When the American version of The Office debuted in 2005, Steve Carell’s Michael Scott was a horrible boss with a terrifying haircut. By the time Scott mouthed his final “That’s what she said” on last night’s emotional farewell episode, the character had evolved into a beloved TV icon (with a significantly better haircut), more lovable and less openly vicious than the Boss character on the original British Office. EW talked to Paul Feig — creator of Freaks & Geeks, director of the upcoming Bridesmaids, and the man who directed such iconic Office episodes as “Office Olympics,” “Dinner Party,” the Holly-introducing “Goodbye, Toby,” and last night’s “Goodbye, Michael” — about four key points in the evolution of Michael Scott.
Season 2: What now?
“The first official season was only six episodes long. It was a miracle that it had come back. If it weren’t for Kevin Reilly at NBC liking the show so much, the show would have been canceled. So there was definitely a feeling of, ‘Oh my god! It’s back from the dead!’ And since 40-Year-Old Virgin had come out in the interim and kind of made Steve a star, there was also this feeling of, ‘He’s so lovable in that movie; how do we make Michael lovable?’ If he’s just mean all the time, people get turned off. American audiences don’t like ‘mean’ too much. There has to be something redeeming. In the original Office, Ricky Gervais’ character could just be awful and hilarious. The British audiences enjoy that. That same math doesn’t work here.”
Finding the Tone
“To me, the turning point of the whole series was when we did ‘Office Olympics.’ At the very end, they’re giving away the medals, and they give Michael the gold medal, which is the yogurt top. He’s in such an emotionally raw state, because he just bought this condo, and he cheers up when they’re playing the national anthem. That was the defining moment. Here’s the humanity in Michael Scott that might not have been there before.”
The Arrival of Holly
“The minute we started working with Amy Ryan, I remember all of us just going, ‘Oh my god, she’s a gold mine.’ She’s just so funny! We all really just knew her as a dramatic actress. You watched her reel, it was all heavy dramatic stuff of her dying. It was a talk-show appearance which made us all really fall in love with her. I think she was on The Tonight Show, and she was so funny as herself. And unbeknownst to us, she was a good improviser! She would just come up with this stuff, and we’d be like, ‘She’s fantastic.’ We realized pretty quickly that this was Michael’s perfect woman. I was never so upset as during that [fifth] season finale, which is the company picnic, when Holly shows up with a boyfriend. I remember I was so aggravated and angry. ‘No, she should be with Michael!’ It was always so nice that they kept her around.”
“The hardest thing about [filming] this episode was to not let our love for Steve Carell cloud the way that people would react when Michael Scott was leaving. We behind-the-scenes people — directors and producers and writers and actors — love Steve like we love no one else, because he’s one of the sweetest men in the world, and just such a joy to work with. But that’s not who Michael Scott is. So if suddenly there’s an episode where everyone’s just in tears the whole time, you’re gonna go, like, ‘What happened? Did they hit them all in the head?’ It is the appropriate ending for a boss that you sometimes love, sometimes hate, and a lot of times just makes you mental.”
Read more from EW on the Office finale: