Rainn Wilson talks about Hollywood, his family and the Baha'i Faith

24 May 2007

— Actor Rainn Wilson is used to talking to the media - he is part of the award-winning cast of the U.S. television series "The Office," and his recent role in the movie "The Last Mimzy" brought a flurry of new interviews. Time magazine, TV talk-show hosts and others came calling.

A member of the Baha'i Faith, he seems just as comfortable discussing his spiritual beliefs as he does shooting the breeze about Dwight Schrute, the pompous assistant manager he plays on "The Office," the American version of a popular British TV show of the same name.

His show, seen weekly by 8 million people in the U.S. alone, also airs in Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, parts of continental Europe, Australia, Saudi Arabia, parts of Latin America, Singapore, and several other countries.

His other acting credits include the character of Arthur Martin in the series "Six Feet Under" and a one-episode stint in "Entourage," both on the U.S. cable network HBO; guest hosting "Saturday Night Live" on U.S. television; and movie roles in "Almost Famous," "America's Sweethearts," "Galaxy Quest," "House of 1000 Corpses," "Sahara," and "My Super Ex-Girlfriend."

In a recent interview with U.S. Baha'i News, he talked about Hollywood, his family, his life and his beliefs. Here is that interview, reprinted with permission:

Q: Rainn, what was it like to grow up in the Baha'i Faith?

A: When you grow up with a spiritual foundation that asks you to be conscious of the fact that all races are created equal, that men and women are equal and that all religions worship the same (God), it helps you see the world as one family and not get lost in the traps of political, social, and economic belief systems that can lead you astray. I always think of myself as a world citizen. It's a powerful thing.

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  • Funnyman and Baha'i, Rainn Wilson.

  • Actor Rainn Wilson with his son, Walter.

Q: You stepped away from the Baha'i Faith in your 20s and returned to it 10 years later. What happened in that decade?

A: I was in New York City, going to acting school, and I was going through a rebellious phase. I didn't want anyone telling me what to do. I was disenchanted with things that were organized. It was a spiritual journey I was on. And this is reflected in and supported by one of the central tenets of the Baha'i Faith, which obliges every spiritual seeker to undertake an individual investigation of truth.

I started at ground zero. I decided I didn't know if there was even a God. I read religious books of the world. I asked myself, "If there is a God, how do we know what He wants us to do and what He wants for us? Do we read books? Do we buy crystals? Do we follow certain gurus? Do we sit under a tree? Because surely this omniscient creator has some kind of plan in store for mankind."

Q: And that line of thinking led you back to the Baha'i Faith?

A: Yes, it brought me back to the Baha'i way of viewing things. I came to realize I did believe in God. I couldn't conceive of a universe without someone overseeing it in a compassionate way. It just made the most sense to me that God gradually is unfolding a plan for humankind. That there is progressive revelation -- the Baha'i belief that God sends Messengers for each day and age. I re-read books about the Baha'i Faith. And I came back to believing that Baha'u'llah was the Promised One and Messenger for this day and age. My quest took me from age 21 to 31. I'm 41 now.

Q: Your wife (author Holiday Reinhorn) recently became a Baha'i. How did that come about?

A: She wasn't a Baha'i when we got married in a Baha'i ceremony almost 12 years ago. I never pressured her to join the faith. But she started attending Ruhi (a curriculum based on the Baha'i Writings) classes in the L.A. area and became interested. And the birth of our son, Walter, now 2 1/2, was such a miracle that she found herself saying prayers and spiritually connecting to the faith. She became a Baha'i in 2004. We pray with Walter every night before he goes to bed.

Q: What is it like being a Baha'i in Hollywood?

A: There's a predisposition to link corruption and Hollywood. ... Shoghi Effendi (Guardian of the Baha'i Faith) wrote about this. The problem is that everything you hear in the news is about the superficiality, immorality, and degradation of Hollywood. But that is just not the case. Only a certain percent of the population is like that. It's probably the same percentage as for doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, any profession. Some of the most morally conscious, kindest, most compassionate people are in the entertainment industry, people who want to affect the world and make it a better place through telling human, heartfelt stories.

Most people in Hollywood haven't heard of the Baha'i Faith, so they ask questions. I've had the opportunity to mention it in several articles and TV interviews, such as on "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson."

For years Holly and I hosted a belief night -- a devotional gathering where we invited people of different religious beliefs to our home. We asked them to bring something to share about their spiritual path. Belief in God was not required. We had atheists, Christian Scientists, Buddhist monks. ...

Recently I've been asked to speak a lot more about the Baha'i Faith. And I'll be working as a spokesperson with the Mona Foundation, a Baha'i-inspired not-for-profit organization that tries to provide quality education to all children, raise the status of women and girls, and build community.

Q: How does the Baha'i Faith figure in your life now?

A: My feeling about the faith is that it provides a practical guideline for living one's life. So much about religion has to do with rigid, sacrosanct preciousness. I don't live my life that way, and I don't feel that's what Baha'u'llah teaches. He wants us to live rich, full, loving lives in service to God's will and the human family.

I like being a Baha'i who has an out-there sense of humor. God gives us talents and faculties, and making people laugh is one of mine. I don't have to be digging latrines in Honduras to serve humanity. 'Abdu'l-Baha and Baha'u'llah talk a lot about using the arts to uplift people. When 'Abdu'l-Baha was with the early believers, nine times out of 10 he would make a joke.

Q: Speaking of delicate sensibility: Have you had to turn down roles because they conflicted with what's taught in the Baha'i Faith?

A: I've turned down many roles because they're morally repugnant. I have chosen to play spiritually lost characters, but only because I feel doing so served the greater good. In "My Super Ex-Girlfriend," my character was so preposterous and ludicrous in his sexism that it was clear the message was not about degrading women. In fact, the women characters are the most together, courageous and strong people in the movie.

Q: What is your favorite aspect of the Baha'i Faith?

A: I love how democratic the faith is, that it has no clergy, no people telling us how to interpret the word of God. In this day and age we see how corrupt clergy can lead mankind down so many bad roads.

My favorite quote from the Baha'i Faith is from 'Abdu'l-Baha: "If religion be the cause of disunity, then irreligion is surely to be preferred." For the disenfranchised to know that 'Abdu'l-Baha is a proponent of having no religion if there's disunity. ... And for those who say they don't like "organized religion," don't worry: The Baha'i Faith is one of the most disorganized religions on the planet - NOT!

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