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Attention gentlemen: If you don’t have a crush on Jenna Fischer already, what on earth are you waiting for? I’ve decided I’d rather her be my best friend than have a crush on her, but still: This woman is the real deal, and we are not paying enough attention. Though many of us have come to know and love her on TV’s The Office, she’s stepping out this weekend as sultry-voiced sexpot Darlene in Walk Hard. Decked out in rhinestone jumpsuits and skintight dresses, she’ll never be confused with Pam Beasly again.
Jenna Fischer walked into the room wearing a Dewey Cox T-shirt that she had Bedazzled, which made it even more amazing and made me instantly want it for my own. A gracious and intelligent interviewee, she dished on turning herself into a bombshell, her massively popular blog, and yes, lots about The Office. There may be tension among the ladies of Dunder Mufflin, but off-camera, it’s all about female bonding.
So was it fun working opposite John and being in that atmosphere and being silly all the time?
Well John’s a classically trained actor, so doing comedy with him was really cool. It was really different from any of the other people I’ve ever worked with. He approached the role really seriously, but he also has a great sense of humor. He is probably my favorite co-star.
Did this movie fit right in with The Office schedule?
Not really. I had to force it. This started two days after The Office ended, so I had to do all my prep for this movie on the weekends and in the evenings while I was working on The Office. I was really sort of overworked when I started this movie. But it was one of those things. It was a brilliant script, and really funny, and then people that I was going to get to work with… When you need to make your plate bigger, you make your plate bigger even if it’s full.
This part is such a departure from Pam, because you’re basically playing the sexpot. Was it surprising to you to be offered a part like that?
Yeah, when the sent me the script I assumed that they wanted me to read for Edith. But they already had Kirsten Wiig, so when I went into the audition they asked me to read Darlene. I just didn’t see myself that way. I had to get over a lot of my own personal shyness in order to do that. But it was good. Sometimes acting is really cool because it forces you to exercise certain muscles in your personality that you wouldn’t normally be called upon in life. This was like my chance to be in the spotlight, and revel in the spotlight, and be very flashy with my costumes and my hair and makeup. I had to find my part of me that enjoyed that.
Did you find it liberating, or was it difficult for you to do?
The role was definitely liberating. If you go to the beach, I’m the last one to take my cover-up off, and I’m the first one to grab a towel as I’m getting out of the water and the towel is liked getting soaked on the bottom as I’m trying to get it on before I’m really out of the water. So I’m very shy in that way. So for me to be having the cleavage out and the tight costumes and all that sort of stuff… the attention to my physical self that was necessary to play a role like this. Pam is an inside-out kind of character. She’s a real thinker, and she’s a feeler. Darlene starts from the outside, and when you get inside there’s not a lot there. She’s very vacant. That was adjustment for me to make. And it was sort of liberating. My only concern was, “How good is my skin today?” That was a different way of approaching life, for sure.
This and The Office both require you to be acting deadpan in the face of absurdity. Did you work on one help you with your work on the other?
I’m a big fan of satirical comedy, and this is a little bit different than the The Office, because I don’t think the humor is as ironic on The Office. I don’t think we call out our subtext as much as we do in this movie. So it was a little bit of a different type of comedic delivery. I think the thing that prepared me the most was the type of atmosphere on set. They both have a freestyle type of attitude, but everything’s scripted. That kind of creative energy—that helped. Both the show and the movie were structured in a similar way in that sense.
There’s still a sense in movies and TV that women who are funny are an aberration. Is that something that you think about as an obstacle?
I do think about it. I think there was a time when we had people like Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn—these were women who were starring in movies. They were female-driven films with female protagonists, and they were funny, and they were the leading lady. I think about a movie like The Jerk, and I think they would never cast someone like Bernadette Peters in that role today. It would be some leggy European model, or some beautiful singer-turned-actress. It wouldn’t be a real comedic actress. I think we’re having a comeback now, and I’m happy for that. I think people like Tina Fey are leading the way with her television show, and people like Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig is a great example. I hope we’re forming another little troupe. I think it would be great if we could eventually trick people into coming to see our movies with just us, and not having to have a male star at the head of it.
Do you think that women in comedies now are funny because of their own intelligent, or are they the brunt of the joke?
That’s such a general question. I think the thing that women face—we still have to be hot. There’s till a scene when we’re in our bathing suit. And men, when they take their clothes off, it can be funny. But when the female funny girl takes her clothes off, she still has to have these abs and these rockin’ legs and also be funny. It’s that thing that Ginger Rogers said—“I’m doing it all, and I dance backwards.” I’d like to see maybe that change a little bit.
How has your experience on The Office helped you in your film work?
It keeps me fit, in terms of my acting. The more you do it, the more easy it is to, the more accessible things are. Just by getting to work every day, I have that muscle nice and toned. Also, The Office demands some dramatic stuff as well as comedic stuff. I get to flex both those muscles, which is nice.
With the writers’ strike, do you feel like you’re losing some of that muscle?
Honestly, I do a little bit. I miss it. I did a comedic sketch show with some friends the other weekend, just because I didn’t want to lose that training.
When the show starts production again, do you know what’s coming ahead?
I don’t. We don’t have any scripts. We only have the one we weren’t able to shoot. We were shut down mid-production. The script when we were shut down was a script called “The Dinner Party.” Michael Scott throws a dinner party with Jan at his condo. That’s an idea we’ve been kicking around for about two years, the idea of Michael inviting all the couples to his house. They all have to be together at a dinner party. It was really funny. It planted a lot of seeds that were going to pay off throughout the season, particularly with Dwight and Angela, and Michael and Jan.
How long was it known that you and Jim would end up together?
We knew that the season was going to end with her confessing her feelings to him, and the season would start with them dating. I think we knew that at the end of last season, but not really before. I think to keep them apart any more would have been really unnatural. I don’t think we would have bought it. What other obstacle were we going to come up with that wouldn’t have felt like a soap opera?
Were you aware of The Office convention. Did you want to attend?
I thought that was so cool. Unfortunately I couldn’t travel yet because of my back injury. I just wasn’t allowed to fly. This is my first trip back to New York. I would have loved to have gone, and I heard great stories from my other cast mates who went. They told me about huge cutouts of themselves in the mall.
Talking about women needing to be sexy to be funny—Pam is really pretty, and a lot of people are attracted to her, but she’s not the usual bombshell girl. And she’s also funny. Do you feel like you’re breaking the mold of women needing to be hot and funny?
I think that’s what’s exciting about getting to play a character like Pam. When they were casting the role, the casting director said “Please don’t wear makeup to this audition. That’s not what this part is about.” I would go in for other roles, and she would say, “OK, look really hot.” And I would say, “It’s a third grade teacher. It seems really inappropriate.” She was like, “They can always make you look less sexy, but you’ve got to show them that you’re sexy.” What was so great and liberating about playing someone like Pam is it really was about character first, and appearance was kind of arbitrary. I think it’s kind of important that she be really relatable, and people be able to connect to her. If she’s too flashy I’m not sure you can get in an experience it with her. She’s supposed to be every person, she’s not supposed to be this idol.
Do you have a say in what happens on The Office, or is there anything you’d like to see happen?
It’s pretty collaborative, because the writers are all on the set. Angela and I came up with the women in the workplace storyline that we pitched a couple of seasons ago, where Jan holds the women in the workplace seminar. We’re always pitching ideas for the women on the show. We loved the episode where Michael takes all the women to the mall. When Phyllis was getting married, we were trying to pitch a bachelorette party episode, and they ended up coming up with the Ben Franklin as a stripper episode. All the girls are trying to find a reason to hang out, because whenever we get the boys out of the office, we have so much fun. That testosterone—it’s all fantasy football and burping, it’s very male. We like to talk about shopping and Target and stuff.
One of the great things about The Office is your Internet presence. And you’ve used your blog to be a role model—where is the line on what you’ll talk about in your blog?
When I think about who I’m writing to when I’m writing the blog, I think I’m writing to my younger self when I was still stuck in St. Louis, Missouri and I hadn’t been able to make it to L.A. yet, and I wanted to know everything I could find out about the entertainment industry--what it’s like to be an actor, what was the experience like from behind the scenes. For anybody who’s aspiring to be an actor, it’s a very hard business to get any information about. When you’re growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, there’s no model for how to have that kind of life. When I’m writing those blogs, I’m trying to give an inside look at what it’s like to be in the business. What it’s like to get a gift bag, what’s in them, what happens at a photo shoot. In the way that I would write one of my girlfriends an e-mail back home—like, “Oh my God, Brad Pitt is just as hot in real life.” All that sort of stuff. It’s not a place that I try to gossip, but it’s also not a place where I’m going to share anything too personal. For me, personally, that seems a little bit in poor taste. I’m not one to air my dirty laundry for the whole world. I just try to be useful.
What’s your take on the writers’ strike and what they should be getting?
I have a feeling that the actors, when our contracts are due in June, we’re going to be asking for many of the same things that the writers are asking for. The thing is, I think it’s gotten a little bit misrepresented in the press, like this is just a strike between the rich and the richer. But really, the majority of actors and the majority of writers are non-working people who are struggling in their business, and they need to depend on these residuals for their way of life. I think I said in one of my blogs, a writer might come to Hollywood and get paid $100,000 for their movie script, but then they won’t get another movie script produced for five years. Then that $100,000 has turned in $20,000 a year, and that’s not even counting all the taxes and agent fees and everything they had to pay out. [The residuals] is money they’re using to pay their electric bill. They’re not that much different from somebody who’s in a cramped New York apartment making paintings and trying to sell them to galleries. That is the majority of artists in Hollywood. There’s a few of us fortunate to end up on a television show that’s long-running, but for the most part it’s a little job here and a little job there. And that is what the strike is about. That’s the majority of the WGA, and that’s the majority of SAG. I hope they get everything they’re asking for.