Ricky Gervais Warned ‘The Office’ Writers About Making Michael Scott Too Big a ‘Buffoon’–Here’s How They Made Him Still Likable

Before Steve Carell played Michael Scott, Ricky Gervais played David Brent, a general manager of the Slough branch of the Wernham–Hogg paper merchants.

So when the American version of The Office began filming, Gervais offered some advice on how Michael Scott should differ from David Brent. The American and UK audiences are very different, after all.

Steve Carell as Michael Scott in 'The Office'
Steve Carell as Michael Scott | Justin Lubin/NBCU Photo Bank

Ricky Gervais told the American ‘The Office’ writers that Michael Scott had to be good at his job

In an episode of the Office Ladies podcast, Jenna Fischer (Pam Beesly) spoke about how Gervais helped to create the character of Michael Scott. He had to be different from David Brent.

“He said, ‘In England, you can be really, really bad at your job for a long time, and you never get fired,'” she recalled. “‘In America, that’s gonna frustrate people. So my one piece of advice is that Michael can be a buffoon, he can be silly, he can be irritating, but you should show glimpses of him actually being a good salesperson.'”

In addition to giving Michael some serious sales chops, The Office writers made a point to make sure the manager was sympathetic. Just when Michael does something so terribly unlikable, he pulls you back in with a sweet gesture, or he makes you feel sorry for him.

“As awkward and cringey as he could be and really not aware of the things he said and how they affected people, they would give him one moment that was redeeming, one moment in the episode where you rooted for him or felt bad for him so that it wasn’t just all like, ‘Oh, that guy is such a jerk,'” said fellow host Angela Kinsey (Angela Martin on the show).

How Steve Carell made Michael Scott one of the most beloved characters on TV

Steve Carell’s portrayal of Michael Scott also helped to keep the character sympathetic. In addition to his acting choices, his improvised lines completely rounded out one of America’s favorite TV characters.

In the pilot episode, for example, Michael is speaking about his heroes.

“Bob Hope. Umm, Abraham Lincoln definitely. Bono… and probably God would be the fourth one,” he says.

According to the Office Ladies, showrunner Greg Daniels asked Carell who he thought Michale’s heroes would be. And that’s how they came up with the list.

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