Late last week Amazon Prime Video finally released the first season of the conspiracy thriller, Utopia. This series comes from the best selling author and award-winning screenwriter, Gillian Flynn. In the eight-episode series, a comic book has predicted the end of the world. Now a group of misfits from all walks of life is forced to follow clues from the book to try and save themselves and the world.
One of the key characters in the Utopia storyline is Dr. Micael Sterns, who is played by Rainn Wilson. He has starred in a variety of films and television, including The Office, The Meg, Galaxy Quest, and Star Trek: Discovery to name a few. In this role, he plays a scientist whose work on a virus may be the key to stopping a spreading pandemic.
Ahead of Utopia‘s release, we LRMOnline had the opportunity to participate in a round table discussion with Wilson about his role. We also talk about the parallels with this current real-world pandemic. You can check out the interview below!
Interviewer: Do you think Dr. Michael Stearns actually wants to be the hero in the story?
Rainn Wilson: No I don’t think Dr. Stearns wants to be a hero. I just think he wants to do science and help people and put his expertise to use and he ends up being a hero.
Interviewer: There are themes that I picked up on in the show of conviction versus loyalty, or duty. Specifically, with Dr. Mike and how he has to decide what he’s going to choose. Was that something that you picked up on?
Rainn Wilson: Yeah that’s a very astute observation. He’s good. But I didn’t pick up on that per se. What I did focus on for him is that Dr. Mike ends up having a lot of integrity. He’s not able to tell a lie, he’s not able to sell himself out, he’s not able to shortchange his values. I think we’re all called upon that in our lives. I think the most unlikely people are called on to do something and find themselves with this resilience and integrity to say, “No, I’m not going to do that. That’s not right.”
That’s what we need people to do, is stand up and say, “No, this isn’t right.” That’s really what makes a hero. I mean, it can be on a very small scale, it doesn’t have to involve an international pandemic. But, I like the way that you’re phrasing that about loyalty to this other organization. It runs throughout and people are loyal to a lot of different things. And then there are those individuals that have their integrity.
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Interviewer: How much of Dr. Stearns push comes from being pressured by his wife, and how much of it is his own, like you’re talking about, his own will to figure out what was right? In other words, do you think he goes on this journey without being pushed first?
Rainn Wilson: Well, I wouldn’t view Dr. Stearns as being pushed by his wife. I think his wife gives him motivation. There’s a lot of things she pushes him to do that he doesn’t do. I think she gives him motivation and she gives him the strength that he doesn’t really have. I mean, he has pretty low self-esteem. He’s had mental health issues, he’s had a nervous breakdown. Everyone has ignored him his whole life. So he needs that partner, he needs that loyal, loving, and inspired partner to help him on his way. I think that’s the role that she plays.
Interviewer: Do you remember a moment when real life started mimicking this story that you had just filmed? And do you remember thinking, “Oh wow, this is really weird that I’m living this thing I just did?”
Rainn Wilson: Yeah, it was pretty weird. We wrapped the show September, October didn’t really think about it much at that point. I mean, we thought we’re going to take a good long time to do the special effects and editing and whatnot. Then we hear about this Wuhan virus in China and then, all of a sudden, it’s in South Korea, Japan spreading around. All of a sudden, it’s in Italy. I remember texting Gillian Flynn, I forget when it was January, February, like, “What the hell is happening? How is real-life imitating what we just spent five or six months shooting? This is insane.”
ALSO SEE: UTOPIA SHOWRUNNER AND WRITER GILLIAN FLYNN N PANDEMIC PARALLELS AND MORE [LRM ONLINE INTERVIEW]
Then we were talking about it being from bats and coming from a remote place and vaccines. And there were conspiracy theories about billionaires being behind it. Remember, like, “Bill Gates and his 5G cell towers made the virus.” It was really mirroring what we had been doing with the show.
Interviewer: After being deceived for so long by his wife, and then you have the corporations who were pushing him to do things, do you think it changes his mindset going forward?
Rainn Wilson: Over the course of these episodes, Dr. Michael Stearns doesn’t know who to trust anymore. I mean, everyone, the dean of his department is trying to get him to work with Christine. Even though he knows it’s not right and his wife turns out to have some strange issues. There’s a lot of deception. This is part of how conspiracy theories are generated, is people don’t know what’s true anymore. They don’t know what’s up, they don’t trust the media, they don’t trust the politicians, they don’t trust religions. Where do we get the truth from? So he’s on that journey of not knowing what the truth is.
Interviewer: There was a quote that you had, that your character has in Utopia. When he’s finding out that his wife is not who she says she is. You said, “It’s not like I’m going to go to sleep and wake up cured of my beliefs.” I thought that was such a powerful line. That was just really amazing. I was just curious if that’s something that Gillian wrote or if that came from you. Or if any of your moments that were, were ad-libbed or reworked or anything?
Rainn Wilson: Well, I’m sure Gillian wrote that and it’s a terrific line. There is a lot about people’s dogged perseverance around what they believe through the course of this thing. They let me improvise a little bit. They always were open to allowing me to improvise. In the office, I improvise a ton. Fortunately, one of the lines I improvised made it into the trailer. Which is the punchline of the trailer, “How much evil can you do until you do good?” Then I say, “None, the answer is none, none evil.” So they kept that in and used it. So maybe next, if we get another season, I’m going to, I’m going to be improvising right and left, just going crazy.
Interviewer: What makes the Utopia project unique from other projects that you’ve worked on before?
Rainn Wilson: Well, I have never done a show that had a series that was eight episodes. I’ve never done one quite in this genre, conspiracy theory, thriller, comedy. I don’t know that anyone has. And I’ve never played a scientist before and never played someone with an arc like this before, I’ve never shot in Chicago before. A lot of firsts for this one.
You can watch all eight episodes of Amazon Prime Video’s Utopia now exclusively on their streaming service!
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