Emmy-nominated actress shares how The Office will be impacted by Steve Carell’s departure, as well as by her real-life pregnancy.
Actress Jenna Fischer
Tavis: Jenna Fischer is an Emmy-nominated actress who stars on “The Office,” which once again last week was nominated for an Emmy for best television comedy. Starting this weekend, you can also catch her in the new film, “A Little Help.” The film stars Chris O’Donnell. Here now, a scene from “A Little Help.”
Tavis: This is set in post-9/11 Long Island.
Jenna Fischer: Yes.
Tavis: This year, 2011, of course, as we all know and will be reminded in a matter of weeks, is the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I’ll let you tell the top line of what the movie is about, though.
Fischer: The movie is about a woman who is in a marriage that she’s not really happy to be in this marriage, she’s struggling, but then she’s widowed unexpectedly when her husband has a heart attack. So she’s both relieved to be out of a bad marriage, but feeling sort of guilty about how it occurred, and she now has to raise her son by herself.
And her son goes on to tell a very big lie. He goes to a new school and he tells everyone at school that his father died in 9/11 rather than just died of a heart attack on their lawn, and then my character perpetuates this lie, and then it blows up in our faces.
Tavis: I suspect at this point in your career you get a variety of stuff that comes across your desk. I’m always curious as to what draws people to certain characters. Why this project for you?
Fischer: Well, this is very different from Pam, which is how a lot of people know me, but the thing that really drew me to it was how different this character was from me personally.
This character is kind of a train wreck. She’s very bad at predicting the consequences of her actions, so she’ll tell a lie in the moment because it’s convenient and makes her life easier at that moment, but she doesn’t think about how it’s going to affect her down the line.
I’m the complete opposite of that. I’m very deliberate and I love Excel spreadsheets and I love five-year plans and all that. (Laughter) So it felt really fun to play someone so incredibly different from myself.
Tavis: I assume – it makes sense to me – I assume that’s what the challenge is in trying to pull off a character that’s nothing like who you really are.
Fischer: Yeah, I had to really let go of all of those desires and need to control my life and situation and where I’m going, because this character’s instincts are completely different from my instincts.
Tavis: So did the character convince you to in any way alter the way you really are as Jenna? (Laughter)
Fischer: No, I think it reinforced my commitment to planning and all of that, yeah.
Tavis: So you’re not giving up any of your anal ways.
Fischer: No, no, not – it did not, no. But it was fun to play this character and I think I am an actress and I’m artistic and I love spontaneity and all of that, but I just decided really early on that if I didn’t also try to ground myself I would probably end up like this character of Laura, or like so many young people in Hollywood, sort of go off the rails. So I’m pretty attached to my routines and my grounded ways.
Tavis: I’m curious now, to your point about your grounded ways. You’ve always been that way, you were raised that way, or you made a conscious choice at some point at your life that I have to be this way if I’m going to have any sustainability in this business?
Fischer: I think it was both. I was definitely raised this way. My folks are very grounded, normal people, and I wasn’t raised in the entertainment industry. I just grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, in a very normal family. I wasn’t a child actor or anything like that.
But yeah, I realized very quickly when I got to town that this was more about just acting. That you also had to develop sort of a keen business sense if you wanted to have any longevity in the business, and so yeah, I actually – there’s a part of me that wishes I had gone to school and gotten a business degree, because I almost wonder if that wouldn’t be more helpful than my theater degree, in some ways.
Tavis: You were raised in St. Louis but born in Indiana.
Fischer: Born in Indiana, Ft. Wayne.
Tavis: Ft. Wayne. I grew up in Kokomo, Indiana.
Fischer: Oh, my gosh, okay.
Tavis: So we’re both – we’ve got a Hoosier connection here.
Fischer: Similar – yeah, exactly. (Laughs)
Tavis: I raise that because I’m always fascinated by people from the Midwest, because it is so different than Hollywood, who discover at some point that they want to be in Hollywood. So how did that happen for you, growing up in a place that’s so unlike Hollywood?
Fischer: Well, I knew I wanted to be an actor, and I didn’t necessarily need or want to be famous or a celebrity actor. But I wanted to be somewhere where there would be no ceiling on what I could accomplish, and I felt like if I stayed in St. Louis I might have a really great regional theater career or something, but that I wasn’t going to be able to get much further than that.
And it felt like New York and L.A. were the two places where you could end up being a TV star or you could end up doing regional theater, which would have been fine as well.
But I just liked that there were always – I could always keep going if it was going in that direction.
Tavis: Or neither.
Fischer: Or – yeah, I guess so.
Tavis: Waiting tables.
Fischer: Yeah, could have done that forever, too.
Tavis: Nothing wrong with waiting tables, before you send me mail. It’s a great job. (Laughter) So how did “The Office” thing actually happen for you, then?
Fischer: Well, I’d been out in Los Angeles for about eight years, knocking around. I actually, instead of waiting tables, worked in offices as a temporary assistant.
Tavis: Imagine that.
Fischer: I know. (Laughter) I say it was like this accidental research that I did for eight years. I had no idea I was researching the role of my career. But yeah, and there was this one casting director named Allison Jones, and for five years she would call me in every year for a different TV show and she just really was a big supporter of mine.
Finally, she called me in for “The Office” and I was really lucky, because a lot of the shows that I went out for I would work my way up from, like, an audition with the casting director to the director to the producers to the studio, I’d go through seven auditions, and then they’d give the role to a famous actress.
So finally, with “The Office,” they said, “We don’t want anyone we recognize, so give us unknown actors,” and I think that was the break that I needed. Because I went in and I got the role.
Tavis: From your perspective, since you’re part of the cast, what do you think it is about this show that has made it work? We’ll talk in a moment about the changes forthcoming, but what do you think about – what is it about this show that’s made it critically acclaimed, made it work with audiences? Your take on that?
Fischer: I think it’s the relatability of the situation and of the characters. I think we all spend, sometimes, more time at our jobs than we do at home, and there are people that we wouldn’t necessarily choose to spend so much time with. So those irritations and those, just those situations I think are really relatable.
Tavis: So, to the point about all the talk about “The Office,” so how do you think this is all going to work out, given that Mr. Carell has left the building?
Fischer: I know, I’m so – we go back to work in a week, and I’m sad because Steve and I used to get our hair and makeup done next to each other in the mornings and eat our breakfast together, and he was like my morning buddy, so I’m going to really miss him on a personal level.
Then I think creatively everyone’s – there’s a buzz going on around the set. We’re having our readings and our wardrobe fittings and everyone’s very excited. So the mood is positive and the scripts are coming in really great, and it’ll be interesting. It’ll be interesting to see how we adapt, but I’m kind of excited.
Honestly, I feel like there’s no fear of us being repetitive because we are going to restructure, but I have a baby on the way, so my husband and I have been doing a lot of nesting around the house, where you just will go into a room and we’ll change the furniture around and then maybe buy a new lamp or a new rug, and just really want to make everything cozy.
I sort of hope that the show is going to be like nesting, that it – I compare it to like you have a living room and you move the furniture around, but it’s the same furniture, and then you add two new elements and suddenly the room is like, “Oh, I love it, because it’s familiar but different.” So I hope that’s what the show is going to be like – familiar but different.
Tavis: Just because I’m challenging you because I’m curious to get your take on this – Mr. Carell is a big enough star that there is a chance that moving that one piece of furniture – sorry to call you furniture, Steve – (laughter) but moving that one piece of furniture might make things too different.
Fischer: I know, that’s the fear, right? That’s what we can’t know.
Tavis: That’s the fun part though, also.
Fischer: I think that’s the challenge, that’s the design challenge of the show now, is how do we make people walk into this and not miss that awesome couch that used to be there, I guess. (Laughter)
Tavis: Now Steve is a couch.
Fischer: Remember that awesome, comfy couch that you all loved to sit on? We have a new one. How do you like it? (Laughs)
Tavis: You have a child on the show.
Fischer: I do, a little girl on the show.
Tavis: Yeah. This is your first child?
Fischer: This is my first child.
Tavis: Your first, yeah.
Tavis: So since you’ve been nesting, I’m just curious to get inside your head and get some words about how this process has been for you the first time around.
Fischer: It’s been very good for me. I’ve been really lucky. I didn’t have any morning sickness and I’ve been off work for most of my pregnancy, so I’ve been able to do things like work out with a trainer and do prenatal yoga and all these things that have kept my body very agile and pain-free.
So now I’m in my third trimester and I’m headed back to work, so I’m very curious to see how it’s going to change from this just luxurious, goddess mother (laughter) sort of life I’ve been living, full of leisure and exercise and nesting, into third trimester, waddling actress.
Tavis: What do the writers have to say about this?
Fischer: They are going to write it into the show, so when we come back, my character will be pregnant with her second child, and we’ll go from there. Which I’m happy for, because at least I don’t have to act like I’m not pregnant, which would be hard, because like I said, at this point, it’s – I just sort of – I’ve taken on that pregnancy walk, the pregnancy waddle.
Tavis: I’m just laughing on the inside, because it’d be the opposite of playing Laura, a character who is nothing like you, and this is very much you.
Fischer: Yes, yes. (Laughter)
Tavis: So trying to act like you’re not pregnant would be a challenge.
Tavis: The movie, speaking of Laura, is called “A Little Help,” and of course you know Jenna Fischer from “The Office.” Jenna, good to have you on.
Fischer: Thank you so much.
Tavis: All the best on the new season.
Fischer: I appreciate it, thank you.
Tavis: As we say good night tonight, let me add my wishes to the many wishes today as he celebrates his natal day, one of the great icons of this world, 93 years young today, Nelson Mandela. Happy birthday, Mr. President Mandela.
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