A Talk in Dean Pelton’s Office

Actor and Screenwriter Jim Rash is at Home on NBC’s “Community”


Rash as Dean Pelton on NBC’s “Community,” which airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television/Lewis Jacob)

Published: April 13, 2011

Since it premiered two years ago, NBC’s “Community” has been a highlight of the network’s Thursday night comedy lineup. Jim Rash, who plays the hilarious Dean Pelton, has been a star in his supporting role since the show began.

“Community” is centered on an unlikely bunch of study group friends at Greendale Community College and follows their lives in and out of class. The dean fruitlessly attempts to connect with the study group, led by Joel McHale as Jeff Winger, and tries to create a safe and politically correct campus (cue Dean Pelton’s introduction of the PC Greendale mascot, the Human Being). The Observer recently spoke with Rash about his oddball character, as well as some upcoming writing projects outside “Community.”

The Observer: Your character, Dean Pelton, is a very strange guy. What’s it like playing such a weird character?

Jim Rash: Well, it’s a lot of fun and I enjoy it thoroughly. I enjoy the creepiness; I enjoy the weirdness. It’s been a blast, especially as they have embraced dressing the dean up in various costumes. I enjoy that even more, just to give more questions and weirdness to his extracurricular activities. So I can’t complain.

Observer: Do you find it hard to get into the character?

JR: I think now that we’re two seasons in, you get to a place where you know these people as they evolve from the pilot, as the dean certainly has. Writers on most shows start to hone the voice of the characters based on the actors and their mannerisms. In that sense you definitely become more comfortable because they’re writing to your strengths.

Observer: The dean is so strange it makes me want to know what he’s like outside of the college. I feel like he lives with dozens of cats or something crazy like that. How would you describe where he lives?

JR: First of all, I hope we find out someday. I think it might be a little shady, honestly. It might be a little voyeuristic. I have some image that this guy has got himself a nice little sex den going or something. I think he has a lot of interesting extracurricular activities that would feed into whatever his apartment looks like. So I would imagine it’s nothing spectacular as far as size, but I think that it might even be a little dirty. I don’t mean dirty as in cleanliness; I mean dirty as in sex. And there might be some cats in there. I’m sure there are some cats mixed in.

Observer: What has been your favorite moment on the set of “Community?”

JR: Pretty much everything that happened during this season’s Halloween zombie episode was some of my favorite time spent on the set, not just for what I was doing dressed as Lady Gaga, but just the action and shooting in general. It’s such a blast. You feel like your shooting this action/horror movie, but you realize that you’re shooting “Community.” I think that’s the thing I enjoy the most— those moments when there’s sort of a genre-bending episode where we’re taken out of what feels like the show “Community,” but yet it stays true to the character.

Observer: You also wrote the screenplay for the movie “The Descendants,” which is coming out this year. Could you explain how that project came about?

JR: I have a writing partner [Nat Faxon] and we, along with Alexander Payne, who subsequently directed the film, adapted a novel called “The Descendants.” It stars George Clooney and comes out later this year…I had been writing for quite some time; it’s just always been something that I’ve found interesting. I met [Faxon] through the Groundlings Theater, which I’ve been a member of for 11 years. We just started writing in the summer when we weren’t acting, and we ended up writing a movie that got us some attention, just a screenplay that hasn’t been produced yet, but that got us in the door.

Observer: Which do you find to be more your cup of tea: being in front of the camera or writing?

JR: It’s tough because I enjoy them both for what they do. It’s almost slightly different parts of your mind you’re using. I, of course, love being in front of the camera and I love to feel that limelight, but I also enjoy the solitude of writing. I would love one day for writing and acting to converge and do one piece whether it be a movie or TV show. But I enjoy both creative processes that they offer.

Observer: Do you have any plans to continue writing for other projects in the future?

JR: Yeah, we’ve written this screenplay and it’s a small movie, so we are trying to get it made down the road, like everyone else who has written a small independent movie. That would be a dream come true. Right now we are writing a pilot for HBO. The writing process will probably take a few summers, but I like to stay busy so I will definitely continue to write.