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Eccentricity? All In A Day's Work For Rainn Wilson

Rainn Wilson plays beet-farming, archery-loving middle-management kook Dwight Shrute on NBC's The Office.


Other segments from the episode on December 30, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 30, 2008: Interview with Jenna Fischer; Interview with Rainn Wilson.


Fresh Air
1:00-2:00 PM
For Jenna Fischer, 'Office' Life Is A Great Act


This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross. We're ending the year with entertaining interviews from 2008. Today, we're hearing from two stars of the NBC sitcom "The Office." We'll feature an interview with Rainn Wilson later in the show. First up: Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam, the alienated and ironic receptionist at the Scranton branch of the paper supply company Dunder Mifflin. Pam is now engaged to the other most alienated and ironic employee in the office, Jim. Jenna Fischer also co-starred in the film comedies "Blades of Glory" and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story."

Here she is in a scene from this season of "The Office." There's a budget surplus, and the employees are divided over how it should be spent - on a new copier or new chairs. Pam sits in an uncomfortable chair all day, so she goes into her boss's office to butter him up and make the case for new chairs. Her boss, Michael, played by Steve Carell, is usually very proud of the things he says and does and is clueless that he often behaves like a fool.

(Soundbite of show "The Office")

(Soundbite of knocking on the door)

Mr. STEVE CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Yeah?

Ms. JENNA FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Michael?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Yeah.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Hey!

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Hey.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) You got a second?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) I do.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Oh, good.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Oh.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) That must have been so fun.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) It was fun, we had a good time.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Hey, have I told you, you looked really nice today?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Oh, thank you.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Yeah. Is that a new tie?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Umm, no, no, no. I got it at TJ Maxx, $4.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) That is amazing!

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) You think that's good, check out these pants, $9.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) What?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) $9, the boy's department.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) No!

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Look at the ass. Check out the ass.

(Soundbite of spanking)

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) No way!

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Look at that. (Singing) Uh uh uh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Yeah. Oh, so I guess Oscar and Jim were talking your ear off about the new copier, huh?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Yes, they were.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Yeah.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) They were.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Here's what I was thinking. Everyone sits on a chair every day, but not everyone...

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Sits on a copier.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Or even uses the copier every day.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Yeah.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Yeah, right?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Very valid.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) That's it.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) All right, see you later.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) See you.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Hot tie guy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Well.

GROSS: Steve Carell and Jenna Fischer in a scene from "The Office." When I spoke with Fischer in June, she told me how she got the role of Pam.

(Soundbite of NPR's Fresh Air, June 3, 2008)

Ms. JENNA FISCHER (Actress, "The Office"): My very first audition for "The Office," I had to sit in a chair, and the producer interviewed me in character. There was no script. He just said, we want you to act like Pam, or your idea of Pam. And we're going to interview you like a documentary film crew might. And they asked me a lot of questions about - did I like working at a paper company? How long had I lived in Scranton? How did I feel about being filmed by a documentary crew?

And my take on the character of Pam was that she didn't have any media training, so she didn't know how to be a good interview. And also, she didn't care about this interview. And so, I gave very short one-word answers. And I tried very hard not to be funny or clever, because I thought that the comedy would come out of just, you know, the real human reactions to the situation. And it was great. It was great. We clicked quickly. And they liked that take on it.

GROSS: So, in your one-word answers - like what did you say to the questions you were asked in the audition?

Ms. FISCHER: Well, it's funny. The casting director before I went in - I had known her for a few years and she had called me in for other jobs. And she gave me some coaching on the phone. What she said was, don't come in looking pretty, which, you know, is completely different from my audition for "The Promotion" that, you know, they said, we need you to look as hot as possible. She said to me, you know, Jenna, I'm always telling you, you know, look really hot.

A lot of times, when you go in on an audition, they want you to look inappropriately sexy or hot for the role. And I used to get called in to play things like, oh, like, a third-grade schoolteacher but look really hot. And so, in this instance, the - when I went in for "The Office," the casting director said to me, she said, please look normal. Don't make yourself all pretty, and dare to bore me with your audition. Those were her words. Dare to bore me.

She said, please do not come in and do a bunch of shtick and try to be funny and clever, because it's not that kind of show. So, when I went in to the audition, the first question that they asked me in the character of Pam - they said, do you like working as a receptionist? And I said, no. And that was it. I didn't speak anymore than that. And they started laughing.

And then, they asked me a few more questions. My - I mean, my answers were really nothing. They were just yes and no answers. They - and I felt like the comedy would come in watching me think about what I wasn't going to say instead of being what was said.

GROSS: Right. And that's classic "The Office," because, you know, one of the premises of "The Office" is that they're somewheres between a reality TV show and a documentary being shot in "The Office." So, the characters are always either directly talking to the camera or glancing sideways at the camera while the action's going on and often giving very pained looks because their boss, Michael, is behaving… (Laughing) …so badly. And you are - you have classic pained looks that you give the camera.

Ms. FISCHER: Well, my character of Pam is really stuck. I mean, she's a subordinate in this office. And so, I think that for her, the only way she can express herself is in the silences, but you can say so much by not saying anything.

GROSS: So, when you're giving one of your pained looks or one of your "this is absurd" looks to the camera, who's the camera person? Is there an actor behind there that you can kind of, like, interact with? Or is it just, like, the camera with a camera person?

Ms. FISCHER: Well, there's two different scenarios. When we're just shooting the show and it's a scene, the camera operator is this man named Randall Einhorn. And he's our director of photography. And we will look at him, we'll give him the look, or we'll look into the camera at him. And he's become another character or another actor on the show to us. So, we do actually act with him.

And it's really cute - whenever Pam smiles at the camera, Randall can't help but smile back. The man, Randall, smiles at you while he's holding the camera. And there are scenes that we've done that have been really touching. And you'll look at Randall, and he'll be, you know, sort of teared up.

And when we shoot our talking heads - our interview segments - the director of the episode serves as our documentarian for that week. Some of the directors, we have them back again, and again, and again. And one director we're particularly attached to is Ken Kwapis. He directed our very first episode, and he comes back every year and directs a couple of episodes. And last year, he directed the finale. And he's always taken a particular interest in Pam and her journey. So, I feel very close to him.

And in that moment, when Jim burst into the conference room while Pam's giving an interview, and he finally asks her out on a date, I turned to the camera. And in the moment that they used, I'm sort of tearing up. And the reason that I teared up was because when I looked back at the camera, I saw Ken Kwapis. And he - his eyes were full of tears. And he smiled at me and gave me a little wink, like, that's right. You finally got what you wanted, sweetie.

And it just, oh, it was a really powerful moment between me and the director. So it's interesting. There's a lot of acting that happens on the show that is with our crew members or, you know, people - that doesn't normally happen when you're making a movie or a television show.

GROSS: That's really nice. Now, how were you cast opposite John Krasinski? Did you have to do a scene together before you were both cast to make sure that there was chemistry between you? And for anyone who doesn't watch "The Office," I should mention that he's one of the people who works in the office. And you had a long period of flirtation.

But, you know, when "The office" starts, you're engaged to somebody else, and even though things aren't working out between you two, you still feel like, you know, you're involved in this relationship and you can't get involved with the John Krasinski character of Jim. But eventually, you do get together. So, there has to be this chemistry between you. So, were you tested out together during the audition?

Ms. FISHER: Yes. When it came down to the end of the audition process, they took four Pams and four Jims and four Dwights and four Michaels, and they brought us into a real office. And they filmed us with a camera for two days, mixing and matching us. And over the course of that two days, I was mixed and matched with John several times. And after the second day, we were walking out of the scene, and he turned to me and he said, you’re my favorite Pam. I hope you get this job.

And I smiled really big, and I said, I'm so glad you said that because you’re my favorite Jim, and I don’t think anyone could do it except for you. And when they called and told me that I got the job I said, please tell me that John Krasinski is playing Jim. And they said, he is and we're so glad to hear you say that because we thought you two had amazing chemistry. And we're glad you think so, too. So...

GROSS: Are you friends off the set?

Ms. FISCHER: We are, yeah. It is the strangest thing to have a long-term fictional love interest. It's a type of relationship that is very intimate, and it's very powerful, but it's fictional. I mean, there is a part of me that is Pam, and there's a part of him that is Jim, and that part of me is in love with that part of him. But in real life, we are just friends.

GROSS: One of the things that happen on "The Office" often is that you or Jim instigate a joke. And sometimes it's an in joke just between the two of you, sometimes it's a larger joke within the whole office. And I want to play one of those classic moments where you instigate the joke. And this is a scene from an episode in which Michael, the Steve Carell character, the boss in the office, your supervisor, he's lost somebody who was a former colleague. This former colleague has died, so he decides to - it's so Michael.

He decides to gather everybody from the office in a circle and have everybody talk about somebody that they have lost and what it meant to them. And it's an incredibly inappropriate thing to do in the office, of course. And he has, like, a ball, a grief ball, and he tosses it to the person who he wants to speak next.

(Soundbite of show "The Office")

Mr. STEVE CARELL: (As Michael Scott) OK, why don't you throw the ball to somebody else?

Mr. LESLIE DAVID BAKER: (As Stanley Hudson) No.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Oh, yes, Stanley. Come on. Your turn. You have to go.

Mr. BAKER: (As Stanley Hudson) I will not.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) OK. I'm going to toss the ball to Pam.

Ms. JENNA FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Let's see. I had an aunt that I was really close to. She was this amazing female boxer. Anyway, she was injured in a fight, and she was paralyzed. So, you can imagine how upset I was when I found out that she asked her manager to remove her breathing tube so she could die.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Wow. If you want to cry, that's OK.

GROSS: That's a scene from "The Office." My guest is Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam. Do you have a favorite example of one of the times when Michael, the Steve Carell character, came up to your desk and did really bad shtick?

Ms. FISCHER: (Laughing) Oh, gosh. Well, my favorite Pam-Michael moment from the entire series happens in season one, actually. He comes up to my desk, and he wads up a piece of paper, and he goes to throw it into the trash can behind me, but instead it hits me in the head. And Pam looks at Michael and she says, please don't throw garbage at me. And I loved that moment because I thought here's a girl who actually has to say to her boss, please don't throw garbage at me. It's like such a known thing, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FISCHER: It's just, like, such a thing that any normal person would know not to do. But I felt like that summed up their entire relationship - that Pam is constantly having to educate Michael on simple human interaction.

GROSS: Are there any scenes from "The Office" that were too funny to get through without laughing and you had to keep re-shooting them?

Ms. FISCHER: Oh, so many, so many. It - you know what happens is I seem to, every year, get tickled by a new actor in a way where I just cannot do a scene with them. The first year was Rainn Wilson. You know, Pam and Dwight did not have a lot of interaction, so any time we did have a scene one-on-one, I just couldn't get through it. He - Rainn Wilson, he has this weird way that he stands where he pushes his pelvis and his gut…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FISCHER: …sort of out.

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. FISCHER: And he breaths through his mouth. And so, just to have him approach me is funny.

GROSS: My guest is Jenna Fischer. She plays Pam, the receptionist, on the NBC series "The Office." More after a break. This is Fresh Air.

My guest is actress Jenna Fischer, one of the stars of the NBC sitcom "The Office." She plays Pam, the receptionist. Are there experiences that you've drawn on and have passed on to the writers of "The Office" that they have actually used in the series?

Ms. FISCHER: Well, gosh, I remember early on they would ask me a lot of things about my time in an office. And, you know, Angela Kinsey, who plays the accountant, the little prissy accountant on the show, she worked at 1-800-DENTIST for a long time. And she and I would go in the writers' room, and they would ask us questions about what it was like to work in a phone bank or in an office.

And I can't think of a specific story, but one time Angela and I were talking over lunch, and she and I came up with the idea of having a women in the workplace seminar. And so we went to the writers and we said, we have an idea for a show. We think that Jan should come in and have a women in the workplace seminar, and Michael will get jealous and have his own men in the workplace seminar. And they'll have these, like, competing workshops.

And the writers said, oh, we love that. That's great! So then what happens? And we, said, I don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FISHCHER: That's all we got. And they did actually end up writing that episode.

(Soundbite of show "The Office")

Ms. MELORA HARDIN: (As Jan Levinson) So, I'm happy to be here. It's very nice to see all of you. You're all looking well.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Pam Beesly) Today's a woman in the workplace thing. Jan's coming in from corporate to talk to all the women about - I don’t really know what, but Michael's not allowed in. She said that about five times.

Ms. HARDIN: (As Jan Levinson) Women today, though we have the same options as men, we often face a very different set of obstacles in getting there. So...

(Soundbite of door knock)

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Hey, what's going on?

Ms. HARDIN: (As Jan Levinson) Michael. I thought we agreed that you wouldn't be here.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Yeah, I - you know what? I just - I thought about it. I just have a few things I want to say.

(Soundbite of Michael clearing throat)

Ms. HARDIN: (As Jan Levinson) What are you doing?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Just hear me out. What is more important than quality? Equality. Now, studies show that today's woman, the Ally McBeal woman, as I call her, is at a crossroads.

Ms. HARDIN: (As Jan Levinson) Michael...

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) And just - you have come a long way, baby, but I just - I just want to keep it within reason...

Ms. HARDIN: (As Jan Levinson) Michael.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) They did this up in Albany...

Ms. HARDIN: (As Jan Levinson) You are not allowed...

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) And they ended up...

Ms. HARDIN: (As Jan Levinson) In this session, OK?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Turning the break room into a lactation room, which is disgusting.

Ms. HARDIN: (As Jan Levinson) Now, you're really not allowed in this session.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Well, I'm their boss, so I feel like...

Ms. HARDIN: (As Jan Levinson) I'm your boss.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Anybody want any coffee or anything?

Ms. HARDIN: (As Jan Levinson) We're fine Michael. We just need you to leave, please.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Jenna Fischer, and she plays Pam on "The Office." Her movies include "Blades of Glory" and "Walk Hard." When you were in "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story," you were dubbed. And Dewey Cox is a movie biography of a fictional singer named Dewey Cox, and it's a parody of films like "Walk the line" and "Ray." And you play his second wife, a kind of June Carter-Cash character.


GROSS: And you sing duets with your husband, who's played by John C. Riley. So, let me play a clip of your first meeting - you and Dewey Cox - and here it is.

(Soundbite of movie "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story")

Ms. JENNA FISCHER: (As Darlene Madison) Mr. Cox? I heard you were looking for a new backup singer for your new duet.

Mr. JOHN C. RILEY: (As Dewey Cox) You heard right.

Ms. FISHCER: (As Darlene Madison) I was wondering if you might like to give me a try.

Ms. RILEY: (As Dewey Cox) I reckon I might.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Darlene Madison) I've been singing in my church choir since I was a girl.

Mr. RILEY: (As Dewey Cox) I like the sound of that.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Darlene Madison) Darlene Madison.

Mr. RILEY: (As Dewey Cox) Dewey Cox.

(Soundbite of song "Let's Duet")

Mr. RILEY: (As Dewey Cox) Hello, Darlene.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Darlene Madison) Hello, Mr. Cox.

Mr. RILEY: (As Dewey Cox) You ready to sing one?

Ms. FISCHER: (As Darlene Madison) I'm always ready.

Mr. RILEY: (As Dewey Cox) Well, all right. (Singing) In my dreams, you're blowing me some kisses.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Darlene Madison) (Singing) That's one of my favorite things to do.

Mr. RILEY: (As Dewey Cox) (Singing) You and I could go down in history.

Ms. FISCHER: (As Darlene Madison) (Singing) That's what I'm praying to do with you.

Ms. FISCHER & Mr. RILEY: (As Darlene Madison and Dewey Cox) (Singing) Let's duet in ways that make us feel good. Let's duet...

GROSS: That was Jenna Fischer and John C. Riley in a scene from "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." Now, the song that we just heard an excerpt of is so funny. It's just like one double entendre after another. Was it hard to just keep a straight face while shooting that?

Ms. FISCHER: It really was. That was - that whole movie was fun in that way. I love satirical comedy. One of my favorite movies growing up was "Airplane." And I love that, you know, very straight-faced, very earnest, honest readings of these ridiculous lines, and being in these weird situations but playing it totally, totally straight.

GROSS: And you're so good at it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FISCHER: It makes me laugh. That's my sense of humor, so I guess - I feel pretty lucky that I've gotten work on projects that are things I would want to see.

GROSS: We'll hear more from Jenna Fischer in the second half of the show. She plays Pam, the receptionist, on "The Office." I'm Terry Gross, and this is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to our interview with Jenna Fischer. In the NBC series "The Office," she plays Pam, the receptionist. She co-starred in the film comedies "Blades of Glory" and "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." I think it was about three days after you filmed "Walk Hard" that you fell down a flight of marble stairs and fractured four vertebrae, do I have that right?

Ms. FISCHER: That's right. Yeah.

GROSS: That's sounds so...

Ms. FISCHER: Four transverse vertebrae in my back.

GROSS: How much pain was that?

Ms. FISCHER: You know, I was walking down a set of stairs, and I just lost my footing. And as I was falling, I just knew that I was falling farther and longer than was going to be safe. I could just feel it in that moment. And when I hit the stairs, I had this pain that I'd never experienced before. I've never broken a bone before, but the pain was so overwhelming and instantaneous that it made me dizzy and nauseous.

And my friend, Angela Kinsey, from the show found me and one of the producers from the show because we were at a work event, and they said, you know, we think you need to go hospital. They lifted up my shirt and I had, in addition to breaking bones, I had cut myself. The impact of the fall had - it left - you know, had cut my skin and I was bleeding. And so they called an ambulance, and they took me to the hospital.

And I really thought - while I was going to the hospital - I really thought that the doctor was going to x-ray me and all this sort of stuff, and he was going to come back and say, well, miss, you have got a nasty bruise, and you're going to be in some pain - you know, maybe like the equivalent of a car accident, some whiplash or something. But he came back, and he said, well, I have some good news and bad news. He said the good news is you will walk again. You have no spinal cord damage. And I thought, wow, if they're starting with that's the good news, now, I'm scared. I was terrified.

And I was holding Angela's hand, and he said, you have fractured four of the transverse vertebrae in your back. And I didn't know what that meant. And I just looked at Angela and we shared this moment, and it was like the most pure sort of moment of, like, fear that I've ever shared with another person. And I don't remember what the doctor said after that.

And eventually, a specialist came in and explained that my injury was actually was - as far as back injuries go, it's the only one that has absolutely no lasting damage. And he said, you'll be walking in the next three days. You know, you're going to be stiff, but you need to walk every day. And it's very similar to breaking your ribs. There - it's very painful, but there's nothing you can do except wait for the bone to heal and that takes, you know, up to four months for bone to be completely healed. So - but you also have to be mobile, so I would have to walk every day. And I was stuck in New York City for three and a half weeks recuperating.

GROSS: Wow. Would you tell the story of the time you were auditioning for a singing group that was supposed to be like the Spice Girls?

Ms. FISCHER: (Laughing) Yes. Well, when I came to L.A., I was really willing to just hustle and do whatever I had to. And you know, actually, I'll tell that story, but there's another story that is an untold story. My very first acting job that I got after I moved to Los Angeles - I answered an ad in the back of a newspaper and it was - I got paid a $100. And I was in a sex education video for mental patients upon their release from UCLA Medical Center.


Ms. FISCHER: Yeah. I'm sure that tape exist somewhere, but I played a girl who was going on a date, and my older sister came in the bathroom, and she asked me, did I like this boy? And I said, oh, yes, I really like him. And she said, well, are you bringing protection? And I said, protection? Protection from what?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FISCHER: And she said, well, if you decide to become sexually active, you need protection from pregnancy and STDs. And she opens up our bathroom drawer, and in our bathroom drawer is every contraceptive imaginable, including an IUD, which is - like, has to be implanted by your gynecologist.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FISCHER: It's hilarious, and she holds them each up one by one and describes the pros and cons and how they work and if they protect against STDs or just against pregnancy. And I sit and I listen very earnestly and then I say, thanks, sis. And I go off to my date.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FISCHER: That was my very first acting job.

GROSS: That is so great.

Ms. FISCHER: (Laughing) Yeah.

GROSS: Did you have to audition for it?

Ms. FISCHER: I did, I did. I had to audition. I guess, you know, again, most of that job was listening, so I have some career in being a good listener or something.

GROSS: So, tell the singing group story.

Ms. FISCHER: Yes. Well, a friend of mine found a listing in the back of the newspaper that said there were auditions - open call auditions to try to find the fifth member of an all-girl singing group that was being billed as the international Spice Girls, because the Spice Girls were very big at the time. And my friend was a singer, and she asked me if I would come to the audition with her. And I said, oh, absolutely.

And just for fun, I decided to sing as well. I thought, well, I'll audition while I'm there. And I am a - I'm not even kidding you - I'm a terrible singer. But for whatever reason, I got the job in the international Spice Girls. I sang "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" at my audition, the Nancy Sinatra song, because it only has like three notes in it, and they're all in the mid-C range, which is about all my voice can handle.

And I got a call the next day that I had gotten the part. The producer was very excited. He said he thought I was very wholesome looking, and they were going to sell me as a sweet country girl in this - I was going to be, you know, very Americana as part of this international Spice Girls, and we were going to sing on tour, and you know, was I ready?

And he invited me to his apartment for a rehearsal which is - you know, when you've been out in the business and you meet legitimate producers, you realize that they don't hold auditions or have meetings in their apartments. But I didn't know that, I was new, I was fresh off the bus. Basically, when I got to producer's apartment, I noticed that there were other girls there, but they were all walking around in lingerie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FISCHER: As if they lived there. And he would sort of point upstairs, and he'd be like, oh, there's, you know, Svetlana(ph). You know, she's our Russian girl. And I would sort of wave to Svetlana. What I didn't know about the international Spice Girls was that this was a cover for a call girl operation, a high-priced call girl operation. But I was so naive that it took me about two weeks to figure it out.

My first clue was that every time I went to a quote, unquote, "rehearsal," the other girls in the group were just sort of lounging around in lingerie in this penthouse apartment. And no one was doing any singing or dancing, except me. I was the only one practicing a song. And finally, the producer said to me, OK, you have your first show. He called it a show. And he said it's on Friday and it's going to be for a group of traveling Japanese businessmen, which is so cliche.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FISCHER: So cliche, but true. And he said, and, you know, after the show, it would be very nice if you provided these gentlemen with some companionship, and you only have to do as much as you want to do. But some of the girls have found that this is a really wonderful way to make some extra income. (Laughing) And that was when I finally realized…

GROSS: So, what did you say to him?

Ms. FISCHER: That this was not a singing group. I actually became sort of frightened because I was in his apartment when he told me this. And so I nodded, and I said, oh, OK, OK, that's sound good. That sounds really good. And then I went home and I changed my contact information. You know, I changed my phone numbers, actually, and I just sort of dropped off the face of the planet so that he couldn't reach me or find me again. Because he did not know where I lived. He only had, like, a beeper number - that was in the time of beepers. He had my beeper number, so I got a new beeper. And I had a boyfriend at the time who was furious and very protective.

GROSS: It's been great to talk with you. Thank you so much.

Ms. FISCHER: Oh, thank you.

GROSS: Jenna Fischer plays Pam, the receptionist on "The Office." Coming up, we hear from another star of the show, Rainn Wilson. He plays Dwight Schrute, the geeky and authoritarian assistant to the manager. This is Fresh Air.
Fresh Air
1:00-2:00 PM
Eccentricity? All In A Day's Work For Rainn Wilson


Rainn Wilson is best known for his role on "The Office" as Dwight Schrute, the power-hungry, authoritarian and very odd assistant to the regional manager. He played another odd character in "Six Feet Under," when he portrayed the intern at the Fisher family's funeral home. This year, Wilson had the starring role in the movie "The Rocker." When I spoke with him in July, I asked him to describe his character on "The Office."

(Soundbite of NPR's Fresh Air, July 30, 2008)

Mr. RAINN WILSON (Actor, "The Office"): You know, a normal half-hour sitcom would have the office dweeb, and you'd basically - you know, he'd be there to be a dweeb, you know. He would just be wearing a polyester shirt and saying dweeby things. But Dwight is so many things, you know what I mean? One of the things that Greg Daniels said to me early on...

GROSS: And he's the creator of the American version and the producer and all that.

Mr. WILSON: Yes. The show runner of our show, who's insanely brilliant and all of us on "The Office" would follow him into battle because he's such a great guy. But Greg said, Dwight has an adolescent love of hierarchies. And to me, that phrase sums it all up. It's kind of all you need to know.

And the other thing - so Dwight is a militant dweeb, ass-kisser - can you say ass-kisser on Fresh Air? All right, good. And then - I love the fact that he's - we discover later on that he's a beet farmer. And that makes total sense because if you ever meet a farmer, they can't quite ever fit in in society. They may try as hard as they want - they can play it cool, they can do whatever they want - they can't really fit into city life, no matter how much they try. They're just more in tune with the dirt and the tides and the seasons and the wolves than, you know, human interaction.

GROSS: Well, you know, you mentioned that, you know, Greg Daniels told you that he has this, like, almost childish love of hierarchy.

Mr. WILSON: Mm hmm.

GROSS: And at the beginning of "The Office," Dwight is the most loyal lieutenant imaginable to Michael...


GROSS: Who's the boss of this branch. But then he senses he can have that power. And it's look like Michael's going to leave, and he can become the new Michael. And then, you know, all bets are off, like you want that power for yourself.

Mr. WILSON: Yes.

GROSS: And you just become, like, such the commander, as opposed to the lieutenant. Was that a change in character for you when that change happened to Dwight?

Mr. WILSON: No, it wasn't. I think that - and they're so canny, the writers on our show, because they're always creating new textures for me to play as Dwight. I mean, this last season was Dwight's heartbreak, you know, with Angela.

GROSS: Right, yes, with Angela.

Mr. WILSON: And that was a whole other side of Dwight that got to come out, you know, in season four - sides of Dwight that no one had ever seen before. And that was - what you're referring to is a period of time when Dwight was potentially trying to wrest control of the office from Michael. And I think it was a deadly combination. It wasn't in Dwight's nature to do that, he only did it when encouraged by his little Lady Macbeth, Angela. So when Angela, the head accountant, whispered those thoughts of power into his ear, you know, much like Macbeth, Dwight tried to rise to the challenge.

GROSS: They always blame the woman.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: But as Pam on the show said, you know, I have a vacuum cleaner that could also run this office pretty well.

GROSS: Well, I have to play a clip from "The Office." This is a classic scene. It's Take Your Daughter to Work Day. And you're, like, at the head of what's almost like a little classroom, like, all the daughters are sitting in chairs, and you're in front, reading to them and playing your recorder or flutofone.

Mr. WILSON: Recorder.

GROSS: (Laughing) Recorder.

Mr. WILSON: Yes, part of my music nerd heritage.

GROSS: And Michael is at the door, watching. So, here's the scene.

(Soundbite of "The Office")

(Soundbite of recorder playing song "Greensleeves")

Mr. RAINN WILSON: (As Dwight Schrute) That was "Greensleeves," a traditional English ballad about the beheaded Anne Boleyn. And now, a very special treat, a book my granmutta(ph) used to read me when I was a kid. This is a very special story. It's called "Streul Pieta(ph)" by Heinrich Hoffman(ph) from 1864.The great tall tailor always comes to little girls that suck their thumbs - are you listening, Sasha? Right? And ere they dream when he's about, he takes his great, sharp scissors out, and then cuts their thumbs clean off. There's a photo.

Mr. STEVE CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Dwight, Dwight, what the hell are you reading?

Mr. WILSON: (As Dwight Schrute) These are cautionary tales for kids. My granmutta used to read them to me.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Yeah. You know what? No, no, no, no, no. They - no, the kids don't want to hear some weirdo book that your Nazi war criminal grandmother gave you...

Unidentified Child: What's a Nazi?

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) What's a Nazi?

Mr. WILSON: (As Dwight Schrute) Nazi was a fascist movement from the 1930s in Germany...

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Don't! Don't! Don't - don't talk about Nazis in front of them. You know what? They're going to have nightmares, so why don't you just shut it?

Mr. WILSON: (As Dwight Schrute) I was going to teach the children how to make cornhusk dolls.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) Why don't you just leave, OK?

Mr. WILSON: (As Dwight Schrute) OK.

Unidentified Child #2: Bye, Mr. Poop.

Mr. CARELL: (As Michael Scott) All right. There goes Mr. Poop. Now, who likes Dane Cook?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Such a great scene.

Mr. WILSON: Written by the great Mindy Kaling.

GROSS: Who's also a member of the cast.

Mr. WILSON: Yes.

GROSS: And that was my guest, Rainn Wilson, in a scene from "The Office." Your character, Dwight, is always so intense and so inappropriate.

Mr. WILSON: Mm hmm.

GROSS: As he was in his choice of readings. You know, you auditioned for the part of Michael, of the boss of the office, right?

Mr. WILSON: Yes.

GROSS: Before getting the part of Dwight. So, what was your audition for the part of Michael like? This is the part that Steve Carell plays.

Mr. WILSON: They keep wanting to put it on the DVD - of my audition as Michael. I was terrible. It was awful. It was never meant to be, it was just one of those things that - I just basically did my Ricky Gervais impersonation because I really didn't know what to do with the character.

GROSS: And Ricky Gervais played the boss on the original British version. Yeah.

Mr. WILSON: In the English series, yeah. And I knew I was hungering for Dwight, and I knew Dwight was the one that was right in my wheelhouse. And I was like, oh, let me at this one. This is - I got to get this guy. And I remember there was some monologue I was doing about how I could drink my own urine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: And I was like, oh, I want to say that. I want to say that line so bad. So, my Dwight audition, needless to say, was a lot better than my Michael Scott audition.

GROSS: Now, Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam, the receptionist, on the show, was recently on our show.

Mr. WILSON: Horrible woman.

GROSS: Yes, she was so dull. Oh!

Mr. WILSON: Isn't she awful? Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So I want to play you an excerpt of that interview in which she talked about you. So, here's the excerpt of the interview with Jenna Fischer.

(Soundbite of interview with Jenna Fischer)

Ms. JENNA FISCHER (Actor, "The Office"): I seem to, every year, get tickled by a new actor in a way where I just - I cannot do a scene with them. The first year was Rainn Wilson. You know, Pam and Dwight did not have a lot of interaction, so any time we did have a scene one-on-one, I just couldn't get through it. He - Rainn Wilson, he has this weird way that he stands where he pushes his pelvis and his gut sort of out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So, that's Jenna Fischer talking about you on "The Office." So, how did you start doing that as Dwight's way of standing? And he also - am I wrong in saying he's often standing a little too close to the person he's talking to?

Mr. WILSON: Yes. He's not so good at interpersonal boundaries.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right.

Mr. WILSON: And that includes standing that way. I don't know. You know, it's just like, you do - it's just what we do as actors I think, you know. My haircut for Dwight was very important. It was very important to me that I have the least flattering haircut possible to my head - which I designed specifically, thank you very much.

The calculator wristwatch that I wear brings me no end of pleasure. I look - I am so close to that wristwatch. I don't want anyone to ever touch it. It really reveals his character. And also the fact that he still wears a beeper, which is about eight years after beepers have been completely discontinued because it probably has some number that someone might still have.

But all of these things put together and then it kind of comes into your body, and I think your job as the actor is to let these impulses flow through you and not stifle them. So, if you have - you know, again, he has this love of hierarchies and this love of power, well, he's going to assert his power with his pelvis, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: You know, maybe stand inappropriately close to someone, and it's kind of like an alpha male type of thing.

GROSS: Let's talk about your formative years growing up. You grew up in...

Mr. WILSON: Seattle, Washington, for the most part.

GROSS: Mm hmm.

Mr. WILSON: Yeah.

GROSS: And I read that you described your parents as hippies? Would that be fair?

Mr. WILSON: Yeah. I think - you know, I say hippies for lack of a better term, but they were more like beatnik Bohemians than hippies. Because you say hippies and people are like, oh, were they tripping all the time, dude? So, no, they were - they lived on a house boat, and my dad painted murals and wanted to be an abstract artist. And my mom, at the time, was actually an actress in, like, experimental theater in Seattle, and she was painting her chest blue and running around topless doing Bertolt Brecht and stuff. They were kind of, in that kind of world. And my mom wanted to name me Thucydides.


Mr. WILSON: After the famous Greek historian.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: So you could almost be talking to Thucydides Wilson, Terry. But my dad wanted to name me Rainer after Rainer Maria Rilke, the poet. But we lived by Mount Rainier and blee bloo blah(ph), somehow or other I ended up with the name Rainn. But yeah, that was the late '60s in Seattle for you.

GROSS: Were most of your friends' parents bohemians, too?

Mr. WILSON: No, we moved out to the burbs, and they were mostly like insurance agents and car salesmen.

GROSS: So, did that make you weird or your family weird by comparison?

Mr. WILSON: Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: Yeah, I was just - I was just remembering the other day, like, I would bring friends over, and I'd be so embarrassed because my dad would have all of his huge oil paintings hung all over the house. And he always painted, like, topless women.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: There seems to be a theme, doesn't it? There's like a boob theme woven in here. And I would be so embarrassed because my little friends would come over and they would be like, what's that? And I'm like, that's an abstract of a woman's boobs - an abstract oil (Laughing) after de Kooning. So...

GROSS: Mr. Thucydides.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: Yeah, so we were pretty weird. And I remember friends' parents would come over and try and sell us Amway, and we didn't really have any money or anything like that. My dad also struggled - he was a struggling science fiction writer, and he would pound away on his little manual typewriter, writing kind of potboiler science fiction, fantasy novels.

GROSS: Were they good?

Mr. WILSON: Pretty good. Yeah.

GROSS: Published?

Mr. WILSON: One of them got published, and I think there's like 11 of them in various shoeboxes around. He's even writing another one called, get this, "The Zombies of Gog(ph)."

GROSS: Oh, well, you were in a famous zombie film.

Mr. WILSON: I was - "House of 1000 Corpses." Yes, indeed.

GROSS: Directed by Rob Zombie

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: Indeed, indeed. That was my first lead in a movie. You could say I was discovered by Rob Zombie, so...

GROSS: So, zombies run in the family?

Mr. WILSON: I think so, yeah. Zombies and boobs.

GROSS: My guest is Rainn Wilson. He plays Dwight Schrute on "The Office." More after a break. This is Fresh Air.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Rainn Wilson. He plays Dwight Schrute on the NBC comedy series "The Office." This year, he starred in the movie "The Rocker." You had to do a lot of pratfalls in "The Rocker." I mean there's a lot of, like, stunts and things like that - so, physical comedy is, I guess, what I mean to say. So, where did you learn to do that? Did you learn that kind of stuff in acting school?

Mr. WILSON: Well, I think among all the different kinds of geeks that I was growing up, one of them that hasn't really been explored too much is I was a comedy geek. I was the kid who would find out "Monty Python" was playing on PBS at, like, midnight on Sunday, and I would sneak out of bed with my cassette tape recorder, put a 90-minute cassette in and hold it in front of the television and record - because remember, there's no TiVo, there's no DVDs, there's none of that stuff - and record whole "Monty Python" sketches.

And I record - I remember I did the same thing with "Singin' in the Rain" that was on. And I learned all the songs and the comedy bits from "Singin' in the Rain" and Marx brothers' movies. And I had a little cassette library in my room of all of these geeky comedy things, and I had them memorized. And I could do whole - I was that annoying guy that would go to the screening of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and recite it word from word from beginning to end.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: I always had a deep love of weird comedy, and physical comedy is part of that. And nothing made me laugh more than Jerry Lewis when I was growing up. And him walking backwards into a swimming pool, I could just think about it and just chortle and chortle like a little girl.

GROSS: So, I feel that now I need to ask you for the entire list of types of nerd or geek that you were when you were young.

Mr. WILSON: Yeah, bring it, bring it. How about this?

GROSS: What's the whole list?

Mr. WILSON: Sample this Terry Gross. Model United Nations nerd.

GROSS: Really, you were a member?

Mr. WILSON: International relations nerd. That's - that was one of my passions. I loved that. I discovered model United Nations and I loved - I loved news and history and, you know, I'd read the newspaper when I was young and - oh my god - I would get to go to a school model United Nations conference and pretend to be the man from Ghana.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: And it's like, I'm going to be from Ghana. What would the guy from Ghana want to do?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: You know, and we'd pass resolutions. And I was Nicaragua, and I was even the U.S., and I loved being the Arab countries. We would go to the University of Washington to the conferences, you know, over in local Seattle - all the model United Nations geeks. I swear there's a good movie in here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: And we would hit on the girls - all, like, eight of them that would be at the entire conference. And it was fun, you know, running around and pretending to be an Arab nation and sticking it to the U.S. And that was fun.

GROSS: OK, so we got UN nerd, music nerd, comedy nerd...

Mr. WILSON: Yes.

GROSS: What else?

Mr. WILSON: Well, we didn't go fully into the music nerd part of things I don't think, did we?

GROSS: Well, I happen to know you played bassoon.

Mr. WILSON: Yes, I was a bassoonist.

GROSS: Which is great, I - some people don't even know what a bassoon sounds like. It's a great instrument.

Mr. WILSON: It sounds a little like this...

(Soundbite of Mr. Wilson simulating a bassoon)

Mr. WILSON: Something like that, I think.

GROSS: It's a hard instrument, isn't it? Those reeds...

Mr. WILSON: It's really hard. It's a double reed. Yeah.

GROSS: The reeds are hard, yeah.

Mr. WILSON: And nothing - it's also a girl repellant.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WILSON: So, all you aspiring bassoonists out there, throw down your bassoons and pick up electric guitars.

GROSS: You have to suck on the reed for a while, right? Yeah that's...

Mr. WILSON: That's what she said. I - not now, you're on Fresh Air. Yeah.

GROSS: Rainn Wilson, it has been so great to talk with you. Thank you so much.

Mr. WILSON: What a pleasure.

GROSS: I'm a really big fan.

Mr. WILSON: Thanks, thanks for having me on the show. Thanks.

GROSS: Rainn Wilson plays Dwight Schrute on the NBC sitcom "The Office." Our interview was recorded last July. You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site,
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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