‘The Office’: Steve Carell Was Shocked That This ‘Office’ Actor Felt Insecure and Intimidated Around the Cast
The actors on The Office might not have been well known when they were cast, but they went on to become household names because of the hit series. Phyllis Smith, who played Phyllis, had no training as an actor and said she felt insecure around the other stars. Steve Carell was shocked to hear that she felt that way because, according to him, she was “one of the best improvisers” in the cast.
Some of the actors thought they nailed their auditions
During episode 2 of An Oral History of The Office podcast, Brian Baumgartner, who played Kevin Malone, gave some insight into how the show was cast. Casting director Allison Jones was instrumental in helping find the perfect actors for the series.
Among those who auditioned, Rainn Wilson, who played Dwight, and Jenna Fischer, who played Pam, knew that they would get the roles.
“It was one of those rare times where I was like ‘this part is mine,’” Wilson explained. “No one can do this better, no one knows this world of total nerddom and kind of white trash bullydom, heavy metal, Dungeons and Dragons, authoritarian, creepy weirdo better than me. This is my thing.”
Fischer had a similar story to tell, relaying how, after a failed pilot, she planned to quit acting but her acting coach convinced her to continue. When she got the audition, she called Jones to get more information and was told “dare to bore me.” She did just that, with producer Greg Daniels noting of her audition, “She doesn’t appear to be acting. She appears to simply be Pam.”
“I believed with my whole heart that this was the part for me,” Fischer explained. “I believed I was the one who should play it… I am literally the only person who should play this part. This is mine.”
There was one unlikely casting choice
While the auditions were going on, director Ken Kwapis asked Jones if her casting associate Phyllis Smith would read for the show.
She was the most unknown of the cast because she wasn’t an actor and, Smith admitted, she was glad her character was also named Phyllis so she knew when to turn her head.
Kwapis told Smith to read the character of Pam which confused her but she figured an actor was late and she stepped up to do it. Jones knew it was an audition but Kwapis told her not to say anything to Smith. “So she had no idea why, but she was reading with all the actors,” Baumgartner shared.
“Phyllis meanwhile, was reading her lines in this very monotonal way, sometimes not even looking up at the actors… and I just became fascinated with her,” Kwapis said. He told Daniels, “This woman really belongs in a paper company.”
She was insecure around the professionals
John Krasinski shared that Smith had played Pam and Dwight during the auditions, recalling, “she was incredible” and then said he joked that Daniels should hire her. They did.
Daniels had one question for Kwapis: “Do you know if she can act?” She had no acting experience, but Smith had worked in burlesque — she even had a photo of herself dressed in a burlesque outfit on her desk for all 9 seasons of The Office.
It turns out, Baumgartner explained, that “she was super intimidated” because she never had training. Smith explained how she “bought books about comedy and about improv because you guys were so great at it… I just felt insecure about the whole thing.”
Baumgartner and Carell found this so surprising because Smith was “such a natural.”
“That’s shocking to me because I always thought she was one of the best improvisers of any of us because everything was completely honest,” Carell noted. “She just listened and she would just respond within character. That’s what it is. That’s the crux of it.”