tuning every line into comedic perfection. So I can assure all Emmy voters out there that if I win this award, it will be unlike anything they’ve experienced before. Minds will be blown.
I’ll be honest with you, my nipples are a little hard right now.
But I’m going to have to win before anybody hears the speech. I’m not going to give away even one sentence of it.
So tell me more about this Soul Pancake website you’ve put together. Just what the hell is a Soul Pancake?
We wanted to create a fun and irreverent site that explored creativity and spirituality and philosophy. We just needed a name that would stick in everyone’s mind and reflected what the site was all about.
In your video introduction, you claim that you’re sick of spirituality being “airy-fairy, hippy-dippy, and precious.” Those aren’t exactly the adjectives I might’ve used.
Hippy-dippy and precious people don’t murder abortion doctors and organize anti-gay marriage marches.
Those are extremists. I’m talking about the rest of us. Have you ever seen Oprah’s Faith Network? That’s a very precious thing. Look, any time somebody wants to talk to you about spirituality, they’re either A) trying to convert you, or B) they have this New Age, sentimental, gooey view of spirituality. This is a site for people who like punk rock and want to talk about spirituality. We’re trying to de-lame-ify talking about it. Because it has become very lame for people to dig into life’s big questions.
Seriously though, Soul Pancake was just a façade to get an interview with Oprah, wasn’t it?
(Laughs.) That’s exactly what it was. I got to meet her. I got to meet the Big O. We’ll be shutting down the site any day now.
Another element of the Baha’i faith, and correct me if I’m misunderstanding, is that there’s no difference between prayer and expressing oneself through art.
So when you’re playing a character on TV—say, Dwight Schrute on The Office—and that character puts a cat in the freezer or has sex with a co-worker’s fiancée in a storage room, that’s your form of prayer?
That is exactly how I worship. When I’m vomiting on my car or falling down a staircase, I have never felt more in touch with the creator.
If past interviews are to be believed, everybody involved with The Office loves each other and it’s an unconditionally supportive work environment. While that’s great news for you, it makes for really boring copy for us in the media.
Sorry, man. I wish I could help you out.
Just tell me this: Who is the cast’s Isaiah Washington?
Wow. Wow. You’re really trying to find something to throw kerosene on.
That is why they pay me.
Um. Wow. I guess that would be our Crafts service person, named Varton.
And by “Varton” you mean… B.J. Novak?
No, I can’t even joke about it, cause it’s true. It’s one big loving family. There’s more love and mutual respect and maturity and appreciation in this group of people than there ever was in my own family growing up, that’s for sure.
I… think that’s a good thing. It doesn’t reflect very well on your actual family, though.
Yeah, it’s kinda good and then it’s kinda sad.