Rainn Wilson’s journey from ‘The Office’ to Oprah

The man behind Dwight Schrute shares the screen with Oprah on ‘SoulPancake’

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Fans of "The Office" know Rainn Wilson as the exasperating paper salesman Dwight Schrute. During his nine-season run at Dunder-Mifflin, Schrute has never hesitated to offend people, charge ahead with countless cockamamie plans, and tirelessly battle to serve his own ambition and desires.

But, not surprisingly, Wilson is no Dwight Schrute in real life. In fact, the actor is so interested in philosophical pursuits that he founded a website on the topic called SoulPancake and has teamed up with Oprah Winfrey to create thought-provoking content for her network, OWN.

Rainn Wilson explains his journey from 'The Office' to OWN

In a recent interview, Wilson talked about his evolution from sitcom star to Internet entrepreneur to Winfrey's collaborator. He recounted getting a call to appear on her podcast a few years ago. "I didn't know a whole lot about Oprah before," he said. "She's ubiquitous; you can't help but know a little bit about her, but I didn't really watch her show. I'm not exactly in her demographic, but I loved her 'Soul Series.'"

What he found was a spiritual kindred spirit who shared his desire to explore weighty topics and inspire the world to look inward. He's brought his own unique way to "chew on life's big questions" to OWN. They started with a series of shorts for Winfrey's "Super Soul Sunday" show, and now they've developed a one-hour special called "Oprah And Rainn Wilson Present SoulPancake."

Wilson and Winfrey have a special relationship

Wilson described his relationship with Winfrey, saying, "She's an interesting gal, that Oprah. Besides being just such a powerful person and a billionaire, [she's] just a deep thinker. I imagine that her life must be very complicated with people always wanting stuff from her."

And yet he's managed to connect with her on another level. Wilson acknowledged, "One thing that's really nice is I think Oprah trusts me -- that my intentions are good. I just want to do fun, enlightening material through 'SoulPancake,' and that's really it."

As a result they are able to bring a lightheartedness to what are often presented as heavy topics, like what's featured in the upcoming Dec. 16 special, "What is Love?" Wilson talked about the chemistry that they share in their segments on the show: "We just have a nice rapport, and we get along really well. We're able to joke around and not take ourselves too seriously, and we've always just gotten along great in that way."

Wilson won't leave acting behind

Even though Wilson and Winfrey are bonding, fans of "The Office" shouldn't be concerned that they won't be seeing him tackle more acting roles. He was clear to point out that while he'll always be connected to the various iterations of SoulPancake, he has many interests that he intends to pursue after his sitcom ends.

Wilson revealed his plans for his post-"Office" career: "I'd like to develop other TV shows. I want to do independent films. I'm talking to my wife about having us go back to New York and doing some plays, which is where I started. I did theater for 10 years before I ever came to L.A. to do TV and film, so I'd like to get back and do some of that. So I really want to do it all."

Wilson discusses the craft of acting

And if anyone can, it's Wilson. After all, he's managed to convince fans that he's a self-absorbed beet farmer with dreams of paper company (if not world) domination for years now. When, in fact, he conceded that Dwight devotees might be surprised to learn that he mediates every morning. Wilson laughingly admitted, "That's probably a little different than Dwight. He's up chopping wood and milking cows, and then selling paper at 9 a.m."

But as he explained, that's part of his gig. He reflected on his "Office" stint: "It's interesting because I'll meet a young 'Office' fan -- they're like 20 years old and they've been watching it since they were 13 -- and they really just think that I'm the character and are astounded that I am not him, or I'm not exactly like him."

Wilson continued, "It's interesting to remind people that there's this craft of acting, where you are this person and you're an artist. You learn how to act, and then you transform into characters… your whole goal is to fool people. The goal is to actually make them believe that you are that character. So hopefully you're good at it, and you're actually able to fool them, and people do think that you're that person… that you're not putting on an act. That's the whole point of it. So it's an interesting journey."

Wilson learned from Schrute

The 46-year-old actor also recognized that his TV alter ego has helped him on his own personal path to enlightenment. "Dwight is all about self will. He's all about 'my force of my muscles and my will and my grit and my determination is going to get everything done.' And I used to be that way. I used to be very much just driven -- grit, determination, and will power."

But Wilson opened up about how he's changed his ways: "Over the years, I've definitely lessened that, just given that up, and realized that will power can only get you so far. There's a lot of other energy in the universe, some call it God, that can guide our steps and our actions."

Now Wilson wants to help others contemplate life's greater meaning through the various forms of SoulPancake. He hopes that he can remind fans "that we're all on a journey, and these are issues that all human beings, all seven billion of us, struggle with and deal with. There are no answers. There is just the asking of the questions."

Susan Sarandon answers the question "What is love?"

Tune in on Sunday, 12/16 to ponder the question "What is Love?" when "Oprah And Rainn Wilson Present SoulPancake" airs at noon ET right after "Super Soul Sunday" on OWN.

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