What’s better than an Emmy?
Would you rather win an Emmy or have your face on a T-shirt? Or on a bobble-head that has somehow found its way into more than a million homes? Or be the inspiration for a perennial Halloween costume?
“Actually, can I just answer, ‘All of the above’?” says three-time Emmy nominee Rainn Wilson, who plays the socially stunted micromanager Dwight on “The Office,” an improbably popular character that has graced numerous tees, sold bobble-head dolls by the truckload and inspired many men to don short-sleeve, mustard-hued shirts and geek glasses on Oct. 31.
“I may not have won any Emmys,” Wilson adds. “I may never win an Emmy. But, yes, I do have a bestselling bobble-head.”
Some actors manage the neat trick of winning an Emmy while creating the kind of indelible character that becomes part of the fabric of television history. Some just live forever in reruns. Christopher Lloyd did both as Rev. Jim Ignatowski on “Taxi.” Castmate Andy Kaufman had to content himself with eternal glory for his Latka Gravas in repeats.
We talked to three actors who have developed substantial cult followings that, thus far, have outstripped any Emmy love.
Like Ron Swanson, the meat-loving, libertarian boss he masterfully (under)plays on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” Nick Offerman has his own woodshop. His, though, is a functioning business in Glendale, a place Offerman runs with his brother, building some of the most beautiful tables and canoes you’ll ever see.
On a shelf near his desk, Offerman displays a jigsaw puzzle titled “Good Morning!” picturing various breakfast foods, including Ron’s favored sausage and bacon. A fan sent it to him, along with a Swanson-esque note explaining how she found the puzzle at a yard sale and persuaded the seller to cut his price in half — from $2 to a buck.
“I think he learned a little about object depreciation that day,” the woman wrote, displaying a capitalistic rigor that would no doubt make Swanson giggle like a schoolgirl.
Says Offerman: “Ron’s simple life philosophy strikes a chord with people. In this age of information and an embarrassment of choices, people really are charmed by a character who lives his life in a very black-and-white way based on a few simple philosophical rules.”
Well, more than a few, actually. One Ron Swanson T-shirt features a “pyramid of success,” a play on former UCLA men’s basketball Coach John Wooden’s philosophical diagram. Among the tenets: “Body grooming: Only women shave beneath the neck” and “Crying: Acceptable at funerals and the Grand Canyon.”
While Offerman claims he doesn’t possess Swanson’s certainty about life (who could?), it’s clear from talking to him and watching him in his shop that the veteran character actor adheres pretty strictly to his own code, a belief set that includes, yes, a love for a bone-in rib-eye steak and a disdain for the trendy.
“Don’t ask me about Facebook,” Offerman says. “There are books to read, songs to learn on my guitar, flowers to grow and a marriage I need to nurture.”
Rainn Wilson had no idea the annoying Dwight would become a fan favorite, mostly because, like everyone else associated with “The Office,” he was paying attention to the chorus of naysayers when the American version of the popular Ricky Gervais BBC series premiered seven years ago.
“It was, ‘This makes no sense … why ruin a great show?’” Wilson remembers. “All I was thinking was it’d be cool if we could get 13 episodes out of the run and have a fun little cult show that people would watch on DVD like ‘Freaks and Geeks.’”
Now, 152 episodes into its run, that kind of thinking seems absurd. Then again, not long before winning the part of Dwight, Wilson and his wife, Holiday, were paying their rent using those checks that credit card companies include in monthly statements. So hindsight is everything.
By the show’s second season, Wilson knew Dwight had gained a following. It took a baggage handler at LAX to confirm its size.
“This guy comes running after me, holding a cellphone, saying, ‘Here, look! Check this out!’” Wilson says. “And I look on his phone and it says: ‘Fact: I can and do cut my own hair.’ And he goes, ‘It’s a Dwight quote. My daughter and I send Dwight quotes back and forth to each other.’”
Sitting in his office, Wilson notes the detailed pencil drawing that a fan named Samantha Grey sent. It’s a beautiful picture of Dwight in his sheriff’s uniform, gazing lovingly at Angela Kinsey’s uptight accountant, Angela.
“I get a lot of great Dwight artwork,” Wilson says. “It’s really a feat of the writers that they can make someone so annoying and intrusive into a relatable human being that, for some odd reason, people like.”
If you’re doing the math, Pauley Perrette is the fifth lead on CBS’ long-running police procedural, “NCIS,” playing Abby Sciuto, the super-smart, pony-tailed, vaguely goth forensic specialist.
For those crunching numbers, there’s also this: When the Q Scores Co. conducted its annual survey last year, asking people to rate celebrities on familiarity and appeal, Perrette finished first in a three-way tie with Tom Hanks and Morgan Freeman. She was the only woman in the Top 10.
Perrette, 42, was toasted at Comic-Con last year, where she gazed out at a pony-tailed sea of women, children and, yes, even men. She understands the adulation. Heck, she wishes she could be more like Abby.
“She’s the smartest person on TV,” Perrette says. “It would take 20 people to do her job.”
Beyond the braininess, Abby is loving and lively and sports an alternative look that even your grandmother could love.
“She’s got tattoos and jewelry and doggie collars, and yet elderly people have this insane connection to her,” Perrette says. “And I think that has made them understand their kids or grandkids more and that, you know, people with tattoos aren’t going to mug them.”