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The Untold Truth Of Jenna Fischer

Jenna Fischer is the quintessential working actress. Obviously, she is best known for her beloved role as aggrieved receptionist Pam Beesly on NBC's version of "The Office." Even early in the run, she told the Truman State University Index that she hoped this would be a long-running job: "Honestly it would be great to get to play Pam for a long, long time ... I don't have real big aspirations to be a movie star. I would love to be on a long-running hit TV show. You end up playing a defining role." Fischer's delicious combination of depicting ennui alongside her half of a legendary sitcom romance with John Krasinski's Jim Halpert character made her sympathetic in a number of ways. Their romance formed the spine of the show during its first six seasons, and their later evolution into a married couple with children and problems to work out continued to be important to the story.

Fischer had a wide variety of experiences as an actress who struggled for years until she got her big break. She wrote, directed and starred in a film prior to "The Office." She's done a lot of work on the stage. She's starred in a number of movies, including comedic seductress roles in films like "Blades Of Glory" and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." She played a substantial role in the 2018-19 series "Splitting Up Together." She wrote a book on acting and started a successful podcast. Let's explore how Fischer's expressed her creative side. 

Fischer lost out on starring in Alias

In episode 43 of their podcast "Office Ladies," Jenna Fischer brought up to her co-host Angela Kinsey that she auditioned for the role of Sydney Bristow on the television series "Alias." The role was eventually given to Jennifer Garner and the show made her a star. Hilariously, Kinsey seemed dubious of this claim, saying, "It was a very athletic role ... you're not the most athletic person. She had to do all kinds of kicks, flip over things." An indignant Fischer moved on from Kinsey doubting her, because the actual reason she didn't get the role was horrible.

Fischer said, "So I went in and I read for the role and my ... scene that I had to audition with. [It] was this really emotional, dramatic scene where I'm crying, I think, like about my mother. And it was super intense. And the feedback that my agent got was like, Jenna blew us away. We absolutely loved it. Her scene was, she just did a great job. We're gonna pass on her because we just unfortunately don't think she's hot enough. That was my feedback." 

Happily, all of this was followed by Fischer and Kinsey discussing their idea of doing a mom detectives show where they went around and solved "very, very minor crimes." Of course, if Fischer had gotten the "Alias" role, she never would have had a shot at being Pam Beesly. But given she was later in a celebrity softball game, Fischer had plenty of athleticism to play that role!

She's also a director

Prior to her breakthrough role in "The Office," Fischer wrote, directed, and starred in her own film, a mockumentary called "Lollilove." Co-starring her then-husband, director James Gunn (who would go on to fame with the "Guardians Of The Galaxy" franchise), it depicted a rich couple attempting to "improve" the lives of homeless people by giving them lollipops with uplifting messages on them. Co-starring acting friends like Judy Greer, Linda Cardellini and Jason Segel (all still fairly early in their careers), it gave Fischer a leg up on the cringe comedy of mockumentaries.

Fischer earned a Screen Actors Guild Emerging Actor Award at her hometown St. Louis Film Festival for the project, and also received the Tromadance Kodak Independent Soul Award, presented to "independent directors for outstanding achievements in filmmaking." Of the experience, Fischer told Playback, "It was a lot of hard work. The directing was exhausting and the writing was painful. It was very difficult to direct and star in a movie. We also had a very small crew so I did a lot of things a normal director doesn't have to do, like make the props and serve lunch. I was simultaneously getting into character, going over my lines, set dressing the next shot, coaching an actor, and brainstorming with my D.P. I'm good at multitasking, but that was too much for me. I couldn't enjoy any one part the way I would have liked. I think I'll stick to acting. That part was fantastic."

The Office casting director wanted Fischer to 'bore' her

On former "The Office" star Brian Baumgartner's podcast "An Oral History Of 'The Office,'" Baumgartner interviewed Jenna Fischer about her audition process. Casting director Allison Jones told her in no uncertain terms to "just play it really real. In fact, Jenna, dare to bore me." Fischer had been a fan of the original "The Office" from England and the character of Dawn, and knew that her character had similar beats. At the same time, she added her own experience as a receptionist before she got her big break in Hollywood to create Pam's backstory in her mind, and she used that in her audition.

When series showrunner Greg Daniels interviewed her as though he was a documentarian, he was stunned to see that "... she doesn't appear to be acting. She appears to simply be Pam." The first question he asked her was, "Do you like working as a receptionist?" Her reply was a weary, "No." Nothing more, and there were several seconds of silence. Sometimes less truly is more!

Spousal collaborations

While Jenna Fischer's then-husband James Gunn co-starred in her directorial debut, she wasn't supposed to be in his first film, 2006's "Slither." Gunn had achieved some success as a screenwriter, but this Universal Pictures horror film was his first chance to display his quirky and dark sense of humor as a director. Gunn had cast a male actor to play the role of police dispatcher Shelby, but he begged off at the last moment. Gunn gender-swapped the role and gave it to Jenna, adding a few more scenes as she became one of many victims of an alien hive-mind. By the time the movie debuted, Fischer had suddenly become famous thanks to the success of Season 2 of "The Office," and she wound up doing a lot of publicity for "Slither."

In 2008, Fischer met a screenwriter named Lee Kirk and he pitched her an idea that became the film "The Giant Mechanical Man." A quirky love story, they developed the premise together. This was her first producing credit, and she also starred in the movie. As they nurtured the product through the national financial collapse in 2008, they fell in love, got married, and had a child. After years of delays, the actual shoot was just 19 days. Fischer joked about her marriage after the movie was completed, "I don't know what we're going to talk about anymore because for the last four years we've been talking about 'The Giant Mechanical Man.'"

Old friends are the best friends

Growing up in St. Louis, Jenna Fischer's idol was her mother Anne, a teacher. Anne often acted in church plays, while Jenna and her sister Emily helped her memorize her lines. Anne taught five-year-old Jenna in an acting workshop at her school, and two important things happened. Pretending a toy mailbox was a microphone made Jenna realize that she could be an actress, and she met a boy in that class named Sean Gunn.

Years later, when she ran into Gunn on a visit home after she had moved to Los Angeles, he told he was going out to start his own acting career. Once out there, he helped her make a number of vital contacts. He got her into an acting showcase that garnered the attention of the person who would become their manager, jump-starting her career. He also introduced her to his brother James, the director who would later become Jenna's husband. Even after they split, Jenna remained friends with James and Sean. Sean would achieve fame playing the eccentric Kirk on "Gilmore Girls," as well as both the on-set stand-in for the CG-created Rocket Raccoon and the comedic role of Kraglin in his brother's "Guardians Of The Galaxy" films. 

Another longtime friend — "Survivor" host Jeff Probst — would play another big role in her life. An ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, he had married a number of his friends. He actually left his show's location in 2010 in order to marry Fischer and Lee Kirk.

Jenna and the theater

Fischer started her career on the stage, and she's had a number of opportunities to get back to her roots. While "The Office" was starting to wind down, she worked with her husband Lee Kirk in a 2010 revival of his absurdist play, "Sad Happy Sucker." Workshopped three years earlier, Fischer put on her producer hat as her husband directed it at the Lyric Hyperion Theater. The story follows a man named Eddie who is literally stuck in his mother's back yard and the efforts taken to free him.

As "The Office" was airing its final episode in May of 2013, Fischer debuted in the off-Broadway production "Reasons To Be Happy," written by Neil LaBute. A sequel to "Reasons To Be Pretty," the play featured Fischer as Steph, a woman who hasn't gotten over her old boyfriend Josh despite having gotten married. LaBute personally offered her the role and also directed the play, which ran for a month. Fischer wasn't able to watch the finale of "The Office" with her old castmates, but former co-star BJ Novak was in New York and came out to support her. 

In 2016, Fischer co-starred in Steve Martin's play "Meteor Shower," about a couple attending a meteor shower viewing party at another couple's house. It set a box office record at San Diego's Old Globe Theater, making nearly a million dollars over its six-week run. Fischer played Corky, who has the cracks in her marriage undermined and exposed by the other party guests. 

Jenna is a card shark

Playing poker has become one of Jenna Fischer's many hobbies. When she and her husband Lee Kirk went on their honeymoon to Scotland in 2010, they tried to beat their jetlag by staying up just late enough to wake up bright and early the next day. In an effort to stay awake, they wandered around Edinburgh and happened upon a pub holding a poker tournament. They both entered and Kirk did well, finishing fifth. 

However, they didn't leave just yet, because as Fischer said, "...someone else was still in the tournament. Me. Somehow, through a combination of weariness, adrenaline, caffeine, and a little alcohol, I was playing the best poker of my life. My instincts were heightened; I seemed to have a perfect read on every player at the table, my stack growing with every hand. I felt like I was floating in some kind of European poker heaven." Fischer won it all and the couple then went back to their hotel and collapsed.

Fischer has since appeared on "Celebrity Poker Showdown," going up against the likes of Mario Cantone and Keegan-Michael Key.

Living the actor's life

Jenna Fischer told St. Louis arts channel HEC-TV that when she first arrived in Hollywood, she thought, "I'm a trained actor, I think I've got some natural talent ... I'm going to make it in six months and it was not six months. I mean, six months later, I was actually in debt, barely had a day job, didn't have an agent, had horrible head shots." She described herself as naive and wished she had a mentor who would have helped her navigate things. She needed "seasoning," adding, "You need to learn how to be on a set. You need to learn the etiquette. You need to learn how to perform for a camera. You need to learn how to endure the days which have a lot of changes."

That's why she wrote "The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide." It's not a book about learning how to act. It's a book about learning how to navigate the business of acting. She pointed out, for example, that only 5% of Screen Actors Guild members make over $100,000 a year. The median is $52,000, and that's before agent and manager fees. Even getting to the point where you have an agent is an arduous process. Fischer dished out tips and advice based on her own experiences. She talked a lot about food and taking advantage of buffets and urged actors to save food for later. Just as she dishes on the behind-the-scenes information on "Office Ladies," so too does she dish on the mundane mechanics of being a working actor.

Jenna and bestie Angela Kinsey started a podcast

Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey may have been adversaries on "The Office," but in real life they became immediate best friends. Of their first meeting, Fischer told Vulture, "I was very lonely at reception. People would often stand in front of me and have conversations, but not talk to me! It would drive me crazy. When I was a real receptionist when I first moved to Los Angeles it would drive me crazy. And then it happened to me again fictionally! It just never ended. I remember being so happy she was right over that partition and was always someone I could talk with."

Both kept detailed journals and memos of their "Office" experience. As they were looking through boxes of memorabilia, Kinsey said, "We became really nostalgic for the show by hanging out and looking through all of the boxes of stuff, so I said to her I really wanted to rewatch the show fully. I hadn't done that since we made the show, and neither did Jenna, so we collectively had this 'Why don't we do this?' moment. Why not? It's the anniversary, so let's reminisce and share the memories with the fans."

And thus, "Office Ladies" was born. Their natural chattiness translated perfectly over to the podcast format. While they do go through a detailed exploration of each episode, their frequent tangents and debates set it apart from similar "Office"-related media. This in turn has led to an upcoming book aiming to further recapture that magic.

Show without a plan

After "The Office" ended in 2013, Fischer's career slowed. After having a second child in 2014, she was limited to guest-starring jobs. However, she landed the role of Andi Burns, the wife of Matt LeBlanc (aka Joey from "Friends"), on his new show "Man With A Plan." She was hoping the CBS show would be her next long-running role. 

On the day the show was announced, she got a phone call. She said "'It's bad news, isn't it,' and they said 'Yeah,' And I said 'We didn't get picked up,' and they were like, 'No, it's worse. The show got picked up; it's going to be moving forward without you.' And I was like 'I got fired?' And they're like, 'You've been fired.'" Watching it later, she realized the focus groups that said they didn't believe Pam and Joey as a couple may have been right.

"I watched it and I was like 'Oh, I thought I was charming and cute, and it was great.' But I think I saw what the focus groups saw which was, yeah, we didn't seem like a couple. We kind of seemed like two people doing good performances and they were both quite good shows, but they weren't the same show."

LeBlanc's show lasted four seasons before being canceled in 2020. Fischer was replaced by Liza Snyder, but she went on not only to have a solid two-year run on "Splitting Up Together," she also started her podcast.

The ballad of Jim and Pam

In many respects, "Casino Night," the second season finale of "The Office," was perhaps the single most important episode of the entire series. After a season where the show grew in popularity and the aching sweetness of Jim and Pam's flirtations left viewers looking for hopeful signs, things shockingly came to a head in this episode. Jim Halpert decided to roll the dice at last and declare his love for Pam, culminating in a darkly-lit, awkward, and sweet first kiss

Director Ken Kwapis noted that they only used a single camera to record the scene and kept it away from the actors, giving the real sense of eavesdropping for the viewers. In the "Office Ladies" podcast episode discussing the show, Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski revealed the actors were kept away from each other for an hour before the scene to add to its nervous intensity. Fischer said, "We never rehearsed it on stage together. And I remember they brought me to set. All the lights were dim, there was no one around, it was super eerie." 

My kingdom for a horse

When "The Office" was still in the audition process, Jenna Fischer was paired with John Krasinski as her scene partner. They quickly developed an easy chemistry, and Fischer was delighted when she learned both had nailed down their roles. After many seasons of Jim and Pam flirting as best friends, spending time apart, and then finally getting together, they were married in the sixth season.

This was an epic event, and it was shot on location in Niagara Falls. Balancing an episode whose premise wasn't necessarily funny with the cringe humor associated with the show was a difficult task. At one point, writer Greg Daniels was pushing for Pam's ex-fiancé Roy to show up on a horse and object to the wedding. Later, when Pam flatly turned him down, he was going to leave the horse there. Even later, Dwight would ride on the horse, and it would accidentally go over the edge of the falls.

This bizarre idea got a cold reception. Daniels said "The entire staff and actors were yelling at me: 'Don't ruin Jim and Pam's wedding with a horse!'" Instead, they substituted the Dunder-Mifflin employees recreating the viral video of a family doing a dance to Chris Brown's "Forever." The genius of the episode was that Jim and Pam had anticipated their friends interfering with their wedding with these kind of antics, so their actual ceremony was on a water-swept boat moments before.