Jenna Fischer is arguably best known for her role as quiet receptionist Pam on The Office — half of one of the most beloved TV couples of all time. But with the publication of her new book, The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide, she can add “author” to her résumé, too.
As its title suggests, Fischer’s book isn’t a typical celebrity memoir or essay collection. It really is a guidebook for aspiring actors, covering everything from moving to L.A. (or New York, or maybe Chicago) and getting your first headshots to what it’s like to be fired from a high-profile pilot. And yes, of course, she sprinkles in plenty of stories about her own experience trying to break into Hollywood, reminding readers that it took her five years of hustling before getting a (three-line) speaking role on a TV show, and eight years to land her dream role as Pam.
Read on below for our favorite stories about Fischer’s time on The Office.
Her risky audition
After The Office casting director Allison Jones advised Fischer, “Dare to bore me,” the actress decided to take a huge risk.
“My take on the character of Pam was that she didn’t have any media training, so she didn’t know how to give a good interview. Also, she didn’t care about this interview, because this was some weird project her weird boss was forcing her to do. The first question that they asked was ‘Do you like working as a receptionist?’ I took a long pause and said, ‘No.’ And that was it. I didn’t speak any more than that. I wanted to stay true to the ‘dare to bore me’ direction Allison had given. They waited for me to say more, and I just didn’t. I sat there. They sat there. The silence went on for what felt like an eternity.”
Needless to say, the producers got — and loved — what Fischer was trying to do with Pam.
The moment she met John Krasinski
Four Jims, four Pams, four Michaels, and four Dwights were called back to test for the roles. To Fischer, Krasinski was the only logical person to play Jim.
“… he wasn’t just the best Jim — he was Jim. I remember the moment we met. As I was being shown to the actor’s holding room, he was just being called in to read with another potential Pam… As he passed by, he introduced himself and we shook hands. It was as if lightning struck the center of the room. I knew immediately what was going to happen. John and I were meant to play the flirtatious friends and unrequited lovers, Jim and Pam. I hoped I was right.”
Meeting Rainn Wilson — or so she thought
“We didn’t meet until we were paired up late on the second day of testing. I can honestly say I’ve never met a weirder person in my life. Everything he said, the way he stood, the way he was breathing, his hair — it was all so weird! I realized later that Rainn had been staying in character throughout the day, so I was actually meeting and talking with Dwight.”
On Steve Carell’s comic timing
Her test with Carell, who would play Office Manager Michael Scott, was the first time she realized the actor’s comedic genius.
“In the scene, Michael was interrupting Pam’s lunch to tell her about his doctor’s visit for testicular cancer. It was so funny. Steve timed the most uncomfortable details of his story perfectly. Sometimes it was just as I was about to take a bite of my sandwich, sometimes on the swallow, sometimes just as I was raising it to my lips. My favorite was the time you can see me waiting and wondering if it is safe to take a bite: I pause, he pauses, I bite, and he says something gross. I would come to learn this is the brilliance of Steve Carell. Precision. He is a master of comic timing. He hits the bull’s-eye every time.”
On Jim and Pam’s first kiss
Jim and Pam’s long-awaited first kiss was also Fischer’s first big on-camera kissing scene as an actor. Fortunately, it was executed flawlessly.
“We [Fischer, Krasinski, and director Ken Kwapis] decided I would call my mother from Jim’s desk, so my back would be to the door and I wouldn’t see John enter. We discussed the kiss. We all agreed it should be simple, mutually savored, but not too elaborate. No tongue required. (Yes, we got that specific.) We rehearsed the blocking but never rehearsed the kiss.”
Krasinski and Fischer were separated while the crew placed hidden cameras around the room, because their characters didn’t know they were being filmed by the documentary crew when the kiss happened.
“After what felt like a lifetime, I was finally called to shoot. The set was dimly lit. I couldn’t see any people or any cameras; it felt completely real… [Ken] didn’t want to yell ‘action,’ because it might take me out of the reality of the scene. Instead, he told me, after he walked away, I should wait a few moments, and then start the scene. He assured me the cameras would be rolling.
“When he walked away, I felt completely transported into a new reality. I was Pam, I was talking with my mother, and my heart was breaking. I spoke into the phone, telling her I was in love with Jim, but I couldn’t confess my feelings to him. Suddenly, Jim walked in the door. I turned and saw him and my heart felt like it might burst out of my chest. I wanted so much to tell him how I felt, but before I could, he kissed me. It was perfect.”
The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide is available now.