May 10, 2013
Guests: Steve Carell - Mindy Kaling - Ricky Gervais - Jenna Fischer - Rainn Wilson
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm TV critic David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. Next week, NBC presents its special final episode of "The Office," the Americanized version of the 2001 BBC mockumentary series starring and co-created by Ricky Gervais. Steve Carell starred in the U.S. version for most of its eight-year run, and his is one of the interviews we'll feature on today's FRESH AIR salute to "The Office."
We'll also hear from Ricky Gervais himself, from executive producer Greg Daniels, who worked with Gervais and Stephen Merchant to create the NBC adaptation, and from NBC "Office" co-stars Mindy Kaling, Jenna Fischer and Rainn Wilson.
When the original version of "The Office" premiered in England, it was a tight little masterpiece, only 12 episodes - like the classic "Fawlty Towers" - plus a concluding telemovie that was so endearing and emotional, it made me cry. That version of "The Office" was so perfect and so boldly original, it took me a while to warm up to NBC's incarnation.
American TV history is littered with epic failures of attempts to remake great British shows. For every one that works, like "All In the Family," there are dozens of flat-out disasters, such as the recent tries to Americanize "Prime Suspect," "Cracker," even "The Prisoner."
But the American "Office" - thanks to tight writing and some especially shrewd casting - defied the odds. Steve Carell's Michael Scott turned out to be an even more endearingly pathetic boss than Gervais' David Brent, and other key character types were just as resonant. Rainn Wilson's Dwight Schrute was a certifiable office oddball, and John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer as Jim and Pam - whose long-simmering attraction was the heart of the show - were just as sweet as the central couple in the original series.
But after Carell left and James Spader came and left as a corporate executive, "The Office" lost some of its momentum, and arguably its focus. But now that it's finally reaching its finish line, after producing almost 15 times as many episodes as its British counterpart, "The Office" is going out with a clever premise. The documentary crew - which supposedly has been following the paper company employees for almost a decade - finally has finished its work, and the documentary is about to appear on public television.
The gang from "The Office" heads to the local bar to watch, and for some reason, even without a TV film crew to document them, we can still see them. In Thursday's episode, they arrived just in time to beg the bartender to change channels.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OFFICE")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You have to change the channel to PBS.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah.
College baseball is on.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Well, there's a documentary coming on. Everyone in the bar will love it.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: What's it about?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: A paper company.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: How many people want the game? Who wants PBS? Sorry, tie means I do nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Sir, please, this show is about me and my attempts to find love in all the wrong places.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: One more for the doc. All right.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yes.
BIANCULLI: Next week, NBC presents both the final episode of "The Office" and a retrospective special. Today, we'll present a retrospective of our own, beginning with a 2007 interview with Steve Carell. When Terry spoke to him, he was still with the TV show, even though his 2005 comedy "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" had made him a movie star.
Let's start with a clip featuring a typical Michael Scott appearance, on a day when a seminar for women only is taking place.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OFFICE")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: So, I'm happy to be here. It's very nice to see all of you. You're all looking well.
Today's a women in the workplace thing. Jan's coming in from corporate to talk to all the women about I don't really know what, but Michael's not allowed in. She said that about five times.
Women today, though we have the same options as men, we often face a very different set of obstacles in getting there, so...
STEVE CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Hey, what's going on?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Michael, I thought we agreed you wouldn't be here.
CARELL: (As Michael) Yeah, you know what? I just, I thought about it. I just have a few things I want to say.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What are you doing?
CARELL: (As Michael) Just hear me out. What is more important than quality? Equality. Now, studies show that today's woman - the Ally McBeal woman, as I call her - is at a crossroads.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Michael...
CARELL: (As Michael) And - just - you have come a long way, baby, but I just want to keep it within reason. They did this up in Albany, and they ended up turning the break room into a lactation room, which is disgusting.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You are not allowed in this session, OK? Now you're really not allowed in this session.
CARELL: (As Michael) Well, I'm their boss, so I feel like...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I'm your boss.
CARELL: (As Michael) Anybody want any coffee or anything?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: We're fine, Michael. We just need you to leave, please.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: Steve Carell, welcome to FRESH AIR. How would you describe Michael?
CARELL: Michael Scott is someone with an enormous emotional blind spot. He is someone who truly does not understand how others perceive him. And if he did gain any knowledge, his head would explode. He would not - it would not be able to - he wouldn't be able to assimilate. He wouldn't be able to take in all of that information, because it's just - certain people exist on a different level, and they are only able to exist because they're in a sense of denial about who they are or how other people view them. And I think that's who he is.
But he's not a bad guy. I think he's - he's a caring person. He wants what's best. But he doesn't always do the best things in order to achieve what he hopes to achieve.
GROSS: You know, a lot of people who have worked in offices feel like they've worked with somebody like Michael Scott, but you've never worked in offices. It's just, you know, you're an actor. So who do you draw on for the character? Are there teachers that you had or other people who you knew who were as clueless?
CARELL: Primarily, yeah. It - I think, for me, it stemmed mostly from various teachers that I had growing up. Because many, many teacher that I had - especially fifth, sixth, seventh grade - would be people who were trying to be as cool as the students or wanted the students to think that they were cool, but indeed, they were not. And the harder they tried, the less cool they would appear to be.
And that's basically what Michael is up against. He thinks people think he's cool. He thinks people like him and think he's funny and charming, but he's really none of those things. And incidentally, when you say everyone knows a Michael Scott, I guess the rule of thumb - Ricky Gervais told me this, in regards to the character that he played, David Brent in the BBC version of "The Office" - is that if you don't know a Michael Scott, then you are Michael Scott.
GROSS: That's really great.
CARELL: So better that you actually have a frame of reference for a Michael Scott.
BIANCULLI: Steve Carell, speaking with Terry Gross in 2007.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: The BBC version of "The Office" was adapted for American audiences by Greg Daniels. He's the executive producer of the NBC show, and also writes and directs for the series. Daniels co-created "King of the Hill" and has written for "The Simpsons" and "Saturday Night Live." Mindy Kaling, now the star of Fox's "The Mindy Project," was both a writer and an actor on NBC's "The Office." She played Kelly Kapoor, who Michael Scott described as our most ethnic employee. Terry Gross spoke with them both in 2006.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: Mindy Kaling, Greg Daniels, welcome to FRESH AIR. One of the things that happens on "The Office" is that since so - since "The Office" is shot as if it were a documentary about this group of office workers, people are always talking to the camera, like, looking away from the action and then talking to the camera in a confidential way, talking about what's really going through their mind.
And they're often giving these kind of pained glances to the camera as Michael makes a fool of himself in the office. And I'm wondering if, like, during auditions, Greg, you asked everybody to roll their eyes and give pained looks, because that's so much of what they have to do. Everybody's always so embarrassed on Michael's behalf and looking so uncomfortable because of what he's doing.
GREG DANIELS: Well, we didn't have a normal audition process. We - or we did have a normal audition process, but afterwards, we did screen tests. And we actually took three days and combined all the different finalist actors in different combinations, and we filmed them improving scenes together. And that was definitely one of the great things that distinguished us - for example, Jenna Fischer, the pained looks that she would give to camera.
GROSS: She plays the receptionist, the character Pam.
DANIELS: Yeah, she plays Pam, and she's really the most put-upon of all of them.
MINDY KALING: And that's a very - it's a very cool tool, because if you notice in the show, it's only certain characters sort of have the permission to have that familiarity with the camera and the cameraman, and other characters who have less self-awareness do it less, and it works great. Like, for instance, Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight, has - I think is a kind of character who less self-awareness, and he doesn't do it as much as, say, John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer, who play Jim and Pam, the two, like, the love interests.
DANIELS: Yeah, it's kind of saying: Does anyone else see how crazy this is? So you have to be kind of a reasonable character to get away with it, although when Michael Scott does it, it has a different flavor. It's usually uh-oh. I just blew it again, didn't I? Oh, yes, I did, when he looks to the camera.
KALING: Or that he's the host of a party, and that he wants to keep - you know, he wants to be kind to the camera people as the host of this party, and the party is the office.
GROSS: In the seasons that "The Office" has been on, are there ways that the characters have changed that you never would have expected, and are there ways that Michael has changed, the main character, that you didn't plan on, it just kind of evolved that way?
DANIELS: That's a good question. I think Michael has changed a little bit, and a lot of it has to do with growing away from the British show a little bit, and also Steve's movie career, because when Steve Carell did "40-Year-Old Virgin," I think that was eye-opening for me and for some of the writers to see him play a romantic lead in that way, and how likeable he was.
And it helped us include some of those characteristics in his character of Michael Scott.
KALING: You know when you're on the subway, and you see this, like, really weird-looking loser that's talking really too loudly, and they have, like, a girlfriend? To me, that was like a big change in, like, the second season is that, like, characters who were - you're kind of like that person's loved by somebody?
KALING: They are. Like, you see Dwight is loved by somebody, and Kelly has love in her own way. And, you know, all these people that you're like that person's, like, so sort of terrible in their own way. Oh, but I guess they - there's another person out there who understands them and likes them. And most of the characters on the show who are real characters have some kind of love life, and that's realistic, I mean, sort of unusual. And that's a big difference, I think, between our two seasons.
GROSS: Yeah, and Jan, who you mentioned, is Michael's supervisor. And even when they do maybe, maybe not have an overnight relationship - because she's drunk, and he's drunk, and he doesn't - they probably just fell asleep, we think. But...
DANIELS: I'm glad you picked up on that. We really discussed that a lot, and that is - that's what we think, too. We think that she complained about her divorce for hours, and then fell asleep on...
GROSS: Right, except he thinks that probably much more happened, and he's always acting as if they had this, like, long, passionate fling.
GROSS: Just like another example of him getting just, like, everything, everything wrong. It must be so much fun to write for a character like that.
DANIELS: Yeah, he has such little self-knowledge, and that's what makes a great comedy character, I think, is someone without any self-knowledge. And he really lacks in every aspect of his life.
BIANCULLI: Greg Daniels and Mindy Kaling, speaking to Terry Gross in 2006. After a break, we'll hear from the star and co-creator of the original "Office," Ricky Gervais. This is FRESH AIR.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli. "The Office" concludes its eight-year run on NBC next week. Ricky Gervais co-created and starred in the original version of the show on the BBC, playing David Brent, the character on whom Steve Carell's Michael Scott was loosely modeled. Terry Gross interviewed Ricky Gervais in 2004. Here's a scene in which Gervais is conducting a performance evaluation with his receptionist Dawn.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OFFICE")
RICKY GERVAIS: (As David Brent) If you had to name a role model, someone who's influenced you, who would it be?
LUCY DAVIS: (As Dawn Tinsley) What, like a historical person?
GERVAIS: (As David) No, someone in sort of general life, just someone who's been an influence on you.
DAVIS: (As Dawn) I suppose my mum. She's just, she's strong, calm in the face of adversity. Oh, God, I remember when she had a hysterectomy...
GERVAIS: (As David) If it wasn't your mother, though. I mean, it doesn't even have to be a woman. It could be a...
DAVIS: (As Dawn) Man. OK, well, I suppose if it was a man, it would be my father.
GERVAIS: (As David) Not your father, all right. Let's take your parents as red. I'm looking for someone in the sort of work-related arena, who's influenced...
DAVIS: (As Dawn) Right, OK, well I suppose Tim, then. He's always...
GERVAIS: (As David) Well he's a friend, isn't he? Not a friend, someone in authority. Maybe I didn't, you know...
DAVIS: (As Dawn) Well, than I suppose Jennifer.
GERVAIS: (As David) I thought we said not a woman, didn't we? Or am I...
DAVIS: (As Dawn) OK. Well, I suppose you're the only one who...
GERVAIS: (As David) Oh, embarrassing. This has backfired, hasn't it? Oh, dear, very flattering. Can we put me in there?
DAVIS: (As Dawn) OK, Tim then.
GERVAIS: (As David) We said not Tim. So do you want to put me or not?
DAVIS: (As Dawn) OK.
GERVAIS: (As David) Right. So should I put strong role model?
DAVIS: (As Dawn) OK.
GERVAIS: (As David) Yeah.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Now, you've created this story about life in an office. Have you ever worked in an office?
GERVAIS: Yeah. I worked in an office for eight years. That's where I got it all from. I was a middle manager. I went to management training seminars where the speakers talked rubbish for two days.
GERVAIS: Yeah, I worked in an office for seven or eight years.
GROSS: Are any of the storylines in "The Office" based on things that have happened to you?
GERVAIS: Oh, let me think. Let's see. Well, the episode four in series one, where we had the guy come in train people, I remember the first training session I went to, and I remember they did role-playing. And I remember at the time thinking this is ridiculous. And it started off I'd like to complain about my room. Oh, I don't care. Well, you should. You're the manager. Well, go to another hotel then. Well, I will. And they went: That's the wrong way to do it.
And then they said OK, now we'll do it the right way to do it. And he comes in and says, well, I'd like to complain about my room. Oh, I'm very sorry, sir, what's up with it? Oh, it's just dirty. Oh, well, I'll have someone clean it, and you can have it for free. Brilliant. It was like as black and white as that, and I remember thinking: I don't know what the moral is.
GERVAIS: So I quite like spoofing role-play.
GROSS: Why don't we hear that scene? In this scene, David Brent is role-playing with the guy who's running the seminar, and David Brent is supposed to be playing the customer, and the guy running the seminar is the hotel clerk.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OFFICE")
GERVAIS: (As David) I'd like to make a complaint, please.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I don't care.
GERVAIS: (As David) Well, I am staying in the hotel. So...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I don't care. It's not my shift.
GERVAIS: (As David) Well, you're an ambassador for the hotel.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I don't care. I don't care what you think.
GERVAIS: (As David) I think you'll care when I tell you what the complaint is. I think there's been a rape up there. I got his attention. Get their attention, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Right. So there were some interesting points, there.
GERVAIS: (As David) Very interesting points.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's not quite the point I was trying to make, David.
GERVAIS: (As David) Different points to be made.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm more into really customer care.
GERVAIS: (As David) So am I.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And the way that we would deal with somebody...
GERVAIS: (As David) Maybe I should - as I thought, I should play the hotel manager, because I'm used to - I phased you. But you have a go. See if you can phase me. OK? Yeah, all right, OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hello, I wish to make a complaint.
GERVAIS: (As David) Not interested.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: My room is an absolute disgrace.
GERVAIS: (As David) Don't care.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The bathroom doesn't appear to have been cleaned.
GERVAIS: (As David) What room are you in?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: 362.
GERVAIS: (As David) There is no 362 in this hotel. Sometimes the complaints will be false. OK? Good.
GROSS: David completely misses the point in that, but that's so typical of him.
GERVAIS: Of course, because he wants to be top dog. He wants to be the center of attention. He couldn't - you know, he hires this guy, but then he wants to be in charge. So he's just a child. You know, it's his football, and he's got to be, you know, the most important player.
GROSS: Now, later in this same seminar, David turns the discussion into basically a Q&A about himself. And then he reveals he used to be in a band, and then he takes out his guitar, and he starts playing some songs.
GROSS: Awful, exactly. In fact, let me play some of the songs.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OFFICE")
GERVAIS: (As David) (Singing) Pretty girl on the hood of a Cadillac, yeah. She's broken down on Freeway 9. Take a look at her engine's starting, and leave her purring, and I roll on by, bye-bye. Free love on the free love freeway. The love is free, and the freeway's long. I've got some hot love on the hot love highway, and going home, because my baby's gone.
MACKENZIE CROOK: (as Gareth) (Singing ) She's dead.
GERVAIS: (As David) She's not dead.
(Singing) Long time later, see a cowboy crying. Hey buddy, what can I do? He says I lived a good life, and I've had about 1,000 women. I said, well, why the tears? He says, 'cause none of them was you.
MARTIN FREEMAN: What, you?
GERVAIS: (As David) No, he's looking at a photograph.
FREEMAN: Of you?
GERVAIS: (As David) No, of his girlfriend. The video would have shown that.
FREEMAN: Sorry. Yeah, he sounds a bit gay, though.
GERVAIS: (As David) It's not gay.
(As David) (Singing) Free love on the free love freeway. The love is free, and the freeway's long.
GROSS: That's Ricky Gervais as David Brent in a scene from the British sitcom "The Office," which is also now on DVD. Now, Ricky, I know you used to be in a band.
GROSS: Are any of these songs you used to do for real?
GERVAIS: No, no, no, no, no.
GROSS: Good. I was really hoping you'd say that.
GERVAIS: Yeah, no, of course not. No, I wrote those especially for the show. And "Free Love Freeway," I'm fascinated when British people who've never been out of their own town start writing songs about what it would be like to cross America.
GERVAIS: You know, they might as well talk about space travel. Though, again, the joke there wasn't that he was bad, or the songs were comical, it was the fact that it was so inappropriate. He's meant to be leading a training session, but he wants to show off. And I love that. Same as, like, people who take a guitar to a party, you know.
GERVAIS: It's just, like, shut up.
GROSS: The other great thing about this scene is that he does all these horrible things that make you so uncomfortable when a bad performer is singing in a small room. He looks people in the eyes in this kind of dreamy way.
GERVAIS: Yeah, excruciating, isn't it?
GERVAIS: Absolutely excruciating, the white man overbite to show he's really getting into it.
GROSS: Oh, yes, he bites his lip to show how sensitive he's being.
GERVAIS: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, awful.
GROSS: Now, as a musician yourself, is this something that you've done or that you've just...
GERVAIS: I'll stop you there: failed musician. Let's get it right.
GROSS: OK, that's fine.
GERVAIS: No, I hope I was never like that. And it was...
GROSS: But you've seen people be that way?
GERVAIS: And I wasn't 40. So I hope there's enough distance between me and David Brent, then.
BIANCULLI: Ricky Gervais, star and co-creator of the original British series "The Office," speaking to Terry Gross in 2004. We'll continue our salute to the American version of "The Office" - which began in 2005 and ends next week - in the second half of the show. I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVE BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli sitting in for Terry Gross. The NBC sitcom, "The Office," concludes next week after an eight-year run. Let's continue our salute to the show with two of its two key supporting actors. In a little while, we'll hear from Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight Schrute. But first, we'll listen back to a 2008 interview Terry conducted with Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam. She's been with the show from the very start. And when she auditioned for the role of the receptionist she hadn't memorized any lines, she couldn't.
JENNA FISCHER: My very first audition for "The Office," I had to sit in a chair, and the producer interviewed me in character. There was no script. He just said, we want you to act like Pam, or your idea of Pam. And we're going to interview you like a documentary film crew might. And they asked me a lot of questions about - did I like working at a paper company? How long had I lived in Scranton? How did I feel about being filmed by a documentary crew?
And my take on the character of Pam was that she didn't have any media training, so she didn't know how to be a good interview. And also, she didn't care about this interview. And so, I gave very short one-word answers. And I tried very hard not to be funny or clever, because I thought that the comedy would come out of just, you know, the real human reactions to the situation. And it was great. It was great. We clicked quickly. And they liked that take on it.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: So, in your one-word answers - like what did you say to the questions you were asked in the audition?
FISCHER: Well, it's funny. The casting director before I went in - I had known her for a few years and she had called me in for other jobs. And she gave me some coaching on the phone. What she said was, don't come in looking pretty; which, you know, a lot of times, when you go in on an audition, they want you to look inappropriately sexy or hot for the role. And I used to get called in to play things like, oh, like, a third-grade schoolteacher but look really hot. And so, in this instance, the - when I went in for "The Office," the casting director said to me, she said, please look normal. Don't make yourself all pretty, and dare to bore me with your audition. Those were her words. Dare to bore me.
She said, please do not come in and do a bunch of shtick and try to be funny and clever, because it's not that kind of show. So, when I went in to the audition, the first question that they asked me in the character of Pam - they said, do you like working as a receptionist? And I said, no. And that was it. I didn't speak anymore than that. And they started laughing.
And then, they asked me a few more questions. My - I mean, my answers were really nothing. They were just yes and no answers. They - and I felt like the comedy would come in watching me think about what I wasn't going to say instead of being what was said.
GROSS: Right. So, when you're giving one of your pained looks or one of your: this is absurd, looks to the camera, who's the camera person? Is there an actor behind there that you can kind of, like, interact with? Or is it just, like, the camera with a camera person?
FISCHER: Well, there's two different scenarios. When we're just shooting the show and it's a scene, the camera operator is this man named Randall Einhorn. And he's our director of photography. And we will look at him, we'll give him the look, or we'll look into the camera at him. And he's become another character or another actor on the show to us. So, we do actually act with him.
And it's really cute - whenever Pam smiles at the camera, Randall can't help but smile back. The man, Randall, smiles at you while he's holding the camera. And there are scenes that we've done that have been really touching. And you'll look at Randall, and he'll be, you know, sort of teared up.
And when we shoot our talking heads - our interview segments - the director of the episode serves as our documentarian for that week. Some of the directors, we have them back again, and again, and again. And one director we're particularly attached to is Ken Kwapis. He directed our very first episode, and he comes back every year and directs a couple of episodes. And last year, he directed the finale. And he's always taken a particular interest in Pam and her journey. So, I feel very close to him.
And in that moment, when Jim burst into the conference room while Pam's giving an interview, and he finally asks her out on a date, I turned to the camera. And in the moment that they used, I'm sort of tearing up. And the reason that I teared up was because when I looked back at the camera, I saw Ken Kwapis. And he - his eyes were full of tears. And he smiled at me and gave me a little wink, like, that's right. You finally got what you wanted, sweetie.
And it just, oh, it was a really powerful moment between me and the director. So it's interesting. There's a lot of acting that happens on the show that is with our crew members or, you know, people - that doesn't normally happen when you're making a movie or a television show.
GROSS: That's really nice. Now, how were you cast opposite John Krasinski? Did you have to do a scene together before you were both cast to make sure that there was chemistry between you? And for anyone who doesn't watch "The Office," I should mention that he's one of the people who works in the office. And you had a long period of flirtation.
FISCHER: But, you know, when "The office" starts, you're engaged to somebody else, and even though things aren't working out between you two, you still feel like, you know, you're involved in this relationship and you can't get involved with the John Krasinski character of Jim. But eventually, you do get together. So, there has to be this chemistry between you. So, were you tested out together during the audition?
Yes. When it came down to the end of the audition process, they took four Pams and four Jims and four Dwights and four Michaels, and they brought us into a real office. And they filmed us with a camera for two days, mixing and matching us. And over the course of that two days, I was mixed and matched with John several times. And after the second day, we were walking out of a scene, and he turned to me and he said, you're my favorite Pam. I hope you get this job.
And I smiled really big, and I said, I'm so glad you said that because you're my favorite Jim, and I don't think anyone could do it except for you. And when they called and told me that I got the job I said, please tell me that John Krasinski is playing Jim. And they said, he is and we're so glad to hear you say that because we thought you two had amazing chemistry. And we're glad you think so, too. So...
GROSS: Are you friends off the set?
FISCHER: We are, yeah. It is the strangest thing to have a long-term fictional love interest. It's a type of relationship that is very intimate, and it's very powerful, but it's fictional. I mean, there is a part of me that is Pam, and there's a part of him that is Jim, and that part of me is in love with that part of him. But in real life, we are just friends.
GROSS: Do you have a favorite example of one of the times when Michael, the Steve Carell character, came up to your desk and did really bad shtick?
FISCHER: Oh, gosh. Well, my favorite Pam-Michael moment from the entire series happens in season one, actually. He comes up to my desk, and he wads up a piece of paper, and he goes to throw it into the trash can behind me, and but instead it hits me in the head. And Pam looks at Michael and she says, please don't throw garbage at me. And I loved that moment because I thought here's a girl who actually has to say to her boss, please don't throw garbage at me. It's like such a known thing, you know?
FISCHER: It's just, like, such a thing that any normal person would know not to do. But I felt like that summed up their entire relationship - that Pam is constantly having to educate Michael on simple human interaction.
BIANCULLI: Jenna Fischer, speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. Coming up, Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVE BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli back with more of our salute to NBC's "The Office." Rainn Wilson is another cast member who was around for every episode since "The Office" began on NBC in 2005. He plays Dwight Schrute, who started as a funky to Steve Carell's Michael Scott, but eventually ended up running the Scranton office himself. Terry spoke with Rainn Wilson in 2008.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: Let me ask you to describe Dwight.
RAINN WILSON. ACTOR: OK. That's a good one. Dwight is hard to put your finger on, and I've spent years trying to describe him in interviews. One of the things that Greg Daniels said to me early on...
GROSS: And he's the creator of the American version.
GROSS: And the producer at all of that.
ACTOR: The show runner of our show who is insanely brilliant, and all of us on "The Office" would follow him into battle because he such a great guy. Greg said, Dwight has an adolescent love of hierarchies, and to me that phrase sums it all up. It's kind of all you need to know. The other thing, so Dwight is a militant dweeb ass-kisser. Can you say ass-kisser on FRESH AIR? All right. Good. And then I love the fact that he's, we discover later on that he's a beet farmer and that makes total sense, 'cause you ever meet a farmer, they can't quite ever fit in, in society. They may try as hard as they want. They can play it cool, they can do whatever they want, they can't really fit into city life no matter how much they try. They're just more in tune with the dirt and the tides and the seasons and the wolves than, you know, human interaction.
GROSS: Well, you mentioned that, you know, Greg Daniels told you that he has this like almost childish love of hierarchy.
GROSS: And at the beginning of "The Office," Dwight is the most loyal lieutenant imaginable to Michael...
GROSS: ...the boss of this branch. But then he senses he can have that power, and it looks like Michael's going to leave and he can become the new Michael. And then, you know, all bets are off, like you want that power for yourself.
GROSS: And you just become like such the commander, as opposed to the lieutenant. Was that a change in character for you when that change happened to Dwight?
ACTOR: No. It wasn't. I think that - and they're so canny, the writers on our show, because they're always creating textures for me to play, as Dwight. I mean this last season was Dwight's heartbreak, you know...
GROSS: Right. Yes, with Angela.
ACTOR: ...with Angela, and that was a whole other side of Dwight that got to come out. You know, in season four, sides of Dwight that no one had ever seen before. And that was what you're referring to is a period of time when Dwight was potentially trying to rest control of the office from Michael, and I think it was a deadly combination. It wasn't in Dwight's nature to do that. He only did it when encouraged by his little Lady Macbeth, Angela. So when Angela, the head accountant, whispered those thoughts of power into his ear, you know, much like Macbeth, Dwight tried to rise to the challenge.
GROSS: They always blame the woman.
ACTOR: But as Pam on the show said, you know, I have a vacuum cleaner that could also run this office pretty well.
GROSS: Well, I have to play a clip from "The Office." This is a classic scene. It's Take Your Daughter to Work Day, and you're like at the head of what's almost like a little classroom, like all the daughters are sitting in chairs, and you're in front, reading to them and playing your recorder or flute-a-phone.
ACTOR: Yes. Part of my music nerd heritage.
GROSS: And Michael is at the door watching. So here's the scene.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE OFFICE")
ACTOR: (as Dwight Schrute) That was "Greensleeves." A traditional English ballad about the beheaded Anne Boleyn. And now, a very special treat, a book my Grandmutter used to read me when I was a kid. This is a very special story, it's called "Struwwelpeter", by Heinrich Hoffman from 1864. The great tall tailor always comes to little girls that suck their thumbs - are you listening, Sasha? Right? And 'ere they dream when he's about, he takes his great sharp scissors out, and then cuts their thumbs clean off.
STEVE CARELL: (as Michael Scott) Dwight. Dwight.
ACTOR: (as Dwight Schrute) There's a photo...
CARELL: (as Michael Scott) What the hell are you reading to them?
ACTOR: (as Dwight Schrute) These are cautionary tales for kids, my Grandmata used to read these...
CARELL: (as Michael Scott) Yeah, you know what? No, no no no no. They, no. The kids don't want to hear some weirdo book that your Nazi war criminal grandmother gave you.
DELANEY RUTH FARRELL: (Sasha) What's a Nazi?
CARELL: (as Michael Scott) What's a Nazi?
ACTOR: (as Dwight Schrute) Nazi was a fascist movement...
CARELL: (as Michael Scott) Don't.
ACTOR: (as Dwight Schrute) ...from the 1930's...
CARELL: (as Michael Scott) Don't! Don't! Don't talk about Nazis in front of - you know what? They're going to have nightmares, so why don't you just shut it?
ACTOR: (as Dwight Schrute) I was gonna teach the children how to make corn-husk dolls.
(SOUNDBITE OF HEAVY SIGH)
CARELL: (as Michael Scott) Why don't you just leave? OK?
(as Dwight Schrute) OK.
SPENCER DANIELS: (as Jake) Bye, Mister. Poop.
CARELL: (as Michael Scott) All right. There goes Mister Poop. Now, who likes Dane Cook?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (as characters) I do, I do.
GROSS: That's such a great scene.
ACTOR: Written by the great Mindy Kaling.
GROSS: Oh, who's also a member of the cast.
GROSS: And that was my guest Rainn Wilson in a scene from "The Office." Your character Dwight is always so intense and so inappropriate...
GROSS: ...as he was in his choice of readings. You know, you auditioned for the part of Michael, of the boss of "The Office," right...
RAINN WILSON: Yes.
GROSS: Before getting the part of Dwight. So what was your audition for the part of Michael like? This is the part that Steve Carrell plays.
WILSON: They keep wanting to put it on the DVD of my audition as Michael. I was terrible. It was awful. It was never meant to be. It was just one of those things that I just basically did my Ricky Gervais impersonation because I really didn't know what to do with the character.
GROSS: And Ricky Gervais played the boss in the original British version.
WILSON: In the English series. Yeah.
WILSON: And I knew I was hungering for Dwight. And I knew Dwight was the one that was right in my wheelhouse. And I was like, oh, let me at this one. This one is - I've got to get this guy. And I remember there was some monologue I was doing about how I could drink my own urine.
WILSON: And I was like, aw, I want to say that. I want to say that line so bad. So my Dwight audition, needless to say, was a lot better than my Michael Scott audition.
GROSS: So what did you have to do as either?
WILSON: Oh. Well, it was a very arduous audition process. I was actually the very first person to audition for the show. Period. I had a good relationship with the casting director. And I came in and did my terrible Michael and then I really hit a home run with Dwight. And then I kept calling, like, what's happening? What's happening? They're auditioning people. They're auditioning Michaels and Jims.
And they're having a hard time finding Michaels and Jims. And it was like three or four months later finally they're like, OK, we're going to have callbacks. And the callback - normally when you audition for a television show, they have these called network tests where they bring the actors literally into, like, a conference room at NBC or wherever.
And they parade them in like show cattle one after another. And they do their little - three little scenes in front of the executives who either glower at them or laugh hyper-hysterically. But Greg, you know, because Greg created the show "King of the Hill" which was very successful and in syndication, so as soon as someone's done that on television they figure, well, this guy must know what he's doing.
And fortunately in our case Greg does know what he's doing. But he secured our location for a weekend and he brought in all the actors that were called back and he basically cycled us in and out like a giant revolving door. We had to be prepared to stay there all day long and he mixed and matched us in various ways. And we improvised with each other and we did written scenes.
And we'd get thrown new material and then we'd have to go out and wait for a few hours. So it was this kind of wonderful process of kind of digging in and exploring the characters in order for us to - for them to arrive at their final casting decision. And then they brought their favorites to the network and showed them the tape of what they had shot with them.
GROSS: Now, Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam the receptionist on the show was recently on our show.
WILSON: Horrible woman.
GROSS: Yeah. She was so dull. Ugh.
WILSON: Isn't she awful? Yeah.
GROSS: So I want to play you an excerpt of that in review in which she talked about you.
GROSS: So here's the excerpt of the interview with Jenna Fischer.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)
GROSS: Are there any scenes from "The Office" that were too funny to get through without laughing and you had to keep reshooting them?
JENNA FISCHER: Oh, so many. So many. You know what happens is I seem to every year get tickled by a new actor in a way where I just, I cannot do a scene with them. And the first year it was Rainn Wilson. You know, Pam and Dwight did not have a lot of interaction so any time we did have a scene one-on-one I just couldn't get through it.
Rainn Wilson, he has this weird way that he stands where he pushes his pelvis and his gut sort of out.
GROSS: So that's Jenna Fischer talking about you on "The Office." So how did you start doing that as Dwight's way of standing? And he also - am I wrong in saying he's often standing a little too close to the person he's talking to?
WILSON: Yes. He's not so good at interpersonal boundaries.
WILSON: And that includes standing that way. I don't know. You know, it's just like you do - that's just what we do as actors, I think, you know. My haircut for Dwight was very important. It was very important to me that I have the least flattering haircut possible to my head, which I designed specifically, thank you very much. And also the fact that he still wears a beeper, which is about eight years after beepers have been completely discontinued. Because he probably has some number that someone might still have.
But all of these things put together and then it kind of comes into your body. And I think your job as the actor is to let these impulses flow through you and not stifle them. So if you have, you know, again, he has this love of hierarchies and this love of power. Well, he's going to assert his power with his pelvis. You know?
WILSON: Maybe stand inappropriately close to someone. And it's kind of like an alpha male type of thing.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: Rainn Wilson speaking to Terry Gross in 2008. The finale of NBC's "The Office" airs next Thursday. Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews "The Great Gatsby." This is FRESH AIR.
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:This is FRESH AIR. One of the most eagerly awaited films of the year is Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," the latest adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald jazz age novel about love and death and money. Leonard DiCaprio plays the mysterious lovelorn Jay Gatsby and the cast also includes Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: While I was watching Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" back in 2001, I had the oddest experience. Someone's cellphone rang, and instead of getting annoyed I was relieved. The movie's bombardment was so relentless, so suffocating, that I thrilled to a signal from the outside world.
EDELSTEIN: Therefore, I admit to approaching Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby" - which is in 3-D, no less - with dread. Here was one of my least favorite directors taking on one of my favorite novels. Well, the movie is loud and obvious and heavy-handed, but not the desecration I feared. It's more like a cartoony Broadway musical version of Gatsby in which no one, alas, sings. But F. Scott Fitzgerald's original can handle the vulgarity.
EDELSTEIN: For all the novel's polish, it is vulgar. Fitzgerald sees through the riotous hedonism of the 1920s, but he's also magnetized, in love with it. And I prefer Luhrmann's showoff-y palette to the genteel approach of the last "Gatsby" movie in 1974, in which a dim Robert Redford pretended to yearn for a blank Mia Farrow.
It's too bad Luhrmann has a framing device that's amazingly inane. The '20s are over, and the youngish narrator, apprentice bond trader Nick Carraway, is in rehab. He's writing a memoir overseen by an eager shrink, and as Fitzgerald's words emerge from his typewriter, they often drift across the screen and, in 3-D, into our faces. Oy.
If you don't know the plot, Nick, played by Tobey Maguire, rents the dilapidated house next to the North Shore Long Island mansion of the mysterious Jay Gatsby, who throws outlandishly extravagant parties that he watches from a room above. It turns out Gatsby yearns for a woman named Daisy, Carraway's cousin, whom he courted five years earlier as a poor soldier. Now, she's married to the trust-fund polo-playing philanderer Tom Buchanan, whose manse is directly across the water.
In the movie, the camera hurtles across that water - it's all computer-generated - to the Buchanans' place, instantly traversing a gap that I think should stay fixed. But it's hard for a director like Luhrmann to capture the notion of longing to be somewhere you can't be. He's not that spiritual.
Leonardo DiCaprio embodies that longing, though. The performance is broad and he's more tan and healthy than I imagine the character. But that works here. His Gatsby is still glowing with youthful dreams. He feigns an upper-class accent in the sincere conviction he can rise in society. It's easy to believe he thinks that with his new wealth he can vanquish time.
He finally meets Daisy, played by Carey Mulligan, in a touching scene in Nick's house, and for a while it looks as if he'll win her back. But later, in a tense scene in the Plaza Hotel, he has to overcome the bull that is Joel Edgerton's Tom Buchanan.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE GREAT GATSBY")
JOEL EDGERTON: (as Tom Buchanan) I want to ask Mr. Gatsby one more question.
LEONARDO DICAPRIO: (as Jay Gatsby) Oh, please. Please go on, Mr. Buchanan. Go on.
EDGERTON: (as Tom Buchanan) What kind of a row are you trying to cause in my house anyhow?
CAREY MULLIGAN: (as Daisy Buchanan) He isn't causing a row. You're causing a row. Please have a little self control.
EDGERTON: (as Tom Buchanan) Self control? Oh, I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that's the idea, you can count me out. See, nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions.
DICAPRIO: (as Jay Gatsby) Your wife doesn't love you. She never loved you. You see, she loves me.
EDGERTON: (as Tom Buchanan) You must be crazy.
DICAPRIO: (as Jay Gatsby) No, old sport. No. You see, she never loved you.
EDELSTEIN: The Australian Edgerton is a fine, subtle actor, but his Tom has few grace notes, and most of the other actors are equally over the top, the exceptions being the Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan as the gangster Meyer Wolfsheim and the Australian Elizabeth Debicki, who's an archetypal New Yorker flapper cartoon brought to vivid life.
Debicki pretty much upstages the Daisy of Carey Mulligan, an excellent actress who doesn't pop out of the screen the way you'd hope from this most tantalizing of all American literatures' objects of desire. But I suspect none of us would agree on the ideal Daisy.
You can find fault with every scene in "The Great Gatsby," but Fitzgerald does come through. Luhrmann throws money at the screen in a way that's positively Gatsbylike. He wallops you intentionally and unintentionally with the theme of prodigal waste.
The montages are ham-handed, but the anti-realism brings to mind the great, unfettered imagery of silent film, as opposed to the usual stultifying reverence reserved for literary classics on screen. The anachronistic music by the likes of Jay-Z adds to the exuberant artificiality. Think of this "Gatsby" as a film opera, and it won't seem so terrible. It's not the novel, but it's bracingly novel.
BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York Magazine. You can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org and follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair and on Tumblr at nprfreshair.tumblr.com.
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