The Interesting Reason ‘The Office’ Writers Were Also Actors on the Show
Thankfully for devout fans, Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey have started the Office Ladies podcast, where they dive into behind-the-scenes goodies from the making of the show. There, they spoke about how some of the show’s writers were also actors, an uncommon move for television.
Why Greg Daniels wanted some of ‘The Office’ writers to act on the show
Most notably were Mindy Kaling (Kelly Kapoor), B.J. Novak (Ryan Howard), and Paul Lieberstein (Toby Flenderson).
“[Showrunner Greg Daniels] believed that it would be a great idea for writers to have the experience of acting because it would give them a bigger appreciation of what an actor does,” Fischer said during the first episode of Office Ladies. “They really got to not just understand our jobs but they got to see us being our characters first hand. They got to see our improvisations that they would never see if they were just stuck up in the writers’ rooms.”
“It made us a cohesive show between the two departments, the writers and actors. This creative partnership,” Kinsey added. “And made me feel safe like I could try things.”
Both Kaling and Novak were no strangers to acting. Novak (who played a driving instructor on an episode of “Punk’d” where he attempted to convince Hillary Duff that it’s legal to hit pedestrians) was 25 when he was hired to be an actor and writer for the show after Daniels saw him do standup.
“Greg Daniels saw [B.J. Novak] doing standup comedy,” said Fischer. “And he thought, ‘This guy, I want this guy.’ So he offered B.J. a role as both a writer and the role of Ryan the temp on the show. And he was also the first example of that synergy of having people who were both performers and writers.”
Kaling and Novak both had acting experience prior to The Office, but this was Lieberstein’s first on-screen role. You wouldn’t know it, though. It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Lieberstein as Toby.
How and why the character of Phyllis Vance was created for Phyllis Smith
Phyllis Smith (Phyllis Vance) also didn’t audition to be an actor on the show. She was actually the casting associate. But staff writer Ken Kwapis liked the way Smith read so much that he convinced Daniels to give her a part. So Phyllis Vance was born.