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The Untold Truth Of Jenna Fischer

Jenna Fischer is the quintessential working actor. 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," she said. "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 depiction of ennui, alongside her legendary sitcom romance with John Krasinski's Jim Halpert, made her sympathetic in a number of ways. The romance between Pam and Jim 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.

Of course, Fischer has had a wide variety of experiences as an actor, both before and after 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 part in the 2018-19 series "Splitting Up Together," and she even wrote a book on acting and started a successful podcast. And there's a lot about her you might not know, so let's explore how Jenna 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, skeptically saying, "It was a very athletic role. ... 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 pretty 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 she 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 "The Office" star Brian Baumgartner's podcast, "An Oral History Of 'The Office," the former Kevin Malone actor interviewed Jenna Fischer about her audition process. Casting director Allison Jones told her in no uncertain terms to "just play it really real." She even went on to say, "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 she 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 then gender-swapped the role and gave it to Fischer, 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 Fischer and her sister, Emily, helped her memorize her lines. Anne taught five-year-old Fischer in an acting workshop at her school, and two important things happened. Pretending a toy mailbox was a microphone made the future "Office" star realize that she could be an actor, 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 her 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 Fischer's husband. Even after they split, Fischer remained friends with the Gunn brothers. 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 Fischer 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 despite having gotten married. LaBute personally offered her the role and also directed the play, which ran for a month. As a result, 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 $1 million over its six-week run. Fischer played Corky, who has the cracks in her marriage undermined and exposed by the other party guests. 

Jenna Fischer 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 (via Hemispheres), "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. Here, she points 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 also dishes out tips and advice based on her own experiences. She talks 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.

Fischer 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 a book aiming to further recapture that magic.

Show without a plan

After "The Office" ended in 2013, Fischer's career slowed. And after having a second child in 2014, she was limited to guest-starring jobs. However, she landed the part of Andi Burns, the wife of Matt LeBlanc (aka Joey from "Friends"), on his 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 actually might 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 Season 2 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. And 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 where the 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 would flatly turn 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.

Make My Day

Thinking of Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly in "The Office," it can be hard to picture her in a gritty action-drama, but she had a memorable role in Clint Eastwood's 2018 action thriller "The 15:17 To Paris." A dramatization of real-life events, the movie depicts the events surrounding an incident when three Americans disarmed and detained an armed terrorist on a train in France. The men were childhood friends on a vacation together in Europe, and two of them had military experience. None of them were actors, but Eastwood made the unusual decision to cast the three men as themselves. 

Fischer played Alek Skarlatos' mother Heidi. In the events leading up to the film's dramatic climax, dramatizations of their childhood included Heidi sticking up for her son when he got in trouble. Fischer has entered the part of her career where she's playing these older maternal roles, but playing it seriously was something new for her. Of Eastwood, she said "Every story you have heard about working for Clint Eastwood is absolutely true. He's prepared. He's efficient. He's inspirational. He gives great acting notes. It's crazy that his crew has been working with him so long they have a shorthand so the day goes by very quickly." 

An unlikely femme fatale

Fischer's known for her side-eye exasperation and fairly conservative wardrobe from "The Office." Certain films, however, have seen her playing against type. In the 2007 figure-skating spoof "Blades Of Glory," Fischer plays sexpot Katie Van Waldenberg, the younger sister of the sinister skating siblings played by Amy Poehler and Will Arnett. There's a scene where she's sent to seduce Jon Heder's character in order to break up his skating duo, but she can't quite go through with it. "There's some lingerie," she later reflected. "I definitely challenged myself in ways in this movie that I think will be a stepping stone for me trying to spread my wings."

In 2007's "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," Fischer plays Darlene Madison, one of Dewey's backup singers, who eventually tempts him into cheating on his wife. Fischer wears revealing outfits showing a lot of cleavage, but the real fun is in the suggestive ways they incorporate woodworking and horseback riding into their flirtations. Fischer said playing Darlene was liberating, noting, "It got kind of cool to just flaunt it and not care, and be in the spotlight ... by the end of the movie those guys couldn't stop me. Like, I was on a roll. I was like, 'When's the next — push the boobs up higher. I can't see them enough, you guys.'"

Christina Applegate: a new BFF

Jenna Fischer has made a second career based on her friendship with former "The Office" co-star Angela Kinsey, with their "Office Ladies" podcast and a book. But she's also said she made an instant connection with her co-star Christina Applegate in the 2011 movie "Hall Pass." It's about two guys, played by Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis, who get a "hall pass" from their wives for a week, meaning they can do anything they want, including seeing other people. Of course, that means their wives, played by Fischer and Applegate, get to play as well. 

Of Applegate, Fischer said "What happened immediately is that Christina and I clicked, like two peas in a pod. We just had the best time. Every time we were on set together, we hung out the whole time. On 'The Office,' I have Angela [Kinsey], and she and I are best friends, but I'd never done a movie where I'd had a woman on set with me like this." While Fischer praised the overall chemistry of the ensemble, she also felt like Applegate was her teammate in a competition: "When it was finally time to do our scenes with the four of us together, we really did have a boys against the girls chemistry going. We were a force to be reckoned with."

Apocalypse what?

It only lasted ten episodes, but Jenna Fischer had a compelling role in the 2015 NBC science-fiction/comedy series "You, Me and the Apocalypse." The show centers around an ensemble cast reacting to the knowledge that an asteroid will be hitting Earth in about a month, causing the end of the world. Fischer plays Rhonda, a seemingly mild-mannered librarian who's in prison. She was sent there for hacking into the NSA, but she only did it to protect her son. A hacker springs her from prison, and she becomes the sidekick to a white nationalist played by Megan Mullally. 

Fischer took the role after taking time off following the birth of her daughter. Of the show's bizarre premise, she said, "It was like how you meet somebody at a party and you have a small conversation with them and you can't stop thinking about them — I got a little crush on this show ... I get to do stunts and be in shootouts. I take someone hostage at one point. I never get asked to do stuff like that because no one wants to see Pam doing that! So it was fun." 

The Office BFFs

It only makes sense that the success of the "Office Ladies" podcast from Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey led to a book. Titled "The Office BFFs: Tales From 'The Office' From Two Best Friends Who Were There," the book covers a lot of the same ground as the podcast. What the book really brings is some of the things alluded to on the podcast, like both stars' detailed journaling, as well as scores of photos recording their experiences while working. "The Office" was famous for making its background actors stay for every scene, because they were pretending to film a real office. This resulted in background actors needing to find ways to amuse themselves, and it's one of the things that led to Fischer and Kinsey becoming friends. 

Fischer said the bonding began after the "Basketball" episode from the first season, when they sat on a bench next to each other for two days. They got giddy at the end, skipping across the parking lot arm-in-arm. Star Steven Carrell saw them and Fischer remembered he said, "'No matter what happens, this is what you'll take with you. This.' And he pointed at the two of us. He was so right."