Welcome to “Remote Controlled,” a podcast from Variety featuring the best and brightest in television, both in front of and behind the camera.
In this week’s episode, Variety’s executive editor of TV Debra Birnbaum talks with actress and author Jenna Fischer about the elements of her career that inspired her book, “The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide.”
Fischer, who is best known for her role as secretary-turned-paper saleswoman Pam on the NBC’s adaptation of “The Office,” tells Variety she was inspired to write her new book in part because of interactions she used to have with fans on early social networking site Myspace. There, she ended up writing a “really comprehensive” blog post about breaking into the business that went viral.
“It’s still out there today, and I have acting students who tell me their teachers hand it out to them when they’re graduating,” Fischer says.
She realized she had so much more she wanted to share, including lessons from her earliest days working as an extra in an ad for the “Jurassic Park” water ride at the Universal Studios theme park, which she booked only being in Los Angeles for 48 hours.
“The water ride doesn’t get you that wet, but for the sake of the commercial they had guys with hoses spraying us with water, and then at the end they brought out a water canon that shoots giant icy cold water balls at us,” Fischer recalls, adding that she was on the ride for 12 hours on that nonunion shoot.
Another early job Fischer talks about as part of her “origin story” was being a transcriber at the biannual Television Critics Assn. press tour, which she enjoyed because if you got your work done on time, you could attend the parties. The aspiring actress wasn’t just looking to network with execs and her peers but rather eat the free food and drinks because “I didn’t have a lot of access to food because I was a poor, struggling actress,” she says. “So you might have noticed in the book I do speak a lot about food — how to find food, how to get food on the set.”
It wasn’t long before Fischer was on the other side of the TCAs, though, as an actress on new shows, like “The Office,” from which a favorite memory to this day is still filming big group conference scenes because “John Krasinski would always come out of his shell” during those moments, she shares. “He was always really good [when] it’s hour seven and we’re losing steam, and he would get a second wind and just rally us all into hysterics again.”
Though “The Office” may have been a turning point for Fischer’s career, she notes that an actor’s life is never fully smooth sailing. While writing the book, she was actually fired from what she thought would be her next great comedy and dream job, CBS’ “Man With a Plan.”
|Jenna Fischer photographed exclusively for the Variety Remote Controlled Podcast.
Dan Doperalski for Variety
Fischer was so confident the Eye was going to pick up the show she had an outfit ready and hair and makeup people standing by for the upfronts presentation announcing the new series. But on the day of those announcements she got a call that it was “bad news.”
“They’re picking up the show but focus groups didn’t love the chemistry between you and Matt LeBlanc — they didn’t believe you as a couple — and since it’s Matt’s show they’re obviously not replacing Matt. So they’ll be replacing you,” she recalls being told.
Fischer has quite a few pieces of advice for up-and-coming actors in her book, and she offers some of those to Variety as well. Chief among them? “Know what you’re selling, know what your brand is,” she says. And of course, when you go into auditions — some that may be for a lead role, some that may be for only a few lines — you must always show that you’re ready to work.
But as much as she enjoyed her time on “The Office,” she dismisses any chance of a revival. “I don’t think it’ll ever happen,” she says. “I would do it if there was some circumstance where everybody got back together, and could be brought back together in some amazing way, I would say yes. But I’m not sure it’s realistic. The characters, they had arcs. They had growth. Jim and Pam left Dunder-Mifflin. Michael left Dunder-Mifflin. And it would be hard to manufacture why all the people were back working together… It would almost have to be a scenario where it’s ‘the lost tapes of The Office,’ where you somehow go back in time and there’s all of these lost stories where we weirdly look five years older.”
You can listen to this week’s podcast here: