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Secrets Of The Office Pilot Revealed

The Office is one of the most quotable and rewatchable sitcoms ever made. Someone tells you they've never watched The Office? Hit 'em with the old, "Why are you the way that you are?"  A colleague gets on your nerves for the millionth time? Take a deep breath and internally repeat, "I hate so much about the things that you choose to be." And that's not even getting into "That's what she said!" territory.

What makes The Office so great? Well, some of it is the deadpan insanity of Dwight Schrute, beet farmer extraordinaire. Some of it is the heart-tugging saga of Jim and Pam's romance. A whole lot of it is the outstanding performance of Steve Carrell as the ever-ignorant, yet strangely lovable boss, Michael Scott. Much of this magic, which went on to make the series iconic, is actually present in the pilot episode. The Office is also a series bursting with behind-the-scenes facts and interesting backstories, much of it recently revealed by Angela Kinsey and Jenna Fischer on their wildly popular Office Ladies podcast. We're here to examine some of the juiciest secrets they've revealed about The Office's very first episode.

Phyllis was originally a casting associate

Phyllis Smith, who played Phyllis Vance, never actually auditioned for The Office. Smith was a casting associate for the show, and one of her responsibilities was reading lines with actors who were auditioning for roles. In fact, Smith read lines during just about everyone's audition, including Jenna Fischer's audition for the role of Pam and Angela Kinsey's audition for the role of Angela. Ken Kwapis, the director of the pilot, was so impressed with Smith during auditions that he requested she be put into the show. 

How did Smith find out she was cast? Well, the writers created a character named Phyllis without telling Smith. When Smith discovered the character in the script, Kwapis told her they'd created a character for her to play specifically. Funnily enough, Smith went right back to being a casting associate after acting in the pilot. At the time, nobody was sure what was going to happen with The Office, and there were six months between shooting the pilot and shooting the rest of the first season. At the time, Smith couldn't have imagined the role of Phyllis would make her famous, nor that it would lead to high-profile parts in films like Inside Out.

The pilot includes a shot of the wrong Dunder Mifflin building

Every television show has to find its bearings. They creators aren't sure what direction they'll take the plot in yet. The actors haven't fully developed their characters. The writers haven't completely forged the show's in-universe landscape, culture, and history. So whenever you watch early episodes of any given TV show, you usually find peculiarities that don't quite add up with the rest of the series. That's exactly what happened in the pilot of The Office.

At roughly the 9:29 mark of the pilot, there's a shot of the exterior of the Dunder-Mifflin building — but it isn't the office building we've come to know and love. As Fischer and Kinsey note on their podcast, it's not even a shot of the Culver City office building they shot the episode in. They have no idea where the shot came from, and guess that it's stock footage the creators never used again. Though the classic Dunder-Mifflin building isn't exactly a marvel of architecture, fans can agree that this cuboid behemoth looks even more boring to work within.

The actors began each day with 30 minutes of office work

As with any job, actors have to transition from home mode into work mode. In their case, this amounts to the process of getting into character. This can be challenging, so good directors help their actors out in a variety of ways. Before shooting any scenes, pilot director Ken Kwapis used his own unique method: He had the cast do mundane office work. On every day the pilot was shot, Kwapis mandated that the actors show up to set, go through hair and makeup, then report to their desk at 7:30 AM. Then, for 30 minutes, the entire cast had to pretend to do office work while the film crew walked around and shot footage. This got the actors to feel like they were shooting a real documentary, and made the set feel like "a real working office." 

Footage from this time is actually used throughout The Office. For example, during the show's title sequence, there's a brief shot of Pam using Wite-Out. That clip, Fischer notes, comes from one of the cast's 30 minute warm-ups.

Fischer couldn't stop laughing during the Six Million Dollar Man scene

We've all wondered how hard it must have been to shoot scenes from The Office without laughing. As it turns out, sometimes that was indeed impossible. As Jenna Fischer recounts, she couldn't stop laughing during one scene in the pilot in particular: The one in which Michael Scott takes a paper from Pam and walks back to his office a la The Six Million Dollar Man. Basically, for 20 deadpan seconds, Michael takes slow steps while saying, "Sha-ta-ta-ta!" –  his way of imitating Steve Austin's speedy sound effects. As always, Michael wants to crack his employees up, and as always, his efforts backfire. As he does this ridiculous reenactment, he keeps looking back at Pam, waiting for her reaction. She stares back at him, unsmiling. 

In real life, Fischer couldn't stop laughing as this scene was shot: "I could not get through that scene, and in fact, in order to get my reaction shot they had to make Steve leave the set."  Her blank-faced stare was filmed without Steve Carell present. You can't blame her though — the scene is downright hilarious.

Todd Packer was originally voiced by a different actor

Todd Packer, the coarse, alcoholic, insanely inappropriate sales representative who offends everyone except Michael Scott, is actually introduced in the pilot episode. He isn't physically shown, but viewers hear his voice when he calls Michael during a meeting with Jan Levinson. While Jan explains to Michael that there will be down-sizing, Michael takes an incoming call from Packer, who Michael insists is a "terrific rep." Packer doesn't know he's on speaker and proceeds to say a bunch of stuff that, well, Packer would normally say.

What you may not know, though, is that the voice of Todd Packer is not played by the actor who went on to play the role in person. When Packer physically appears in the second season episode "Sexual Harassment," he is played by David Koechner, who portrayed the sleazebag for the rest of the series. However, in the pilot, Packer is voiced by actor Toby Huss, as Koechner hadn't been hired for the pilot. It's the one and only time Huss played Packer. Huss is perhaps best known as a voice actor, who played multiple characters, including Cotton Hill and Kahn Souphanousinphone, on King of Hill. Huss is also good friends with Greg Daniels, who adapted the British Office for American audiences and served as showrunner for the first four seasons.

A different actress played Meredith

An often forgotten fact about the pilot episode of The Office is that is features a completely different actress playing Meredith Palmer: Henriette Mantel portrayed the free-wheeling mom in this first outing. Many viewers never notice this, as Meredith doesn't have any lines in the pilot and is essentially a background character. But keep your eyes peeled, and you'll quickly realize that Kate Flannery, who went on to make Meredith into one of The Office's most unforgettable characters, is nowhere to be found.

Obviously, Mantel, who played Alice in The Brady Bunch movies, didn't keep her role as Meredith. Six months lay between shooting the pilot and shooting the rest of the season – that's a long time to wait, especially when you don't know if the show in question will be picked up for most of it. During that time, Mantel became busy with other projects. When the time came to shoot the rest of season one, Mantel wasn't available, and so they cast Kate Flannery in the role of Meredith Palmer. The rest is history.

The pilot was shot in a real office building

Most of The Office takes place in, you guessed it, an office. It's hard to shoot on location in most cases, but occasionally, TV shows do manage to pull it off. For The Office's pilot, the cast and crew got to shoot on the second floor of a real office building in Culver City, California. According to Fischer, there were a few times when it was difficult to get certain shots, because the camera crew couldn't move walls, doors, or windows — something that comes standard on a set built from the ground up. Interestingly, however, this ended up working to the show's advantage: The Office is meant to feel like a real documentary, and what better way to generate that feeling than to shoot like documentarians? Many shots ended up looking awkward, for having to work around actual spaces built for mundane purposes, but it gives the pilot episode a more natural and gritty appearance. There's even one scene where you can see a boom mic: When Roy is introduced, it dips briefly into frame. As Kinsey notes, "they left it in because it's a documentary."

Angela already knew the actors for Meredith and Oscar

Angela Kinsey was very nervous during her first day of shooting. She had no idea who the other actors were — as she reminds listeners, "This was sort of before smartphones." No one had texted her about getting a role on the same show, or posted about it on social media. She pretty much walked in blind ... and was pleasantly surprised to see an actor that she already knew: Oscar Nunez, who played Oscar Martinez. When the first season began shooting, she was doubly pleased to discover Kate Flannery cast as Meredith, as the two were also previously acquainted.

Kinsey and Flannery had known each other for years, having previously been part of an all-female improv group called B*tch Planet. Kinsey knew Nunez because they'd done a sketch comedy show together called Hot Towel. With two familiar faces on set, Kinsey immediately felt a lot calmer. It probably also helped that they all essentially sat with each other, as Angela, Meredith, and Oscar are all portrayed as accountants in the first season.

Fischer had to film her fake firing more than 30 times

First, a little background on this scene. Corporate is down-sizing, and has told Michael Scott to let one employee go. The impending doom is weighing on everyone, including Pam, the receptionist. At the same time, Michael wants to impress his temp, Ryan, by showing what a fun boss he is. So Michael hatches a plan to prank Pam by pretending to fire her, which goes about as well as  you'd expect: Michael accuses her of stealing Post-It notes, Pam cries, and Michael looks like a complete jerk. After telling Pam it was a joke, he tries to laugh it off, but no one, including Ryan, is laughing.

According to Jenna Fischer, she had to do this scene over 30 times, which she guesses are the most takes she ever shot for a scene on The Office. On top of that, this was also Fischer's audition scene. When it came time to actually film it, Fischer had a hard time, which is understandable: The scene calls for her to  act surprised, cry, and scold Michael, but not ultimately make him out to be too much of a bad guy. Angela Kinsey performed the scene as well, as she initially auditioned for Pam, and though she does recall having to wait through Fischer's many takes, she also celebrates the "brilliant" vulnerability that Fischer brought to the role.

The two extras were real production accountants for the show

If you watch the pilot carefully, you may notice a few unfamiliar characters. Particularly, there are two unknown women in the conference room when Michael announces that there will be downsizing, though he promises their branch won't be affected. After the pilot, we never see these two women again, even though, at the time, they seem like regular office workers, as much a part of the team as Meredith, Oscar, or Stanley.

It turns out, these two individuals were never cast as actors for the show at all. Bodies were needed to fill out empty space in the conference room, so Ken Kwapis pulled some people from the production office. Kwapis asked if anyone wanted to sit in a scene in the background, and two accountants eagerly volunteered. According to Fischer, the two accountants enjoyed doing the scene immensely, but then "had to actually go back to being accountants for the show."

Rainn Wilson weirded everyone out

First impressions are often wrong: That's what Jenna Fischer found out when she met Rainn Wilson, who would go on to play Dwight Schrute. When the candidates for the show's leads were brought in for screen tests, they were mixed and matched with each other. Eventually, Fischer met Wilson, who stayed in character the entire time. But of course, Fischer didn't know that, as she had no idea what his normal personality was like. Her conclusion? "I thought he was the weirdest person I ever met in my life."

Angela Kinsey had a similarly bizarre interaction with Wilson. During the first week of filming, she came upon Wilson eating lunch with his wife, who was pregnant at the time. Wilson introduced his wife thusly: "This is my wife, Holly, bearer of my seed." Apparently, Holly started laughing, and in time, Kinsey would come to understand that was "just Rainn being Rainn." But as she further notes, that's totally a line Dwight might say as well.

They removed production personnel to make it feel like a real documentary

Ken Kwapis was serious about making The Office feel like a real documentary, both for the viewers and the actors on set. To help the actors achieve this, he created a handful of rules to follow, to ensure their environment felt authentic. One of these rules, enforced during the pilot, removed nearly all production personnel from the set.

Whenever it came time to shoot scenes for the pilot, Kwapis would clear the entire set of all crew members, minus the camera operator, a boom operator, and himself. Given the fact that filming took place in a real office building, had anyone walked onto the set at that time, they would've really believed they'd stumbled onto a small team directing a documentary about office workers. This was, of course, the point. In the words of Fischer, "[Ken] said it was very important to him that for all of the actors and crew, that the set felt like a real working office and a real documentary was happening." As fans can attest, this worked like a charm.