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The Truth About Kathy Bates On The Office

Throughout its nine-season run, The Office grew from a small, humble show starring mostly unknown actors to become one of NBC's hottest properties. Eventually, it slowly started adding some bigger names to the cast. Beyond star Steve Carell, whose profile grew bigger and bigger until he left the show in its seventh season, The Office mostly shied away from stunt casting, preferring to cast incredibly famous actors for cameos and multiple-episode arcs.

Eventually, they did get some pretty famous faces. Idris Elba did a turn as Dunder Mifflin boss Charles Miner, James Spader appeared regularly throughout The Office's later seasons, and a whole host of special guest stars, including Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Ray Romano, Ricky Gervais, and Jim Carrey, appeared as possible candidates to replace Carell when he exited the show. One of those huge stars, Kathy Bates, stuck around for a little while, as a new CEO who buys Dunder Mifflin in a surprising move that changes the company forever.

Bates and eventual Silicon Valley star Zach Woods both joined the series in its sixth season as Jo Bennett and Gabe Lewis, respectively, both of whom work for Sabre, an office supply company that purchases Dunder Mifflin. As the CEO of Sabre — until Spader's Robert California convinces her to retire and snags the job for himself in season 8 — Jo is a stern, smart, and uncompromising self-made businesswoman who authors books, works hard, and leads Sabre with an iron fist. Here's the full story of Kathy Bates' time on The Office, according to Andy Greene's new book The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History, and what it was really like to host the Academy Award winner on the set.

Kathy Bates' arrival was intimidating for The Office's cast

Kate Flannery, who played customer service representative Meredith Palmer for the entire series, recalled, "Kathy Bates was intimidating initially. I'm a huge fan, so in my mind I was trying to get the movie Misery [a beloved Stephen King adaptation for which Bates won her Oscar] out of my head; my God. But eventually, she did warm up and was lovely, but I think it was daunting on both sides initially."

Entering such a close-knit ensemble would be a tough move for any actor, and even one of Bates' obvious caliber took things slow. Producer Teri Weinberg said, "I remember her coming in and doing the first table read and all of us just sat so quietly, because we were so in awe of who she is. We were so intimidated by this aura that she'd brought in. It was really fun to be able to be fans of some of these people that came in and be able to see the incredible work that they did."

Editor Claire Scanlon agreed: "I remember when Kathy Bates spoke her voice was trembling at first. We were shocked. We were so excited to be working with freaking Kathy. I knew that she would be intimidated by coming into that group. She said, 'You guys are like a well-oiled machine, it is daunting coming into this group.'"

Director Jeffrey Blitz, on the other hand, recalled, "It felt like people were a little intimidated by her, but her presence on set was that of a total pro and she got the humor of it. [...] When she would blow a take she would often say something along the lines of, 'Oh, f*** a duck.' Everybody would start to laugh and then feel real chill about it.'"

Kathy Bates eventually became part of Dunder Mifflin

Bates quickly became popular on set with both the cast and crew, as producer Randy Cordray relayed: "When Kathy Bates arrived a lot was going on and I felt very bad because occasionally I had to go to Kathy Bates and say, 'Kathy, the schedule does not favor you for tomorrow.' 'Oh really, how so?' 'Well, we have you in this upcoming scene, and we need to shoot that first thing in the morning, and then there's a scene that will probably be right after lunch that you're in, and then you're not going to work again until the end of the day, which would probably be seven P.M. So I basically need you for three different scenes, but they are interspersed.'" Bates, however, was game for anything, according to Cordray, who remembered, "She was like, 'Randy, don't turn yourself inside out on my behalf. You're paying me for the day, you're giving me a nice comfy trailer, I've got a book, and I'm happy.' That was pretty cool. She was a total professional and a dear, sweet woman."

Writer Aaron Shure recalled how unerringly polite Bates always was, saying, "When Kathy Bates came on she would ask questions like, 'Can I change this and to an or?' She'd ask permission for tiny, tiny little script changes. I do remember thinking that was good for the rest of the cast, to hear the degree to which she respected the script. Because I think she could have just done it her way without even asking, so the deference she showed to the script was really nice."

If you want to relive Kathy Bates' tenure as Jo Bennett, you can catch The Office on Netflix until January 2021, at which point it will move to NBC's streaming service, Peacock.