De­fec­tive de­tec­tive even­tu­ally wins Wil­son over

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Rainn Wil­son’s ini­tial re­ac­tion to the TV se­ries Back­strom was far from pos­i­tive. ‘‘I lit­er­ally got a call from my agents as I was fin­ish­ing the last three or four days of shoot­ing on The Of­fice, our 200th episode over nine or 10 sea­sons. And they said, ‘We re­ally want you to read this TV script’, and I al­most fired them on the spot,’’ Wil­son says. ‘‘I’m like, ‘Are you crazy?’ But they im­plored me, ‘Just read the script. This char­ac­ter is re­ally spe­cial’. And I did. It re­ally hooked me in.’’

In the new se­ries, he stars as Everett Back­strom, an al­co­holic train-wreck of a de­tec­tive who works for the Port­land Po­lice Bureau. What he lacks in so­cial skills is made up by bril­liant de­tec­tive work. It may take him sev­eral tries, but he even­tu­ally can crawl into the mind of any sus­pect to fer­ret out the truth.

The se­ries is based on the books by Swedish au­thor Leif G W Pers­son.

Wil­son jokes that roles this good don’t come along of­ten for ‘‘weird-look­ing, 48-year-old pasty white dudes’’.

Other char­ac­ters on the show in­clude vet­eran de­tec­tive and week­end pas­tor John Almond (Den­nis Hays­bert), newbie de­tec­tive Ni­cole Gravely (Genevieve An­gel­son), irk­some foren­sics li­ai­son de­tec­tive Peter Nie­der­mayer (Kristof­fer Po­laha) and guile­less Of­fi­cer Frank Moto (Page Kennedy).

Back­strom’s skill is be­ing able to size up peo­ple quickly. He may come across as a to­tal jerk in the be­gin­ning, but Wil­son prom­ises that he will be less an­noy­ing through the ini­tial or­der of 13 episodes as more is re­vealed about the de­tec­tive. But don’t ever ex­pect Back­strom to be­come a poster boy for po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

‘‘Back­strom re­ally wears his heart on his sleeve, and his life is un­rav­el­ling. And watch­ing a bril­liant de­tec­tive at work while things are just not work­ing for him any more and just fall­ing apart, I think, is re­ally in­ter­est­ing,’’ Wil­son says. ‘‘I would much rather hang out with that per­son than, like, a slick pro­ce­dural de­tec­tive who’s got all the an­swers and ef­fort­lessly speaks in th­ese kind of quips as their CSI team looks at ev­ery mi­crofi­bre and ev­ery­thing re­solves per­fectly ev­ery sin­gle week. It’s hu­man. It’s frail. And it’s in­ter­est­ing.’’

The TV ver­sion of Back­strom has been toned down from the way he’s pre­sented in Pers­son’s books. The printed ver­sion of Back­strom is a racist, sex­ist ho­mo­phobe who hates ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing.

Se­ries cre­ator Hart Han­son ex­plains that those el­e­ments are drama­tised but not to the point the au­di­ence will only hate him. The se­ries has been de­signed so that he will be more lik­able (or at least tol­er­a­ble) as the se­ries con­tin­ues. Wil­son calls it all a mat­ter of so­cial per­spec­tive.

‘‘I think there’s a process of you watch the show, and you’re like, ‘Oh, wow, this guy’s a racist and a sex­ist’. And then you kind of go, ‘Oh, wow, you know what? He kind of hates every­body’. Then you kind of go, ‘Oh, wow, he hates him­self worse than he hates any­one else. What’s go­ing on with that?’ It’s ask­ing a good deal of an au­di­ence, but I think it’s a re­ally in­ter­est­ing jour­ney,’’ Wil­son says.

It’s a jour­ney he would not have made if he hadn’t lis­tened to his agent.

Rick Bent­ley

Rainn Wil­son: Out of The Of­fice and em­brac­ing po­lice work on Back­strom.

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