Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Office's Phyllis Smith Never Intended On Auditioning For The Show

In addition to having spent nine years as one of the most legendary, influential, beloved, and consistently hilarious American sitcoms out there, the U.S. version of "The Office" became notorious for one particular quality that shows of its ilk often lacked, at least to the same impressive degree: Its sheer depth of character. While the early run of episodes was largely focused on the "principal" cast of Steve Carell as Michael Scott, Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute, John Krasinski as Jim Halpert, Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly, and B.J. Novak as Ryan Howard, who acted as driving forces in the typical A-B plot structure, "The Office" went much deeper as it churned along, eventually extending its trademark empathy and sense of perception to all the workers at the Scranton, Pennsylvania, branch of Dunder Mifflin.

One of the characters who benefited most from that broadened focus was sales representative Phyllis Vance, played by Phyllis Smith. Initially presented as a quiet and sweet co-worker who did her best around the office and got along well with the main cast, she eventually revealed more and more layers to her personality, from her turbulent youth to her proclivity for ruthless vengeance, and spearheaded memorable plots like her bitter rivalry with Angela Martin (Angela Kinsey). Phyllis ultimately became so integral and indispensable to "The Office" that it may shock some people to learn that actress behind the role originally had no plans to audition for the series, even though the part was specifically developed for her.

Phyllis Smith started out as a casting director

In a 2011 interview with MovieWeb, Phyllis Smith revealed that her first career aspiration as a young woman was to become a dancer. Eventually, age and a knee injury made it difficult for her to keep up in such a physically competitive field, leading her to take up a series of jobs in Los Angeles to keep herself afloat — and to stay on the lookout for acting gigs.

Eventually, a friend of Smith encouraged her to audition for a part in a commercial, and, although she didn't land it, she hit it off well enough with the casting director to come to the realization that casting might be a showbiz area she'd do well in. The thought stayed in Smith's head, and, eventually, she got an entry job in the office of that same casting director.

Smith then spent nearly two decades working in casting; during that time, she was credited in such projects as "Roswell," "Spin City," and "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," per IMDb. Eventually, she wound up in the casting office of "The Office," where she was credited as an assistant casting director throughout the six episodes of Season 1, contributing to the selection process for all of the credited main cast. At the time, Smith was happy with her position in casting, and not even entertaining the thought of joining the ensemble of "The Office" herself. But, a few days into the auditions, a new, unexpected development changed everything.

While working on The Office, she was asked to audition out of the blue

Per Phyllis Smith's interview with MovieWeb, on the second day of auditions for "The Office," the casting team was pairing up actors to test for chemistry. And then something unexpected happened.

"The director [presumably "Pilot" director Ken Kwapis] says, 'Phyllis, I want you to read the character of Pam today.' I thought it was odd, but I said, 'Eh, okay,'" the actress said. At the time, Smith figured that the director might be turning to her as a stand-in because one of the actresses auditioning for Pam was late or unavailable. But, in fact, it was Smith herself who was being auditioned.

"I didn't know it. No one ever approached me about that. No one ever said, 'Hey, would you like to be in this TV show?'" Smith revealed. "It was about a week later that the wardrobe called me. They said, 'We understand that you are playing the character Phyllis.' I said, 'Yes I am.' That's how Phyllis wound up on set."

Smith added that the news came as a surprise to her friends and colleagues in the casting field, as that kind of thing hardly ever happened. Even though Smith was a SAG member, she had all but put acting behind her, and was perfectly content as a casting worker. "I was never sitting there, going, under my breath, 'Oh, I wonder if there is a role for me,'" she told MovieWeb.

Smith's acting career has been fruitful since

Phyllis Smith might not have intended for "The Office" to be her breakthrough as an actress, but it very much was. "I always thought this part of my life had dissipated. The ship did sail, but it came back and picked me up. Now I have a new career in my latter years," she told MovieWeb. And, indeed, Smith hasn't left her new career behind ever since.

Her first major acting role post-"The Office" was in the 2011 Cameron Diaz vehicle "Bad Teacher," which saw Smith play Elizabeth Halsey's (Diaz) best friend Lynn Davies. Smith later had a recurring role on the short-lived and underrated ABC sitcom "Trophy Wife," once again as a schoolteacher.

Her most notable roles, however, came after "The Office" had already concluded its run. First, in 2015, she voiced Sadness in Pixar's "Inside Out." It was an ingenious bit of casting — Smith herself must have been proud — that resulted in one of the best, most emotionally affecting voice-acting turns of the 21st century so far, ultimately earning Smith a well-deserved Annie Award for Voice Acting (via IMDb).

Then there was "The OA," which featured Smith as one of its stars, empathetic and open-minded high school teacher Betty Broderick-Allen, a.k.a. BBA. Though the role was not as central as her "Inside Out" one, it still allowed Smith to display a rare talent for subdued emotional intensity. And to think she'd been hiding from the public for so long.