Jenna Fischer Gets Outrageous
by Paul Fischer
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Best known as Pam in The Office, fans of the beautiful actress will get to see her in a somewhat different light in the musical biopic parody, Walk Hard, and she relishes the challenge as she explained to Paul Fischer.
Paul Fischer: So, given the fact that you do spend so much of the year behind a desk, is it really freeing for you to be as sexy and as funny and as outrageous as you can be in a piece like this?
Jenna Fischer: I would say that it was both terrifying and liberating at the same time. The sort of cool thing about playing Pam is that I can have a lot of artistic integrity that is actually just laziness. So, like, I can say things like, “Oh, I don’t—you know, I don’t watch what I eat, because Pam wouldn’t watch what she eats. And I don’t exercise too much, because it’s not what Pam would do. And I don’t get a spray tan or worry too much about my looks because—you know, I just want to always be authentic for Pam.” But really that’s just about me being, really, really lazy. So I don’t have those excuses when I play a character like Darlene. I had to work out five days a week, and I had to worry about, like, manicures and pedicures, and hair and makeup and all that. And so, yeah. That part was, like, terrifying, because it’s just not a thing that I spend a lot of time worrying about normally.
But this is a woman who does. And so I had to get into that. And then I would say, like, it got kind of fun. Like, it got kind of cool to just flaunt it and not care, and be in the spotlight, and—I definitely—it was definitely liberating. I mean, by the end of the movie those guys couldn’t stop me. Like, I was on a roll. I was like, “When’s the next—push the boobs up higher. I can’t see them enough, you guys.”
PF: Does being outrageous come naturally to you, or is it very intimidating for you? Particularly some of those things you do when you’re—all that stuff when you’re doing things with ice cream and lollipops.
JF: Well, I think I tend to have a pretty raunchy sense of humor, pretty dark sense of humor, but I’m not a very outrageous person. I kind of needed the character in order to express that side of me, so I’m probably a lot more shy in real life, a little bit more reserved, and not necessarily, like, wanting to be the center of attention all the time. So that’s what was fun, and I think that just comes from some sort of—you know, don’t stand out, Missouri upbringing, or something. You know, just like modesty instilled in me from a young age, or something. But I needed the character, in order to give myself permission. But once I gave myself permission, it was like I went for it, and I, like, embraced it. And I was like—I had a good time. It was fun.
PF: How weird is it to be in December and not be going to The Office set?
JF: It’s really weird, and it’s sad. And we would always get together as a group and watch, like, the Christmas episode every year and have a little Christmas party. And we don’t have a Christmas episode this year. So I’ve been wondering if we’re still gonna have our Christmas party. I hope we still do. But it’s weird.
PF: What are you doing in your downtime?
JF: I’m, like, doing stuff that I can’t do normally, because I’m working. Like, I made a dentist appointment.
PF: But isn’t it tough, though? Because the strike could end, and you could go back to work immediately, so you really can’t sign on to other projects.
JF: That’s right. I’m definitely in a holding pattern. I can’t take other jobs, because I’m under contract with the show until April, whether we’re making it or not. And—you know, if the strike ends, I think they still need a little catch-up time to get back in production, you know, get our trailers back, and try to get our crew back, as much of them as we can. And—you know, we only have one shootable script right now. It’s the script that we were shooting when we were shut down and that required a lot of location work. So, there’s practical things. If the strike ends Monday it’s not like we can go back to work on Tuesday. I think they might need a little bit of time to get us back up and running.
PF: That would be very frustrating for you. How do you deal with that lack of conclusiveness in your life?
JF: I’m kind of used to it. I mean, an actor’s life—it’s funny. I think—you know, there’s a lotta things that, like, seem like pampering, but they’re really just ways to control you. Like, they’ll say, “You know, we would love to send a car to pick you up.” And what that means is, “We’re not gonna leave it up to you to get here on time.” And like, “Can we bring you a water?” means, “Don’t leave. We want to know where you are at all times.” So it’s like, there’s a lot of stuff about being an actor where you have to just sort of submit, and just sort of give up a lot of control. And so it doesn’t really feel all that weird to be just kind of waiting. A lot of what you do as an actor is wait, anyway.
PF: Do you have any plans to direct again, after Lollilove?
JF: No. No. No. I’ll never write or direct anything again.
JF: I promise!
JF: Because I hated it. I hated it. It was awful.
PF: Really? I’ve never heard anyone admit that before.
JF: Maybe other people like it. I didn’t like it. I thought it was awful. I loved editing. I liked, as a director, sitting in the editing room. I liked that very much. But—
PF: What did you hate about it the most?
JF: I think, like, it is not a talent of mine to create something from nothing. Like, to have a blank page, and have to just imagine it all yourself. It’s just—I’m not wired that way. And then also, I don’t see things visually the way a director does. It was very frustrating for me to try to—like, I really come at things from a kind of emotional level. And as an actor, that really works. And—for me, it’s like, an inside out. And I think as a director you have to be able to have a vision. You have to be able to see, like, where bodies go on camera. My—I can’t do it. I found it very frustrating, and difficult. I didn’t like it.
PF: So if they asked you to direct an episode of The Office?
JF: I would say no. Quickly. [laughter] I won’t ever direct an episode of The Office. I won’t ever write an episode of The Office. I can’t stress enough how I will never write or direct again. [laughter]
PF: Before the strike happened, had you guys already mapped out where the season was gonna go? Like, did you have an idea of—you know, for the finale this year, where you were trying to take the show?
JF: Not that I know of. The episode that we were going to shoot was one of the funniest episodes I’ve ever read. It’s an idea that the writers had been pitching for about two years, which is that Michael Scott has a dinner party. And everything that happens. And it’s brilliant. And it was, like, two years in the making. And it planted a lot of seeds for the rest of the season, in terms of story arc. And so hopefully, like, we’ll get back at it, and all those things will pay off, and we’ll get to shoot that episode.
PF: People turn up to the dinner party?
JF: Oh, yeah. I probably shouldn’t have even said “dinner party.” They’re probably gonna be mad at me for even revealing that. But it’s so good. I mean, it was so good.
PF: Entertainment Weekly said that you had one of the best—like, your actors and directors who keep a blog, that yours is one of the best. And I know that you tend to keep it while you’re on The Office, because all those computers work. Now that the show is on hold, are you not gonna be blogging as much any more?
JF: Well, you know, I’m gonna try to blog. I like to do, like, my version of Oprah’s Favorite Things every Christmas. Like, gift ideas. I love doing that. And I’m gonna try to do one of those. And I’ll probably blog about Walk Hard a little bit. But it is harder. It’s like, it’s sort of like—it’s that thing where it’s like, when you spend all day at work at your computer, you don’t want to go home and be on your computer. And so even though I’m not going to work all day and being on my computer, there’s still, like, me at my home computer doesn’t happen that much. I mean, I write e-mails on my blackberry throughout the day. And then when I get home, I just, like, watch television. I don’t spend a lot of computer time. So you might see—it might—but I don’t know. Then maybe I’ll get really bored, and like, just blog.
PF: What are your holiday plans?
JF: Oh, I’m gonna go home and see my family over Christmas.
PF: After you had your accident, every time we interviewed Steve Carell, it was, “And how’s Jenna doing?” It was always at the junket.
JF: Poor Steve. He never even mentioned that to me. Probably had that question so many times. [laughter] What a trouper.
PF: I know, it was really very, very funny. Obviously you’re fine.
JF: I’m fine. I just saw my doctor a few weeks ago, and I had an X-ray, and all my fractures are completely healed, and I have been able to start physical therapy to deal with just some of the muscle and tissue damage. But they—I’ll have a full recovery, hopefully.
PF: Have you seen Walk Hard yet?
JF: Oh, yeah.
PF: So when you looked at yourself aged at 70-odd years old, did you think to yourself, “Cripes, I hope I either look like that, or not?”
JF: Oh my God. I hope I look like that. They made me look so good, I thought. But you know, the pieces that I wore were actually Kate Beckinsdale’s pieces from a movie that she did where she had to age. So—I’m sure that’s why—I mean, I don’t think I’m going to age like Kate Beckinsdale. So—thank God I could use Kate Beckinsale’s face. So grateful!
PF: It’s interesting, you were talking about the laziness of Pam. But at the same time, the show is shot, and certainly your characters, almost like a silent movie sometimes, where so much of the communication has to be done with your face. Because you don’t have that much dialogue. But they constantly show you communicating your distress, or your—your feelings towards the other characters. That must be—in a lot of ways, that must be quite difficult. Because it is so much—almost like miming, in a way.
JF: Well, I think so much of the show is about what we say when we’re not speaking. But also, like, it is a subtext show. You know? And it’s—I think it’s one of the challenges to, like, have a conversation with the character of Jim that’s very—you know, acceptable and appropriate, while all the while communicating to the audience, this is a person I have a huge crush on. So it’s—a lot of what we do on the show is, like—or, one of the things I think we comment on is the way that people try not to share what they’re really thinking or feeling. And how really transparent we all are anyway. And so that was sort of—I don’t know if that really—if I spoke to what you’re saying.
PF: But that’s also work, though. You’re talking about the laziness of that.
JF: It is, it is.
PF: But at the same time, that communication for an actor would be more difficult than just reading dialogue from a page.
JF: No, and I think that acting-wise, there’s certainly nothing lazy about, like, working on The Office. I think I just meant more like—you know, when I’m sitting behind reception, they let me wear sweatpants and Ugg boots on the bottom half of my body. You know. Darlene doesn’t get to do that. But—but, yeah. I mean, there—there’s a type of—there’s a type of endurance on The Office that’s necessary, because you are on camera, or you have the potential to be on camera, all day long. And you have to be acting all the time. Even in the background, and especially in reaction to things. Because it’s a show about reactions, for sure.
PF: Do you see an end date at all for the show? Is there a point where you think that Steve will—I mean, I can’t imagine Steve will want to do this for much more than another couple of years. Although he denies that.
JF: Well, I mean, he has his contract. And—you know, of course my biggest fear is that Steve’s contract will be up, and—and then, like, all the rest of us will do one more year. Like, it’ll be, like, that lame year that Steve’s not on the show or we get a new boss or something. [laughter] Where we’re all, like, hanging—trying to hang on desperately to the show. But I don’t know. I mean, like, it’s really true that Steve loves doing the show. And he’s a producer on the show, and he writes on the show. So there’s a thing that the show gives him life. A creative thing, where he has a lot of creative input. And he—you know, as an actor, he’s getting more out of the show than just performing. And so I think it gives him something that maybe movies don’t. So, it—it’s important to him. I think he’ll be around for—I mean, I know he’ll be around for a while. But. I don’t know how long the show’ll be on. Hopefully just as long as we can continue to do it with integrity, where we’re not, like, forcing something. Or where we’re not repeating ourselves.
PF: What about plans for your next so-called hiatus?
JF: Well, it’s—you know, the strike has put that into a lot of stuff up in the air. The studios aren’t green-lighting films, you know, like they might normally be. And I’m under contract ‘til April, so I can’t really make any decisions any time too soon. But I’m actually developing a project with a writer, an indie comedy for myself.
PF: Are you gonna write and direct any episodes of it?
JF: [laughter] I’m not gonna write or direct it. I like developing it. I like talking about the story. It would be a film. A film, a film. For myself, an indie film. Which I hope John C. Reilly will star in with me. Because I only ever want to work with that man for the rest of my career. If possible. Worked with him on Quebec, and the worked with him on this movie. And—would love to work with him on my next movie. We could be like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. We’ll just make a bunch of films together.
PF: Could you actually talk a little bit about Quebec and your part in it, and what it was like?
JF: Yeah. Quebec is written and directed by Steve Conrad. He wrote The Weather Man and Pursuit of Happyness, and this is his directing debut. It was shot in Chicago, and it’s about two assistant managers at a grocery store who are vying for the same job as manager. And just, their sort of like—very, like, petty yet understated competition to get the job. And I play Seann William Scott’s wife. And unfortunately, he has lied to me and told me that he already got the job. And so we are like—I’m moving forward in our life like we’re gonna have all this income. So he has this real, like, incentive to win the job, which he thought he was gonna get until this guy from Quebec moved to Chicago and is now his competition. And—so it’s like—it’s very funny, but very, like, quirky indie comedy.
PF: And John C. Reilly plays the French Canadian?
JF: John C. Reilly plays the Canadian, yeah. And he’s married to Lili Taylor. Who’s Scottish. Is that enough countries? That movie was a lot of fun.
PF: Did you film that last summer?
JF: I filmed that two summers ago. And then we did some reshoots on it. We actually did reshoots on it on the weekends, between Walk Hard. So I worked on Walk Hard, and I was John C. Reilly’s woman. And then I worked on Quebec on the weekends, and I was Seann William Scott’s woman. But John C. Reilly was there, because he was also in the movie. And I remember showing up on set and being like, “I don’t know which man I belong to.” It was very uncomfortable, because I had just spent five days flirting with John C. Reilly, and breathing on one another, and throwing things at one another. And then all of a sudden I had to be somebody else’s wife. And it was—it was very confusing.
PF: It’s a hard life you have, obviously, choosing between these two men.
JF: Well, I was a pretty lucky lady. That was kind of a fun time. You know. Got to be, like, the fake wife of these two awesome dudes.
PF: Is this the most creative you are in your life at the moment? Is this the best time in your—
JF: I would say yes, I would. I think—I went through a period of time when I wasn’t working as an actor, when I was forced to, like, self-generate creativity. And I started cartooning, and—and that was a really creative time in my life. And journaling. And that’s when I made my movie, Lollilove. And there’s something really exciting about having to be a self-starter, and create work for yourself, and also see it through. It’s very different from being, like, hired to do a project. So, that—that time in my life was really important, because I think it made it possible for me to do what I’m doing now. But right now I’m, like, working more than ever, and getting to work on projects that I like, and haven’t had a bad experience yet, knock on wood. And I would say, yeah. I mean, this is definitely, like, the most fertile, creative time for me. Yeah. Certainly.
PF: Will Pam and Jim make it through the rest of the show, or do you think there’ll be bumps along the way?
JF: I really don’t know. I’ve sort of told the producers all along that I am not attached to Jim and Pam being the love of one another’s lives forever. I think there’s also something very sweet in—and I think we should only keep them together for as long as it seems real, and seems like—honest. And that there could also be something very beautiful about the two of them preparing one another to find the love of their lives. I mean, sometimes some of the relationships we go through are more about growing as a person and learning who we are, and sort of then letting go, and letting that person—you know, go on to find the love of their life. And so I’m—I’m okay with that being the Jim-Pam story, too. And it could be sort of interesting, and something we haven’t done before. Every time I pitch that idea, they tell me that I’m crazy and nobody wants to see that. So [laughter]—I—I have a feeling Jim and Pam are gonna make it in the end.
PF: Because people are romantics at heart, aren’t they?
PF: So there’s no hope for Pam and Toby?
JF: Oh, gosh, I wish. Because my favorite scenes to shoot are Pam-Toby scenes. Nobody makes me laugh like Paul Lieberstein. Nobody. Actually, every season there’s a new person that I can’t stand to do a scene with because I can’t get through it. And season two it was Rainn. I could not do a scene with Dwight. He breathes—when he comes up to you, he’s like—[breathing]. He, like, wheezes on you. And he has this coffee breath, which I think is intentional, to be off-putting as his character. I’m not sure. And so, like, I just—any time he even just walked up to me, before he said anything, like, I would start laughing. So I couldn’t get through a scene with Rainn. And then season three, I could not get through a Pam-Toby scene. Just that sort of like—just—the fact that she’s so unaware of his affection for her, and just having to ignore it every time, and look in his, like, sad puppy eyes—those were my favorite. And so, like, so far this season—I don’t know. I haven’t had a person that I just—oh, Ed Helms. Can’t—can’t do Ed Helms this year. Like, that guy just makes me laugh every time. When he came up to my desk and was like, asking me how to get on Angela. I, like, could not get through that scene. Could not get through it. So he’s making me laugh this year. It changes.
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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