‘The Office’: How the Show Cleverly Broke 1 of Its Rules for the Most-Watched Episode of the Series
The Office stuck to a rule of avoiding casting big-name celebrities for many seasons. But when the network demanded they bring in A-list actors for the episode that aired after the Super Bowl, they had to find a clever workaround.
The Office earned the coveted spot after the Super Bowl in 2009 with the season 5 episode “Stress Relief” and, given the high-profile time slot, the network wanted the show to include some well-known celebrities. This wasn’t something the show had done before then.
On a December 2019 episode of the Office Ladies podcast, Angela Kinsey and Jenna Fischer discussed that the show had pretty firm guidance about casting. “There was this rule for a very long time that we couldn’t do any stunt casting,” Fischer explained, sharing that “stunt casting” is bringing in a “big name guest star.”
Of course, The Office eventually broke that rule later, and big names like Will Ferrell, Kathy Bates, James Spader, Idris Elba, Timothy Olyphant, Christian Slater, Will Arnett, Jim Carrey, Ray Romano, Josh Groban, Stephen Colbert, and Joan Cusack, among others, made their way on the show.
However, the post-Super Bowl show was such a big deal that they couldn’t really ignore the network’s request to do stunt casting, so they had to get creative.
The “Stress Relief” episode included appearances by Jack Black, Cloris Leachman, and Jessica Alba, but they were stars in a movie within the show. In the episode, Andy pirated a movie called Mrs. Albert Hannaday that he watches with Jim and Pam on his laptop.
During the Sept. 8 episode of Office Ladies, Fischer shared that they received fan mail about this moment, with questions about how the subplot came about. She explained, “One of the things that the network was very insistent about was that this episode have big-name guest stars.”
Fischer continued, “There was a lot of comparison to when other shows had run after the Super Bowl, like Friends who had featured big guest stars. But Greg [Daniels] and the rest of our writers were very against this. Especially against it was Allison Jones, our casting director. They all felt that to have like a big-name guest star walk into the office pretending to play a character at a small paper company would just totally shatter the reality of the documentary premise of our show. We would get all these new eyes on the episode maybe, but the conceit of our show is that it’s a documentary.”
Daniels came up with the idea to have the guest stars in the show but not interact with the Dunder Mifflin employees. “Jack Black was the first person to commit. He was all in. He loved our show,” Fischer shared. “Cloris Leachman, she heard a pitch on what the story would be. And she was like, ‘Yes, I am in.’ And then finally, we got Jessica Alba.”
Fischer and Kinsey confirmed that none of The Office cast got to work with Black, Leachman, or Alba since they filmed their mini-movie in a house while the rest of the cast had the day off.