Rainn Wilson

Rainn Wilson

Matt Hoyle

It's not all about Dwight Schrute.

Sure, actor Rainn Wilson will graciously talk about the beloved character he perfected over nine seasons of NBC's The Office. And, yes, he will likely even sign his autograph across a foot beside a tattooed image of Dwight's scowling visage (an actual fan request). But the focus of the self-professed "Bassoon King" lies elsewhere these days.

Rainn Wilson: Quirks, Comedy and Creativity

In fact, fans may expect to hear more about their eternal souls than Schrute Farms beets Saturday when Wilson takes stage Saturday at the Dallas Museum of Art to discuss about his memoir, The Bassoon King: My Life in Art, Faith and Idiocy (Dutton, $26.95).

"People ask it a lot -- what percentage of Dwight is actually me?" Wilson says with a hint of polite exasperation during a phone call earlier this week. "Well, I'm sensitive and try to get along with people. I don't put a lot of weight on hierarchies or rules determining everything, and I'm no alpha male."

Fair. But, there is something fundamental in Wilson that drove the improvised antics behind his star-making performance.

"I'm not like Dwight. But I know the world of oddballs and nerds," he says, offering explanation for the nuances that made his Office work so memorable.

That intimate knowledge of the peculiar runs constant through The Bassoon King. It's evident from the memoir's opening chapter -- titled "What Shall We Name Baby Fathead?"-- wherein Wilson details his life's beginning as an "ashen manatee with a tiny human face" harnessed to an unconventional moniker by "proto-hippie ne'er-do-well" parents.

But while The Bassoon King is filled with pulp science fiction references, tales of teenage Dungeons and Dragons marathons and a love-hate (though mostly hate) relationship with the accursed double reed woodwind of the book's title, it is also the story of a classically trained thespian who "bombed" on Broadway. A young man whose early professional zeal inspired a turn from the Bahá'í faith of his childhood to the cult of acting. Of drug and alcohol abuse, youthful floundering and the self-doubt of a motherless child, abandoned by a woman whose own passion for the stage dissolved his family.

Along the winding pathway, Wilson rediscovers religion and dedicates his life to it -- or, rather, commits himself to the "enormous philosophical, moral, ethical and spiritual dilemmas with life-affecting reverberations" that first piqued his teenage interest in great authors and, eventually, acting. As a result, he co-founded a website and media company called SoulPancake, best known for its inspirational and instantly viral "A Pep Talk from Kid President" video.

Producing short-form digital media, SoulPancake seeks to make accessible and interesting "life's big questions" to people who, like Wilson's younger self, feel called to examine life's purpose deeply, but without pretense, outside traditional spiritual institutions. One video series, "My Last Days," documents "uplifting stories of terminal illness." Others ponder "the secret to a happy family" and "real world lessons" from a special education teacher.

When it comes to SoulPancake, Wilson is eager to talk; his voice lifts at the mention of it.

"There's something so exciting about working in the digital space," he says, "You get an idea, shoot it, post it and boom,two weeks later it's up on the Web."

What's more, it's working. Based on a preference for education over charity, Wilson writes that it was important from the beginning SoulPancake not be a nonprofit, but rather a monetized, self-sufficient purveyor of joy. His first book, SoulPancake: Chew on Life's Big Questions became a New York Times best-seller within weeks of its release in 2010, and many of the company's videos garner hundreds of thousands of views.

As for the joy in Wilson's voice, it feels almost palpable when he talks about the future, the natural progression of the spiritual and artistic journey chronicled in The Bassoon King. In addition to SoulPancake, he's mulling a number of potential writing projects, with ideas ranging from a collection of comedic essays to parenting advice and film and television concepts, and he's eager to transfer his buoyant momentum to local audiences this weekend. Or, at the very least take in a decent meal.

After touring nationally with The Acting Company, Wilson spent about two months in the mid-1990s here, acting in a Dallas Theater Center play called Room Service at the Kalita Humphreys Theater.

"I'm very familiar with Dallas," he says, "The food is really, really good there."

Plan your life: Rainn Wilson will speak at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood St. as part of Arts & Letters Live. Sold out except for simulcast; $25. DMA.org/tickets or 214-922-1818.

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