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The untold truth of Michael Scott

Michael Scott wears his heart on his sleeve. For better or for worse, he doesn't hide much about himself, and is as generous in sharing his love and enthusiasm as his most misguided ideas and plans. Over the course of The Office, we learn about this strengths, triumphs, sorrows, and personal history. Not all of it is pretty, like the fact that his best (and maybe only) friend in school was the lunch lady. But some of it, like his genuine love for his employees, wipes away all his worst jokes, schemes, and tantrums.

Even for those who have watched and rewatched The Office more times than they can count, there's quite a lot to learn about this hateable, lovable character and Steve Carell, the actor who portrayed him. While Michael's sleeve may be where he wears his heart, he also keeps a fair amount of tricks up there, as any good magician should. And we know he's a committed magician, because he got his corporate credit card taken away for spending $80 at a magic shop. This is Michael Scott, papercuts and all.

A triumph for Michael

One of Michael's most catastrophic relationships is the one he has with Jan Levinson. She manipulates him constantly, and only dates him because her psychiatrist urges her to, as an experiment in "indulging" her self-destructive tendencies.

Jan's behavior is, frankly, awful, ranging from making Michael sleep on a small bench at the end of their bed to filming them during intercourse, then playing it back afterward to "improve his form." There's a serious element of abuse to her treatment of Michael: In the episode "Women's Appreciation," Michael comments that he and Jan have a safe word, "foliage," in case things go too far ... but last time he used it, she pretended she didn't hear him. The women of Dunder-Mifflin are appropriately appalled when they hear this.

All of this is why, when Michael finally ends the relationship for real in "Dinner Party," it's a huge turning point in his growth. Moreover, that episode isn't just important for Michael — it's a triumph for the show. "Dinner Party," which infamously displays Michael and Jan's dysfunction and toxicity with unmatched awkwardness, is the only episode of the show that was never rewritten.

The ball's in their court

You might have noticed that the fourth season of The Office is quite a bit shorter than the rest. This is due to the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, which caused a shock wave that affected countless programs, fans, and creatives. Steve Carell was one of the 12,000 screenwriters who went on strike, which lasted from November 2007 to February 2008, coinciding with production of the fourth season of The Office. Carell refused to cross the picket line to film episodes, alongside other Office writers like Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak. Ultimately, the show returned with the end of the strike, as so many others did, and Carell returned to the role of Michael Scott. Still, the show did lose six or seven episodes that year, in large part because of how central Michael is to the show.

What storylines did fans miss out on? We'll never know. But the real-life stories that emerged from this period more than make up for the loss: When Carell reportedly called in "sick" during the strike, he cited a case of "enlarged balls." Now, which would be worse — enlarged balls or a grilled foot?

Don't sweat it

Steve Carell has overactive sweat glands, and so the set of The Office was always kept at a chilly 64 degrees Fahrenheit. This was freezing for most other cast members, who just had to cope — until they finally got space heaters on set. This is just one of many individual quirks that ended up working its way into the series. For an example of another, look to Phyllis, Oscar, and Angela, who all share their actors' first name. Creed Bratton takes this to an extreme, being a fictionalized version of his actual actor. 

Carell's sweat isn't a particularly prominent character trait, but it's more present than you might imagine. if you go back and rewatch the series, there are actually quite a few moments where his sweat production is played up for comic effect. For example, in "Fun Run," it serves to highlight how unprepared Michael was for the exertion of the day. Of course, it doesn't help that he chows down on alfredo before the race and starts off at a sprint, only to nearly give up yards from the finish line due to dehydration.

Michael Scott, as played by ... Bob Odenkirk?

The role of Michael Scott was almost played by Bob Odenkirk, as Steve Carell was tied up with the show Come To Papa in 2005. However, that series only lasted four episodes, and so Carell was available to take on the soon-to-be-iconic role. The character likely would have been a lot different had Odenkirk gotten the role, as the casting department thought there was a bit of "an edge" to his take that differentiated it from Carell's.

Odenkirk did end up playing a Michael Scott inspired-character much later in the series, however. When Jim floats the idea of moving to Philadelphia after his business begins to take off, Pam reluctantly interviews at a new company for a similar job. She is unpleasantly surprised to discover that the manager at this office, played by Odenkirk, is a mirror of her old bumbling boss. We see a brief glimpse into the alternate universe in which Odenkirk played Michael — and it's a pretty darn funny one. Odenkirk does a great job in this episode, but Pam would probably agree that he could never replace the one true Michael Scott.

Odenkirk wasn't the only person other than Carell to audition for Michael, however — Rainn Wilson also tried out for the role. Had he had gotten it, we would have lost both the Michael and the Dwight we know and love. Most fans will agree, that's a truly frightening prospect.

Lunchtime gossip

Steve Carell went to lunch with Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson, and John Krasinski, not long after they were all cast in their roles. As they discussed their new adventure, they predicted the show had the potential to last eight years. Although Carell himself only hung around for seven seasons, these core cast members were pretty much right on the money: The Office ran for nine seasons from 2005 to its finale in 2013.

This success was partly due to the success of Anchorman and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which catapulted Carell into the spotlight. Yet despite these massive hits, in his memoir The Bassoon King, Wilson notes that Carell still predicted Michael Scott would be the role he'd "always be most known for." He's not wrong: Though his movies (and his many post-Office roles) are still hugely beloved, Michael Scott is the Carell role. Maybe he should take up a side hustle in predicting the future?

Lips before scripts

Believe it or not, the kiss between Michael and Oscar was improvised. This is especially impressive on a show that, according to Jenna Fischer, is very tightly scripted. The success of this scene means that it could only have been filmed once to retain its authenticity: Not only did Oscar Nunez have to be on the same wavelength, but the director of the episode had to buy into the improvisation rather than calling for a cut. Moreover, the cameras had to capture not only the awkward kiss, but also the reactions of the rest of the cast.

When it comes to The Office, those reactions are almost as important as the events they are reacting to. Nunez recalls remembering that he prayed none of "the gigglers" on set would laugh, and thus keep them from being able to use the take. But not a single cast member gave the game away. Everyone on set respected Carell's intuition and humor enough to go with the flow of one of the most well-recognized moments in the show's history.

Because of the show's spontaneous feel, fans often inquire as to how many moments were unscripted. They are surprisingly few, and this is certainly one of the greatest.

Tiramis-ew

In "The Surplus," Michael is implied to have eaten a tiramisu that Pam threw away. He chides her for having tossed it "because it [had] a tiny little hair on it." Michael never saw the tiramisu before Pam threw it away, so he could only have discovered the hair if he had taken it out of the trash. And because he calls it "perfectly good," we can infer that he has tasted it, and that it's not simply a coincidence that he's munching on tiramisu at his own desk in the previous scene. Ew.

But that's not the only moment Michael eats something questionable. His pretzel on Pretzel Day comes with 18 toppings. He occasionally has an entire family-sized chicken pot pie for lunch. He scarfs down fettuccine alfredo right before a race. He eats mayonnaise and black olives when the office is out of ice cream. He basically quits his job because the corporate overlords don't want him to have his birthday party, and he notes he is offended because he was really counting on the dried figs that would be waiting for him there.

Michael's culinary weirdness extends to creating new foods as well. He creates the "scotch and Splenda," the "orange vod-juice-ka", which is definitely not just a screwdriver, and he dreams of owning a restaurant called Mike's Cereal Shack. Is he a madman or a genius? You decide.

The best man

There are a lot of behind-the-scenes secrets floating around out there that most Office fans don't know — but some of them were once a mystery even to NBC bigwigs. Among these secrets is one of the most heartwarming surprises of the show: Michael's appearance at Dwight and Angela's wedding. We all hoped against hope that Michael would come back sometime in the last season, but there was no word as to whether or not this was likely to happen. As the season wore on, it seemed that Carell had made his meaningful exit and was truly gone for good. And then he shows up in the final episode, to be Dwight's best man.

Not even NBC executives knew that Michael would return for the last episode: Creed Bratton read his lines at the table read and the cast committed to straight-up lying to the press. This secrecy is also why Michael doesn't get very many speaking lines in the finale. Had there been too many, it would have become incredibly obvious whose lines they really were.

Laughs in the background

Michael constantly teases Phyllis for being old and, in his words, "kind of matronly." In response, she often comments that they're the same age, and were in the same graduating class. He shrugs it off, saying that he has a late birthday, and usually September is the cut-off point. His employees, of course, roll their eyes. This is one of many Office gags that unfolds mostly in the background. Michael remains oblivious, but the audience catches the glances and rolled eyes he does not.

Another great example of this style of joke comes from the "Koi Pond" episode. After Michael falls into a decorative pond, many of the employees change their screensavers to fish tanks. Michael doesn't know he's being made fun of, but the rest of the employees can quietly chuckle, shake their heads, and roll their eyes together every time they walk past each other's screensavers and remember that they're not alone in recognizing their boss' buffoonery. As the camera sweeps across their screens, eagle-eyed viewers get a laugh as well.

T-shirt idea: Goodbyes Stink

Michael and Pam's farewell in "Goodbye, Michael," the episode that sees Carell exit the show, is incredibly heartfelt. The relationship between Michael and Pam is an odd one, but also one of the most powerful on the show. Michael spends a massive amount of time objectifying and annoying Pam, and she spends literal years cleaning up his messes and taking care of him. And yet, he takes care of her, too. Their relationship can't exactly be described as brother-sister, father-daughter, or husband-wife. Pam would hurl at that last one for sure. Instead, their unique connection comprises elements of all of these relationships, and of something else entirely. By the time Michael leaves, they're one of the show's most emotionally affecting friendships — which few would have guessed at the show's outset.

It is in this episode that Michael comes up with his simplest, most profound idea yet: A t-shirt that says "Goodbyes Stink." Thank goodness for the comedic relief of Dwight offering bull testicles as a farewell present.

Big names for a big goodbye

Michael Scott's final episodes, and the ones immediately following his goodbye, are chock-full of major stars from the world of comedy, each playing a character vying for the position about to be left vacant. Jim Carrey, Ray Romano, Will Arnett, and Will Ferrell each take their turn in the hot seat, with Will Ferrell ending up with the prize ... only to end up in a coma by the season's end. Then, the position of Dunder-Mifflin Scranton's boss passes to James Spader.

Instead of being angry over being overshadowed by these superstars, Carell was flattered to share the screen with such talent, and excited on behalf of the show. Truly, Steve Carell is the opposite of his character: A man well-known throughout Hollywood for being selfless, humble, and kind. But really, that's what Michael is deep down too. The misunderstood boss is unapologetically himself, even when it lands him in hot water (or koi pond water), and always has the best intentions. Carell is just a bit more sophisticated about it.

Little details of decor and personality

Like every denizen of Dunder-Mifflin, Michael Scott is a mosaic of wonderful character details — many of which most fans never notice. Take the diploma hanging on the wall of his office: The document is actually a certificate of authenticity for a watch. Leave it to Michael to be more proud of a fancy watch than his education. 

Michael Scott is also a Pisces, which is also Ryan's astrological sign. What does looking a little deeper into the similarities between them reveal, in reference to their sign? Well, both believe they're incredibly intelligent, when, in fact, they do silly and misguided things all the time. They're also pretty self-centered and bad at reading people. Pisces people are said to be very intellectual, intuitive, and gentle, so perhaps this shared sign is more of an ironic comment on their personalities than anything else.

Perhaps the saddest thing about Michael that is communicated through offhand remarks and background details is his lonely childhood. If you put together comments he makes over the course of multiple seasons, you realize he was a kid starved for friendship, who grew slowly estranged from his family. All's well that ends well, at least: The series finale reveals that he is absolutely overjoyed to be a father to the three (and counting) children he has with his beloved wife, Holly Flax.

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