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The Office's Rainn Wilson Previews His TV Return on Backstrom: "This Guy Is an A--hole"

Get the details on his new role

Kate Stanhope

If you thought Dwight Schrute was hard to like on The Office, wait until you meet Rainn Wilson's latest TV character.

On Fox's new series Backstrom, premiering Thursday at 9/8c on Fox, Wilson returns to the small screen as Det. Lt. Everett Backstrom, an acerbic, anti-social detective who makes the network's former reigning anti-hero Dr. Gregory House look (fairly) warm and cuddly by comparison. Even the marketing for Backstrom calls him a "dick," and Wilson doesn't shy away from the label.

"Yes, this guy is an a--hole," Wilson said at the Television Critics Association winter previews on Saturday, "but get to know him a little bit and you're going to start learning some really interesting things about him."

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In the series, based on the international bestselling book series, Det. Backstrom is back solving crimes after a five-year banishment to the traffic division for - surprise! - offensive behavior. Although his prickly nature got him in trouble with his colleagues, it will work to his advantage in cases because of how he'll be able to relate to criminals. "He's getting into their hearts and into their souls," Wilson said. "It's not something we've really seen before because it's a super power that is emotional and kind of spiritual so it's really interesting to play."

Added showrunner Hart Hanson: "Our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses in real life."

In real life, Wilson was still filming the final season of The Office when he was urged by his agents to read the script for Backstrom. "I almost fired them on the spot," Wilson quipped. "This character is really special and goddammit Hart Hanson, it really hooked me in."

Produced by 20th Century Fox, the home of Hanson's Bones, the pilot script was first sold to CBS. However, the network opted not to pick it up, giving the team an extra year to develop the show. "We're really on the right network for the project," Wilson said of Fox. Unlike his cynical character, "Rainn actually never lost hope," Hanson said. "I had to pretend that I was optimistic too."

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It might be hard to initially warm up to Backstrom, but both Wilson and Hanson are hopeful viewers will find redeeming qualities about him over the course of the first season. "What he's saying doesn't come from a bad human being place, it comes from a bad place in a human being," Hanson said.

Also helping to add humanity to Backstrom is the introduction of his father, played by Robert Forster, and his ex-fiancée, portrayed by Scrubs alum Sarah Chalke. "I can relate to someone whose life is falling apart and they're doing their best to get by using humor to survive, and I think we all have experienced that or we know people that live that way," Wilson said. "Backstrom really wears his heart on his sleeve, and his life is unraveling. Watching a brilliant detective at work while things are falling apart... is just interesting. I would much rather hang out with that person than a slick procedural detective who has all the answers."

Added Wilson: "It's asking a lot of the audience, but it's a really interesting journey."

Backstrom premieres Thursday at 9/8c on Fox. Will you watch?

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