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The Truth About Robert California From The Office

There's no question that NBC's The Office is one of the most beloved TV shows of the modern era, but there are also plenty of fans who might argue that the series lost a little of its spark and magic when Steve Carell left the show after seven seasons. Carell defined the bulk of The Office thanks to his pitch-perfect performance as Michael Scott, the bumbling but ultimately kind-hearted regional manager at a mid-sized paper company in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and when Carell moved on from the show, it definitely didn't feel like anybody could replace him.

However, by that point, The Office was so popular with fans and critics alike that the producers could get just about anybody they wanted to appear on the show, and amidst a parade of super-famous guest stars, one of the biggest scores was undoubtedly James Spader. The veteran actor, known for his work in everything from Boston Legal to Avengers: Age of Ultron to The Blacklist, joined Dunder-Mifflin's team during the show's seventh season as Robert California, a potential candidate to replace Michael Scott, but the story behind Spader's multi-episode arc is actually more involved than you might think. Here's the truth about Robert California on The Office, and why Spader returned to the role following what was supposed to be a simple cameo.

Robert California had an intense debut on The Office

Originally, the character of Robert California was just supposed to be a one-episode guest role for Spader; the character made his debut in the show's seventh season finale, "Search Committee," which found the remaining members of upper management at Dunder-Mifflin's Scranton branch looking for a new leader. After Carell's departure midway through the seventh season, Will Ferrell stepped in as Deangelo Vickers, a new manager with some apparent mental problems, but after Deangelo ended up in a coma, the Dunder-Mifflin crew went back to the drawing board.

Though he initially unnerved Jim (John Krasinski) with his sheer intensity, Jim was forced to admit that Robert might be a "genius," and as Robert left the office, he casually told the documentary crew that he was certain he'd be receiving an offer.

Alongside Spader and Romano, several other incredibly famous faces provided cameos as interviewees, including Jim Carrey (in a previous episode), Will Arnett, and even actual billionaire Warren Buffet. However, Spader was the only actor to return to the series. In an interview with Digital Spy, Spader said, "I never really considered whether I would do more [episodes]. Then... suddenly [the producers] called me back again and said, 'We'd really... like your character to come back in some capacity.'"

Meanwhile, the crew was certainly happy to keep Spader around; Paul Lieberstein, who played Toby and also served as the series' showrunner during later seasons, once said that "[Spader] has a way of taking on his character so fully, even in rehearsal, that it's changing the mood on the set. Everyone is discovering who they are with this new energy."

James Spader returned to The Office for a pretty good reason

After that, Spader returned several times to play Robert California, although apparently, this decision was much more strategic than fans might have thought. In 2013, Spader flat-out admitted that he returned to Scranton simply for the paycheck (via Deadline).

"I had a ball doing that one episode... and two things happened," Spader said. "I was offered [Steven Spielberg's 2012 biopic] Lincoln — a film everybody was doing... for very little money, and yet the commitment was going to be eight months in advance. And I had just finished doing a play in New York and [needed] to make some money... [a job] that actually paid my bills, and lo and behold, they aired [The Office seven-season] finale and people responded to the finale, and [the producers] called and said 'we'd love to have you back in any capacity you're willing."'

Spader struck a deal with The Office's producers, telling them, "As long as you let me out in the fall... And that, probably more than anything, dictated the trajectory of the character on the show... So in a sense I never felt like I was more than a visitor there. I was fine with that."

Nobody on The Office knew who Robert California really was

No matter why he returned to the role, James Spader certainly crafted a lived-in, unique, and wholly bizarre character in Robert California. In fact, it's revealed once or twice that this might not even be his real name; Robert called himself everything from "Robert California" to "Bob Kazamakis" to, at one point, "the f**king lizard king," revealing that nobody really knows much about the character's background.

Beyond the issue of his name, Robert is a man of specific tastes with a voracious appetite for lust, luxury, and adventure; a sexually free and uninhibited man who may or may not be bisexual, Robert flaunts his wealth, influence, and intelligence frequently throughout the show, hosting elaborate parties and waxing philosophical about Southern Italy (despite the fact that he hasn't actually been there).

Eventually, in the show's eighth season, Robert used his particular set of skills to convince Jo Bennett to leave Sabre (the company that owned Dunder-Mifflin) and make him the CEO, but when David Wallace (Andy Buckley) bought the company, Robert left once again, apparently to "mentor young women" across the world.

Ultimately, Spader chose not to return for the final season of The Office — despite the fact that several other former cast members, including Carell, returned for small cameos — but when you consider that he spent much more time at Dunder-Mifflin than expected, his absence from the final season and series finale makes a bit more sense.

You can still relive Spader's time as Robert California on The Office, which is currently streaming on Netflix, though the series will eventually make the move over to Peacock, NBC's upcoming streaming service.