‘The Office’: 3 Real-Life Inspirations Behind Dwight Shrute

It all started with a wolf t-shirt.
‘The Office’: 3 Real-Life Inspirations Behind Dwight Shrute

Wait, wait, wait – there was a real-life Dwight K. Schrute?

Well, sort of.  According to Office lore, our favorite Assistant to the Regional Manager is based on at least three people. 

The first, of course, is Gareth Keenan, team leader and (possibly) lieutenant in the Territorial Army from the BBC version of The Office.  Gareth and Dwight shared a number of things in common, including:

A bitter rivalry with the bloke sitting at the next desk;

An ambitious drive for authority of almost any sort;

And a curious way with women, despite their outwardly awkward appearances.


I don't want you to think of me as your boss but know that I am.

That appearance was deliberately army-wannabe, says costume designer Sarah Tiffin“I remember we gave Gareth khaki colors because he had pretensions to the military,” she says. “His suit didn't fit very well. I mean, nobody's suits fit very well. That was deliberate. That was creating the realness of it. They've got it off the peg, but got it wrong.”

For the American Office, finding a similarly appropriate look was key to inventing Dwight. Which brings us to the second person he was based on: Anonymous Paper Salesguy.  

On a recent episode of the Off the Beat with Brian Baumgartner podcast, costume designer Carey Bennett says Dwight was based, at least in part, on a real salesman she met while doing her research at a local paper company.

“When I first went, it was their casual Friday and the guy there became my Dwight inspiration,” she says. “He was wearing a t-shirt with a wolf on it. I was like, ‘Oh, I see you.’”

NBCUniversal Television

"They're howling at the moon. It's suggestive to women because of the howling during sex."

The third key inventor of Dwight was, of course, Rainn Wilson, who played a role in developing the character’s signature look. 

“It was very important to me that I have the least-flattering haircut possible to my head—which I designed specifically,” says Wilson in Andy Greene’s The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s.

Other physical details helped define Dwight, like “the fact that he still wears a beeper, which is about eight years after beepers have been completely discontinued, because he probably has some number that someone might still have,” says Wilson. “All of these things put together, and then it kind of comes into your body.”

You can see Dwight’s drive for authority and power in the posture Wilson created for the character. “Well, he’s going to assert his power with his pelvis and maybe stand inappropriately close to someone,” he says. “And it’s kind of like an alpha-male type of thing.”

The original casting call for Dwight called for someone “who has no desire to be likable or please an audience, except through total identification with his character. Someone who can seem reasonable to himself while saying insane things, who understands the comedy of playing it straight.”   

Suffice to say, Wilson nailed the audition:

“He just was so good and just had brilliant comedy timing,” says casting director Allison Jones. “He was hilarious and completely believable as the most annoying guy you’ve ever sat next to in an office.”

Wilson’s creation beat out auditions from a who’s who of comedy goofballs, including Seth Rogen, Judah Friedlander, and Patton Oswalt. 

“I was actually the very first person to audition for the show. Period,” Wilson recalls. Believe it or not, he also auditioned -- unsuccessfully -- for Michael Scott.  But all along, “I knew I was hungering for Dwight,” Wilson told NPR. “And I knew Dwight was the one that was right in my wheelhouse. And I was like, oh, let me at this one. This one is – I’ve got to get this guy.”

For more ComedyNerd, be sure to check out:

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Reminder: John Mulaney’s Show Was A Lousy 'Seinfeld' Clone

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