Rainn Wilson on Leaving Dwight Schrute Behind and Being a Star Trek Dad

The beloved actor will always be Dwight to a generation of fans, but the 52-year-old father says his new work schedule means he’s a bigger part of his son’s life.

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CBS All Access

The Office made Rainn Wilson famous. As Dwight Schrute, a man immersed in the minutia of Battlestar Galactica and running a beet farm, Wilson held up a funhouse mirror to salaryman. Here was a man driven toward conflict by his insecurity. The message was clear: Don’t be that guy. But Wilson was paid handsomely to ignore that message. He was relentlessly Dwight and relentlessly busy (though he made it home for bedtimes) until the show went off the air in 2013 — even though the work sometimes dragged him away from his young son. Freed from his career making role, he made other, very un-Dwight choices. Wilson started tackling a wide variety of enviable projects, lending his voice to Adventure Time and penning a hilarious memoir called The Bassoon King. He was around more. Now, he’s re-animating the mustache-twirling villain Harry Mudd in Star Trek: Discovery and watching shows he likes with his teen.

Is he happier? Well, he sounds pretty damn happy — like a guy who has managed to balance two massive ambitions with profound success. He might be a villain in the Star Trek universe, but he’s a family man on Earth, a low-key guy who, yes, definitely is the dude from The Office. Fatherly caught-up with Wilson to discuss his Star Trek directorial debut, his feelings about Star Wars vs. Star Trek, and the one thing all dads of small children should stop worrying about.

When you did The Office, you had an infant son. Now that kid is a teenager. Is your son into what you’re doing? Are you sharing more with him?

Like so many kids these days, my son consumes so much content. He watches so many TV shows and sees so many movies. I always try and show him stuff that has a little more meaning. I mean, he can have fun, and watch The Simpsons and South Park, but you know, we also want to show him stuff and talk about the ideas behind the content as well. Just the other month we had a screening of Selma and we talked about race in America and Martin Luther King. We want to use entertainment to educate and uplift with our son.

What’s the difference between Rainn Wilson as a father during The Office years and now?

I’ve done a bunch of different projects since The Office ended, and though I’ve done many projects that were different and challenging, the freedom of not doing a weekly sitcom like that has allowed me to focus more on parenting. My son is fourteen now and I’ve been done with The Office for five years. And, yeah, I’ve been much more involved in his life in the past five or six years. I drive him to school in the morning. It’s tough and challenging though with a job like mine. Not as much stuff shoots in LA anymore. When I did The Office, I was usually home at seven or eight at night, and so I could put him to bed sometimes.

It’s always a balance. We try and travel and bring him to the sets that I’m on. But I’ve been really grateful for these last couple of years and being more intimately involved with this life.

You’re in Star Trek now, but I know you dig Star Wars. Are you a Star Trek dad or a Star Wars dad?

It’s an endless and boring debate. It’s kind of like the debate between Marvel and D.C comics. It doesn’t really matter. But, I will say, that Star Wars was created to be a potboiler fun exciting B-movie adventure. And it’s done that on a really grand scale. And Star Trek was created to be a kind of western in space, but also every episode was about something; something insightful and challenging about what it means to be a human being, the advances of technology and our place in the universe, and using science fiction as a lens to think about our contemporary lives. And Star Wars doesn’t give a shit about that. It’s more like, ‘How can we have some rip-roaring action adventure?’ Yes, it does have some mysticism, which they’ve pretty much drained out of the contemporary Star Wars.

So you’re a bit more into the depth of Trek?

I guess with Star Trek, I just really appreciate the ideas it digging into. As a kid, growing up, it was really important to me. That resonating aspect of Star Trek. It mattered to me.

What’s the one thing father’s of young children worry about that they shouldn’t?

Parents try to take hardship away from kids. But hardship is a part of life. Kids without hardship are at a real significant disadvantage going to college and not having experienced difficulty. So, I think that’s an important part of parenting. To acknowledge, that kids are going to have a hard time with classmates or at school. When it happens, you can point that out to them! ‘Oh, you’re having a hard time with that. Your life is hard right now!’ I think that’s a good thing to do.

It’s nice to hear that message from someone who clearly cares a lot. Like, not everything has to be okay all the time. That resonates.

You know, I think ultimately, we support the kids and we lead them along the path and we love them. But, they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. We live in the age of helicopter parenting and I grew up in the 1970s so… parents just made sure there was some macaroni on a plate at 6PM, and there was some cereal in a bowl at 7AM. But, it turned out okay. I’m okay. It’s all going to work out.

Rainn Wilson stars in the Short Treks episode “The Escape Artist”, which he also directed, streaming on CBS All-Access on January 3.

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