Rainn Wilson on Putting a Personal Touch on ‘The Geography of Bliss’

May 22, 2023

After first getting his start with supporting roles in hit films like Galaxy Quest and Almost Famous, Rainn Wilson quickly became a household name with his scene-stealing role as the socially awkward and self-serious Dwight Schrute on The Office, a role that landed him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series three years in a row. Beyond The Office, Wilson has appeared in films and shows such as Juno, The Meg, Super, Monsters vs. Aliens, Six Feet Under, and he most recently played Dr. Demento in the satirical Weird Al Yankovic biopic Weird: The Al Yankovic Story.

Now streaming on Peacock, Wilson hosts the new travel series Rainn Wilson and the Geography of Bliss. Based on Eric Weiner’s nonfiction book The Geography of Bliss, the new docuseries finds Wilson embarking on an adventure across the globe to find the happiest and least happy places on Earth, in an attempt to not just learn about the science of happiness, but also how people are able to find their own happiness even when everything else around them seems so bleak. The series is just as fascinating (and delightful) as its premise suggests.

I was able to talk with Wilson about making the new series, including the personal elements he brings, and the countries he would want to visit in a potential second season.

COLLIDER: First of all, I want to congratulate you on the series, I absolutely loved it. One thing that I really appreciated about it was that it felt so personal compared to a lot of other travel series, and I was wondering, was it always planned to be as personal as it was, or did evolve that way?

RAINN WILSON: Well, I always knew that the show was going to have a twofold kind of purpose, which was for me to explore these issues that are so important to me personally, mental health, dealing with my anxiety, depression, finding ever greater meaning and purpose in the world is really important to my heart. At the same time, it’s super important for me to share with others, and this is an exploration, not just for me, but an exploration for the viewer to have an experience that hopefully opens their heart and uplifts their spirit.

Image via Peacock

I’ve dealt with some of the stuff that you even tackled in the series, so I definitely was touched by a lot of it. I know this is also based on a book by Eric Weiner, and I was wondering, did you discover the book on your own? Did it come to you? How did that come about?

WILSON: Great question. These two young producers, Casey [Scharf] and Evan [Rosenfeld], they’re executive producers on the show, they got the rights to Eric’s book, and they just wrote me out of the blue. I just got this email out of the blue, and I don’t really usually answer emails from out of the blue, and they’re like, “Hey, we got the rights to this book. We think you’d be a great host and this would be a great travel show,” and I was like, “They’re right, this book is amazing!” I met with them, they were incredible, so we kind of set it up, fleshed it out, brought on some other producers – Radical Media is our production company and they just won an Oscar, they’re a very good company – and we took it out and partnered up with Peacock. It’s been a dream job, and everyone has been on the same page. It’s been very exciting.

I know the book covered different countries, I know you both begin in Iceland, but did you choose what countries you wanted to visit?

WILSON: Well, that was a long process. For a while, we were gonna go to Finland, and we also wanted to go to Moldova, but the recent war in the Ukraine was really affecting those places, and we were like, “Well, let’s stay away from any wars.” We just don’t want to get into that. We don’t know what’s gonna happen. We might shoot something and then all of a sudden it’s a completely different situation there four months, six months later. So, that’s why we shifted it over to Bulgaria and Iceland. But it’s a long conversation and collaboration to figure out the best places to go to excavate these kinds of stories and these life lessons.

Definitely. It feels like a comfort show, as well, and I know a lot of travel series can be that way, but I did want to ask a little bit more of a fun question. Do you have a favorite travel series? Did you watch any to prepare yourself beforehand?

WILSON: Yeah, I watched a lot of Anthony Bourdain, God rest his soul. It doesn’t get better than that. I still don’t quite know how he was able to do what he did where it’s a show about food, but really, it’s a show about the beauty of connection and the miraculousness of human culture, and it really transcended. I thought Stanley Tucci’s new show about eating pasta in Italy was really terrific and well done, and I love the way he brought his personal sensibility to the show, so it was a treat for me. Also, the one where Obi-Wan Kenobi was riding a motorcycle through South America.

So you did your hometown of Los Angeles at the end, was that always going to be the last stop in the show or did you ever plan to do somewhere else?

WILSON: We struggled with that. We weren’t quite sure what to do because one of the places we wanted to go was Japan, but I got COVID over the summer and then they had very difficult COVID measures. So as we were talking about it, we’re like, “The easiest way to do this, and probably the most effective, is to come back to Los Angeles and see what I’ve learned,” and I think Americans are gonna want to know, too. Like, “Hey, how do I put this into practice where I live?”

Image via Peacock

I know this hasn’t been renewed for a second season yet, or if that’s something that interests you as much, but are there any destinations you would want to do in the future if this were to continue?

WILSON: Well, I’d love to try Dubai, I’d love to try Japan, but I’d also love to go to Finland, and I’d love to go to Bhutan or Nepal, Colombia, South America is a place that has a lot of really fascinating stories about finding happiness and emerging from the drug wars of the last couple of decades and finding its own cultural voice. Tons of places I’m open to exploring. I think India would be fascinating, so sign me up, sign me up for another season.

Did you reach out to anybody for advice when you knew that you were going to do the show? I know you’re not the first who’s done a travel series, but this has a different spin than anything before.

WILSON: No, I didn’t really. No advice. Is there anyone I should have asked? What do you think?

No, I love how much of a personal touch it had, and I think that’s what made it feel just so humble compared to some of these other ones. I really like how you acknowledge that throughout the show. It definitely gave it a lot more of an honest feel to it, as well. I really wanted to ask about the monk that you visited. I was kind of obsessed with him and his dogs, and how he was just smoking and everything. How did you come across him?

WILSON: They found this monk, and he’s a chain-smoking, happy-go-lucky monk who also does fortune readings, but he was really one of the most special, illumined souls I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. He was really beautiful. He had so many gorgeous things to say, and to get to meditate with him in that beautiful monastery in the mountains of Thailand was really one of the highlights of the whole trip.

I just remember when he first popped up, I’m like, “He almost feels like a movie character!”

WILSON: Yeah! He’s kind of toothless and smoking and surrounded by dogs, it’s fantastic.

Image via Peacock

Did anybody guide you to different people when you were visiting these different countries? I know you connected with friends, as well, especially in Iceland with your co-star from The Meg, but was it mainly you finding them as you went along?

WILSON: Well, we love to find people as we go along, and some of the interviews we had were kind of on the fly, but for the most part, because of the nature of television, we needed to set up interviews beforehand. So we have researchers and documentarian producers getting in touch with people and kind of setting up how the shoot days are going to work. If I had a month to spend in the country, we could just wander around with cameras and meet people, but we needed to kind of zero in on who we needed to talk to.

How long was the time between each of the countries that you visited? Was it all at once when you filmed it, or was there time in between? I know you also said you dealt with COVID last summer, as well.

WILSON: We would do essentially about eight days per country, but we had weird breaks, and then things changed, and then I got COVID. So over the course of the summer, let’s just say we went to four different countries, but it was kind of catch as catch can. We did Iceland and Bulgaria together, and then I got COVID, but we went to Thailand– It was kind of a crazy shoot, which is why we really wanted to come back to LA and focus on that last effort on that last episode. You know, bringing things back home.

All five episodes of Rainn Wilson and the Geography of Bliss are now available to stream on Peacock.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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