It's an interesting, transitional time in Rainn Wilson's life. With the end of "The Office" upon him, he's found himself in a sentimental mood, and perhaps not coincidentally, grappling with existential questions as part of his OWN Special "Oprah and Rainn Wilson Present SoulPancake."
In a wide-ranging interview with HuffPost TV, Wilson discussed what's in store for the end of "The Office," his mixed reaction to NBC's decision to pass on his Dwight-focused "Office" spinoff "The Farm," and the OWN special, which explores the nature of love. The conversation also touched on the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, as Wilson, the father of an eight-year-old son, called for a national discussion focused on stopping the cycle of gun violence in America, "because our current plan just isn't working."
How are you feeling as "The Office" comes down the home stretch?
You know it's interesting. It's very bittersweet. Everyone is very ready for the show to end, and it's really run its course, and it feels like a really natural point in time to end the show. We get along so well ... and there's a lot of love on the set. We're going to miss each other greatly. So I know that I'm going to have a real heartache six months from now or a year from now around missing "The Office" and letting it go.
But you know, we do a lot of reminscing. There's only nine or 10 episodes left to be filmed at this point! We were shooting a scene in the warehouse the other day, and I was reminiscing wth Jenna [Fischer], and I was like, "Do you remember the first time we shot in "The Office" Dunder Mifflin warehouse? That was September of 2004. We were first shooting a basketball game in the warehouse. That was a long time ago.
We've heard we're going to find out who's been making "The Office" documentary. Is that how the series is going to end?
Yes. It's Ken Burns. [Laughs.] Part of the ending is going to be not only resolving the characters and what's happening in their lives, but the showing of the airing of the documentary on "The Office," and showing what effect that has on the characters. That's going to happen over the course of the last six or eight episodes. "The Office" characters get to watch themselves in the documentary. I think they're probably being documented as they're watching themselves in the documentary.
I'd read that the pilot of "The Farm," the Dwight spinoff that NBC decided to pass on, would be airing as an episode of the "The Office." Is that still the plan?
Yeah, either all or some of it will be airing as an episode of "The Office." So you will get to meet Dwight's brother and sister, some other family members, and see a little more life on the farm. But yeah, it's not happening as a show. And it was very disappointing. We had worked really hard on it and I think created a really cool and different pilot. But it was kind of a relief in a way, because it's time to hang up the old Dwight bad haircut and glasses and move on.
Do you think the "The Farm" got caught up in a strategy shift that NBC has described as trying to go more broad with their comedies?
Yeah, I think they're going in a very different direction. I think they want bigger and broader stuff, and part of me doesn't blame them. There's a lot of Thursday night comedies that are really high quality, but they don't have a ton of viewers. I can understand they've been the number four network for a long time, and they want to have bigger, broader audiences, so I get where they're coming from.
So tell me about the "SoulPancake" special on OWN.
SoulPancake is a website that I founded with a couple of friends, and it is for exploring life's big questions. It explores what it is to be a human being, issues of philosophy, spirituality, creativity and being an artist, and it's been around for three or four years. I founded it because I wanted to do something positive on the web, something that was for everyone, where young people could express perhaps a different side of themselves, where people could come together. It's a social networking site, and now we have an app for iPhone as well.
And then out of that we wrote a book that was a New York Times Best Seller, called "SoulPancake: Chewing Life's Big Questions," and around that same time I was interviewed by Oprah for her Soul Series podcast, and spoke about my faith and my spiritual journey, and I spoke about the founding of SoulPancake. And then I met with her at her network, and that's when we started doing some short pieces for Oprah Winfrey Network that have led ultimately to this special.
Today it's hard to think about much else besides the tragic Newtown school shooting. What did you find yourself thinking in the aftermath of this awful news?
Well, I think that the first and most human response is compassion and empathy. I have an eight-year-old child, and I literally can't wrap my mind around the kind of greif that must be felt when you lose a child. And I thought about the amount of pain, I thought about the trauma of the children there at the school, and I think that's just the normal human respsonse. I think President Obama had it in his really beautiful speech, just feeling for the pain of the people who had suffered so much, and they didn't do anything wrong.
Do you have an opinion on the debate about gun control?
I am all for controlling guns. I saw a picture of the kind of gun that the shooter used at the school, and I can't imagine someone needing that gun. How a 20-year-old disturbed child got access to that I have no idea. But we need to have a big debate in this country about a lot of big issues, gun control is one of them, and on a greater level, just violence in general. There just needs to be a national discussion about violence and how we stop this cycle of violence, because our current plan just isn't working.
The first special of SoulPancake focuses on love. Can you preview what will be in that episode?
Well, what we did in this pilot episode is look at love, and what we are trying to do on the show is take a different aspect of the human condition -- a different issue -- and examine it from a lot of different sides. So we talked to an expert on love who deals with broken heart syndrome; she's a heart surgeon. We talked to a couple who had to fall in love twice -- they've been together for 40 or 50 years -- and they had to fall in love twice because the husband had brain damage. And we also interviewed this woman named Mama Hill, who just out of the force of love has literally changed hundreds of lives in her neighborhood in South Central L.A. And then we had artistic exercises, stop-motion animation, man on the street interviews, and all kinds of ways of looking at love. So that after this hour, you're not going to have an answer about what love is, but you might think about it in a little different way, and it might touch your heart in a variety of different ways.
This special is a departure from the kind of comedy most TV fans know you for from "The Office." How did you find the experience of working in a different style and medium?
Well, it's been a challenge from the beginning when I started it, and people just had a hard time believing and understanding that Dwight from "The Office" is talking about spirituality or philosophy. But it's a passion of mine, so it's always a strange balance because first and foremost I'm an actor, and then predominantly I'm a comedic actor. But I also care deeply about peoples' journeys, so SoulPancake is a great venue for that.
"Oprah and Rainn Wilson Present SoulPancake" airs Sunday, December 16 at 12 p.m. EST. OWN's "Super Soul Sunday," which also features Wilson, airs an hour before at 11 p.m. EST.
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