‘The Office’: Amy Poehler Almost Played the Most-Hated Character on the Series
The Office is a show that features a lot of flawed characters. Characters like Angela and Dwight are uptight and clash with coworkers, and the protagonist of the show, Michael Scott, is boorish and lacks any social skills.
However, the show also portrays their personal struggles and redeeming qualities in a way that makes these characters endearing to viewers. Jan Levinson, on the other hand, is a character that fans of The Office love to hate.
Her relationship to Michael Scott borders on abusive, she preys on her young assistants, and she’s willing to use her corporate power to crush a warehouse union. Her unlikability makes her character incredibly compelling and fun to watch, though, and actress Melora Hardin’s skillful acting adds a lot to Jan’s character.
But Melora Hardin wasn’t the only actress that auditioned for the role of Jan Levinson. And you might be surprised to find out which actress nearly got this role.
The character’s conception
Jan Levinson was introduced in the pilot episode of The Office. From the start, she has a somewhat antagonistic role: she works in corporate, and comes to the eponymous office to tell Michael Scott that Dunder-Mifflin is downsizing and that Michael will have to fire somebody.
She’s cold and professional, and it doesn’t seem like she has much sympathy for Michael’s difficult situation. However, the writers saw a lot of promise in her characters, and after filming the pilot the production team decided that Jan and Michael would be an interesting romance to explore on the show.
This romance proved to be a major success for the show. The relationship was extremely toxic and uncomfortable, but the intensity of the dynamic between the two characters drew viewers in and made them feel both intrigued and horrified.
It even led to an episode considered one of the best in the entire series: the “Dinner Party” episode. Jan wasn’t in every episode of the show, but her character added a lot to The Office.
Amy Poehler almost played Jan
Melora Hardin’s portrayal of Jan Levinson was a great success. However, there were other actresses who were considered for the role of Jan Levinson.
One actress that nearly landed the role was SNL alum Amy Poehler. The producers seriously considered choosing Poehler to play Jan, although they eventually decided that Hardin was a better fit. But this doesn’t mean that they forgot about Amy Poehler.
Instead, they decided to keep Poehler in mind for another, a similar sitcom that would also air on NBC.
Amy Poehler joined ‘Parks and Recreation’
NBC initially intended Parks and Recreation to be a spin-off series to The Office. Like The Office, Parks and Recreation is a mockumentary workplace comedy. Eventually, NBC decided the two shows would not be related to each other beyond having similar styles. But when choosing an actress to play the lead role of Leslie Knope, they went back to their auditions for The Office to give Amy Poehler this role.
Ironically enough, Leslie Knope is almost the opposite of Jan Levinson. While Jan Levinson is stony and cynical, Leslie Knope is chipper, upbeat, and cares deeply about her work and her employees. Perhaps the producers at NBC felt that Poehler would be better as a less unpleasant character, since Poehler is highly believable as the infectiously enthusiastic Deputy Director of Pawnee, Indiana’s Parks and Recreation department.
Maybe it was fate that gave Melora Hardin the role of Jan Levinson and Amy Poehler the role of Leslie Knope. Both characters are iconic, and Poehler’s portrayal of Leslie Knope ended up earning her five separate Emmy nominations. Both actresses are incredibly talented, and it’s great that viewers were able to see them in these long-running roles.