The first time I ever saw Jenna Fischer in a film was The Specials, though I would be lying if I told you that she stood out in my mind. Truth be known, I didn’t know I had seen her in The Specials until I saw that she has it listed on her IMDB page (she plays "College Girl"). The first time I can remember seeing Jenna Fischer is when I watched the first episode of The Office on NBC. I didn’t like the show then, but I did like her. She was cute and funny and didn’t seem to be playing to the camera in any way. I, like most fans of the original BBC version of The Office, knew that the American version was doomed to failure and didn’t bother watching.
Then the show got big.
So I checked it out again and was really happy to see why it got so big. The show no longer tried to be its older British sibling, it had morphed into its own deal, and a good deal at that. Sure, some of the plots are the same, but the characters are very different and that, in the end, is what matters.
I got the chance to sit at a roundtable interview with Jenna for the movie Blades of Glory. What you can read below is what was said during the twenty minutes we shared, but what you can’t see, what is missing, is how Jenna and I fell in love that day, but we knew it could never be. Maybe we fell in love when she dropped her phone and I picked it up, explaining that I was just trying to steal it so I could get the number of her husband, James Gunn, and bother him with questions about Slither and The Specials (see how I brought it all around right there?). All the same, here’s the interview, where we discuss Jenna’s naked body, touching her breasts and how dogs can’t help you in a zombie holocaust.
First big movie out of the gate since The Office, why did you decide this was going to be the one for you?
It goes like this; your agent call you up and says "there’s this movie with Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler and Jon Heder, would you like to be in that film? Do you want to read the script?" And I said "Don’t need to read that script, already know I want to be in that movie". When I was offered the part in this movie, The Office wasn’t really The Office yet so I felt lucky to be included in this cast.
The Office hadn’t aired yet?
No, it had aired, but it didn’t have all the ratings and the popularity, it didn’t have the Emmy it didn’t have any of that stuff. This was a big exciting gig for me, it still is, I still feel like the new girl in town.
Are you getting a lot of offers now?
Now I’m getting more offers, yeah. But I work on The Office eight months out of the year, twelve hours a day five days a week and then I spend my weekends doing things like this so there’s not a lot of extra time to mess around. But we get a good four months off in the summer and we all just fight to get good movie gigs.
Are you being offered comedies for the most part?
Yeah, but some dramatic roles or some movies that are more like a dramedy. Not everything is a high concept comedy.
Are there other genres you’d like to play around in?
Not so much. I’m sensitive to the fact that I bring the energy of what I’m doing home with me and I’d much rather have that comedic energy in my life. I think doing dramas would really weigh on me; that would be a big choice for me, doing drama, that would be inviting a kind of darkness. That would be hard.
You’re married to James Gunn?
That’s enough darkness. We often sit at dinner and discuss new interesting ways to kill people.
What are some of the ways of killing you’ve discussed?
He wrote a movie that I think he’s not going to make, but I don’t want to give it away and it has a great death scene in it. There was a scene from Dawn of the Dead that didn’t get shot. It was a brilliant zombie dog scene, but it was too expensive. Basically, the guys send their dog out to get guns form the guy across the street. They had a lot of dogs from the pet store in the mall that they were sending over and all the people are on the roof watching and are going "It’s working! It’s working! The dogs are coming back!" And all of a sudden there’s a rumble, like thunder, and a hoard of zombie dogs descend upon the living dogs and start ripping them apart. Only one dog makes it back with guns.
Have you considered writing a script yourself?
No, I would never write anything. It’s awful, very painful to create something from nothing. I much prefer being an actor and working from a page of material.
You’re not into improv?
Not as much as Will and Jon. I don’t have any formal improv training, my take on it is just being a really really good receiver, like a great catcher. These guys are really great at pitching and I’m a good catcher. That’s where I try to hone my craft; to keep the ball rolling and help them be as funny as possible. I’m not going to out-clever them, you know? I’m not going to out funny Will Ferrell anytime soon.
I saw LolliLove, that was really good.
Thank you! I will never do that again. I loved doing LolliLove, it was really cool and a great experience but that came out of the frustration of being a non-working actor. I just wanted to work so I made that film on the weekends with my friends for five years before The Office, but it ended up coming out on DVD after The Office. I think Troma put it out because of The Office. We made that for our own amusement and my wildest dream was that people would pass it around to their friends so the fact that its on DVD and people know what it is; thats pretty cool.
We get to see a bit of a different side of you in this film-
The naked side of me.
Yeah. Are you thinking Maxim spread anytime soon?
I don’t think you’ll see me in Maxim or Stuff or anything like that. I feel like it always looks so desperate. Its so ‘like me like me’. If I’m gonna take my clothes off, it’s going to be for comedic effect.
Was it nerve-racking to take your clothes off for this movie?
No. On screen its two minutes but on set it was twelve hours and twelve hours of constant boob play, I mean it was great for the first three, four or five hours but then, I mean seriously, give a girl a break. But Will was a nice guy about it.
So Will was nice when it came to touching your breasts?
Definitely. If you have an opportunity for Will to play with your boobs, he’s a master.
The scene with Jon (Heder) where you first kiss. How many takes was that?
That was five hours and my memory of that is that he tasted like snow cones. All it said in the script was ‘They Kiss’ and we thought these are two people who had never kissed anyone in their lives and they’re pretty late into their lives to be experiencing their first kiss so what does that look like? So Jon keeps his mouth closed and I open my mouth and french the outside of his face really graphic and passionate. So that’s what we did. That was our take on the best worst kiss.
In one scene, at the end of the movie, the director kept coming to us take after take telling us this is the final kiss of the movie, really go for it. And we’re like, ‘OK!" And we really went for it and he came back over and said ‘Really go for it, really, passionately go for it’ and we really go for it again. Finally the director comes up and says ‘What I’m trying to say is you guys need to use some tongue. You keep opening your mouths and stage kissing’. We were so innocent; Jon and I had never really done that before, had a passionate on-stage kiss so we were completely stage kissing; open mouths but tongues pushes back so as not to offend the other person. I’m sure that footage is interesting.
Does it bother you that in The Office they try to make you look very plain?
I love it. I love that my job on The Office is not vanity based. It is so great as an actor to be cast for a reason other then that you have to look hot every day. Its such a pleasure to get to work and it only takes forty minutes to scrunch my hair into that horrible girl mullet and put barely any make-up on me and the slouchy sweaters. I don’t have to be worried about how I look all day and that is truly awesome.
Do you think Steve Carell, who has become something of a film star, will stick with The Office?
I know he’s going to be around for a long time.
Because Rainn Wilson has a different take on this.
What did Rainn say?
He doesn’t think Steve will be around for long.
Rainn’s crazy! I’m going to have to beat him up now that is so crazy. Steve is so into the show; he wrote an episode last year and wanted to write one this year but didn’t have the time. He’s the one who’s like ‘listen guys, this only happens once in a lifetime, don’t take this for granted’. He’s always lecturing us on ‘know what you have’.
Does that get annoying?
No, its adorable. Its really sweet. I mean, no one is going to out diva Steve on the show so the more humble he is, it keeps us in our place. Its great.
You had a weird break up scene on The Office this season with your boyfriend. It was very unnerving towards the end.
Yeah, with David Denman. David is one of my closer friends from the show; he and his wife and me and my husband, we hang out a lot. To see him turn like that, for me it was even more shocking because I know him as a big teddy bear. He played it so well and I think that cliffhanger of "I’m gonna kill Jim Halpert" is one of the best last lines of our episodes ever.
Its very uncomfortable to watch.
Yeah, its really dark. I think that’s one of the cool things about the show; its not afraid to be ugly or dark or awkward. But I think the thing we try to do is stay away from sentimental and goofy soap opera and I think we’re doing pretty well. Yeah, JJ Abrams directed that episode.
You’ve had a few guest directors come in this season.
We had Joss Whedon and right now we have Harold Ramis directing three of our episodes this year. It’s kind of awesome that I hang out with Harold Ramis all day.
What do these directors bring that make the episodes they direct different from the other ones?
Joss Whedon, for example, is a super geek fan of the show. He knew every single supporting character’s story from the beginning and he was able to direct some of us into performances that were new and better and more layered then before. I’m most happy with my performance in the episode that Joss directed. It is a brilliant episode. The shot of Pam standing in front of her art not talking was a shot that Joss came up with and was really passionate about. I think its one of the most beautiful portraits of Pam Beesly we’ve ever had. I think that directors, when they’re really excited about the show like these guys are, they bring a new fresh element and I think in Joss’ case he had this great way of getting performances from us that we hadn’t had before. We had this one director, Charles McDougall who brought this visual sense of movement that was very cinematic to the show that we hadn’t had before. Harold Ramis is particularly good at filming group scenes.
When are the Ramis episodes airing?
His first one was the Christmas episode and he did two more. One where Michael goes up to the roof and one we just did called Beach Day where Michael takes us all to the beach but makes us participate in Survivor like exercises to see who is the most capable person in the office.
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (the creators of the BBC version of The Office) wrote an episode this season, correct?
They wrote the episode "The Convict".
Is there still a concern that you guys are playing in their sandbox?
No, not anymore. Stephen Merchant is the biggest fan of the show, it’s adorable. Whenever he’s in town he just comes by to hang out with us and talk to the writers. He’s a huge fan of the Jim/Pam story and is always giving suggestions on that. I’ve since got to meet all of the cast members of the British show, which is cool, and I’ve become fairly good friends with Lucy Davis, Dawn of the British show. All of them are very supportive of our version of the show.
Your MySpace page, when did you decide that was something you wanted to do?
I barely keep it updated now, its gotten overwhelming. When we are filming The Office, we sit at our desks for about ten hours a day just doing background. About two of my five days of work are pretty much just doing background and it can get pretty boring, so some of us decided to make MySpace pages as a way that when the show was struggling to help build up interest. When you do a show in front of a live audience or you do theater, you get feedback, but when you’re doing a little show out of Van Nuys, California that’s barley on the air, you don’t know if you’re reaching people so its really fun to just geek out online. Now we know we’re reaching people and its fun for me to give the people that are super fans that exclusive behind the scenes photo or a little factoid about the show.
Also, I’m going to give a big prize to my one hundred thousand friend. I’m collecting all this swag and I’m about ten thousand friends away.
What was your favorite thing about working on Blades of Glory?
Working on the film was great. Those guys are really funny. I’m a huge Arrested Development fan, so I had to work really hard not to freak out on Will Arnett for as long as possible and then I broke down and told him how my favorite episode was ‘Afternoon Delight’ from season two when he’s wearing the expensive suit and keeps telling people how much it cost. I did that to him around week two.