Rainn Wilson on the Unpredictable Journey of ‘Utopia’ and His Favorite Dwight Moment

     October 7, 2020

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From showrunner Gillian Flynn and inspired by the original British series, the Amazon Prime Video eight-episode conspiracy thriller Utopia follows a group of comic book fans who have bonded over their obsession with a seemingly fictional comic that they quickly realize is not only very real but very dangerous, as it predicts threats to humanity. As they find themselves trapped in life-or-death stakes involving the comic’s central character Jessica Hyde (Sasha Lane), this group of friends — Becky (Ashleigh LaThrop), Ian (Dan Byrd), Samantha (Jessica Rothe), Wilson Wilson (Desmin Borges) and Grant (Javon “Wanna” Walton) – have to step up in a big way, if they’re even going to have a chance at succeeding in their mission to save the world.

At the virtual junket for the series, Collider got the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with actor Rainn Wilson, who plays underappreciated scientist Michael Stearns, about what most excited him about this project, why co-star John Cusack is one of his heroes, having him as a scene partner, what helped him get into character, and what he thought of the final episode of the season. He also talked about how he’d feel about revisiting The Office in some way, his favorite Dwight Schrute moment from the show, and which classic TV series he’d love to have done a guest spot on.

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Image via Amazon Prime Video

Collider: This is a show with some twisty mysteries. When this came your way, what was it about the story that most interested you?

RAINN WILSON: The thing that really excited me most about the project was that I loved the writing. I loved working with Gillian Flynn. That was very exciting to me. John Cusack is one of my heroes. But the arc that my character gets to take, from basement loser and nobody scientist to being thrust onto the world stage and at the center of every conspiracy theory known to man, is really an exceptional journey and a very rare one that an actor gets to make. And so, I was really thrilled to be a part of that.

You said that John Cusack was one of your heroes. How so?

WILSON: Oh, I grew up watching him. I had actually seen John Cusack do a stage play in Evanston, Illinois in 1983. And then, when The Sure Thing came out and so many of his great early movies, we all loved him. He was amazing. He’s made some of the best movies in American history. There’s Say Anything, and the list goes on and on and on. This is his first television gig and I think he does a remarkable job. He makes acting a very complex character look very easy and effortless.

I love watching the dynamic between your characters. How do you view that relationship and what did you most enjoy about him as a scene partner?

WILSON: I love the idea that he’s this one side of science that’s science and marketing and branding and making big splashes. It’s a silicon valley brand of science. And Michael Stearns is the researcher, the data nerd, the very small scientist who is focused on the facts and the collision of those two forces. It was a real pleasure because Cusack got to do his big thing. He’s charismatic, interesting, larger than life, hypnotic and Rasputin-esque, and I get to do my thing, a little bit nerdy and self-conscious with low self esteem. It’s two very different energies bumping up against each other.

Since it continues to shift throughout the season, who do you see as the villain of this story?

WILSON: I don’t wanna say because I don’t wanna give anything away. Like you said, people that seem to be villains are then made out to be heroes. Some of the heroes of this show do some really despicable killing on their journey and some of the villains are actually saving lives. It really keeps you on your toes and I love that about the show.

Did you have an idea about those twists and turns ahead of time, or were you finding that stuff out as you were reading the script?

WILSON: Well, I read the first six episodes when I signed on to do it. There were changes made to the scripts as we went and all of the changes definitely keep you on your toes. It’s constantly shifting. The rug is always being pulled out. That’s the nature of this type of show but it sure made things exciting.

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Image via Amazon Prime Video

How did you view the guy that you play? By the time you got to the end of the season and now you can look back on it, do you feel any differently about him?

WILSON: I really love the guy. He is so well-meaning, so vulnerable and odd. I really connected with the character and just loved playing him. I don’t know what else to say other than that. His journey is remarkable, going from zero to hero, over the course of a handful of episodes. He’s a really unlikely hero with a great deal of integrity and it was really fun to play someone with such a deep sense of integrity.

Gillian Flynn has talked about how every single piece tells a story and every detail matters, and it seems like all the details for all the characters’ lives were thought about. Were there details for your character or wardrobe or things that really helped you get into this character every time you walked onto the set?

WILSON: I love the costume design. It wasn’t pointing a finger at, “Oh, this is a nerdy loser,” but this isn’t a guy you would look twice at walking through a mall in Topeka, Kansas. That really helps. The windbreaker and the sad shoes and the Dockers really helps define the character.

Without spoilers, how did you feel about the ending of the season? What was your reaction reading and shooting the final script?

WILSON: It was really exciting. There were changes being made to the final script right up until the end. We didn’t exactly know how it was gonna end. It was super exciting. Any actor is gonna say that their season finale is amazing, but it truly was amazing. There are a lot of really cool twists and turns, and cliffhangers and plotlines. Hopefully, we get a second season and we get to see where some of this stuff goes.

In a world of inevitable remakes, reboots, reimaginings and reunions, how do you feel about potentially revisiting The Office in some way?

WILSON: I’d love to revisit The Office. I’ve told Greg Daniels that I would love to do something. They’re gearing up for putting it on Peacock. Maybe someday we’ll do something. It’s funny, I hear things like, “We can’t do anything because we ended this show perfectly, and we don’t wanna do anything else.” But then, someone will send some idea that’s just preposterous and I don’t know what to think. Hopefully one day. The fans would really love it. That’s the thing that counts the most. The fans would really love to see those characters again and have an experience with them.

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Image via NBC

Do you have your own personal favorite Dwight Schrute moment from the series?

WILSON: Yeah, I really love the moment in the episode called “Money,” where he’s heartbroken and he’s taken Jim and Pam to his bed and breakfast. There’s a moment when he’s really emotional and Jim gives him some words of kindness and empathy, and then he doesn’t notice it but Jim has left. He reaches out and Jim’s not there and he looks around. To me, that moment perfectly encapsulated what we did on The Office. It’s a Chekhovian, priceless little human misconnection that was really special.

Is there a current or past TV series that you would have loved to have been a part of, in some way?

WILSON: Yeah, sure. I would like to have been on M*A*S*H. I watched every episode of M*A*S*H as a kid. That’s 5,000 episodes and I saw every single one. I would have loved to play some kooky friend of Jamie Farr [who played Maxwell Q. Klinger] on M*A*S*H. I was born in the wrong decade.

Utopia is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.

Television