‘The Office:’ This Emmy Award-Winning ‘Tough Guy’ Actor Almost Played Michael Scott’s Replacement
Steve Carell’s exit from The Office left fans devastated and producers on the hook for finding a replacement. Portraying Michael Scott since the sitcom’s debut, Carell created an iconic character that left a major void when he exited the show to pursue other projects.
Several actors were in contention for awhile to tackle the monumental challenge of taking over Carell’s spot on the show. One actor known for his tough-guy persona and a completely different role was about to sign on before plans fell apart.
Replacing Steve Carell
The production team had quite a task on their hands when it came to selecting who would follow in Carell’s footsteps. The actor’s presence on the show was legendary and his absence completely changed the tone.
“How are you possibly going to fill these gigantic shoes?” writer Brent Forrester recalled to Andy Greene, author of The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s. “There’s just no easy answer.”
Coming up with a solution brought on differing opinions. “There were a ton of debates,” writer Amelie Gillette shared. “‘Should it be an outsider? Should it be someone internal?'”
Danny Chun, another writer on the show, remembered the change in casting as a major shift in the sitcom. “I don’t recall anybody particularly having one opinion that they held to the entire time,” he told Greene. “I feel like everybody kept changing their minds, everyone was arguing, debating, and really it just was like an exciting but scary conversation to be having.”
James Spader becomes an option
Plenty of actors were considered to become the new boss of Dunder Mifflin. “A lot of names were tossed around and I won’t list them all, but the sky was the limit,” writer Peter Ocko recalled. “Because it was such a well-regarded show, I don’t think there were names that came up that we would think, ‘Oh no, they’ll definitely say no.'”
Well-known actor James Spader became a strong contender for the role. With several film and television credits to his name, Spader already had a fan base and solid reputation as a performer.
“James Spader was more of a surprise during the process, but he just really popped,” writer Halsted Sullivan said. “It was like, ‘Wow, he’s a huge star, he’s really funny, and he has a different energy.'”
Producer Terri Weinberg felt his deadpan wit could work on the show. “We just were big fans of his,” she told Greene. “He had such an incredible dry sense of humor. He’s such a super-talented guy, and we’d just fallen in love with him.”
Spader became a finalist with another top actor. “I remember at one point it came down to James Spader and James Gandolfini,” writer Brent Forrester recalled.
‘Sopranos’ star almost signs on
Gandolfini was best known for his iconic role as mobster Tony Soprano from the HBO series The Sopranos. Renowned in the industry as a class act, the Emmy Award-winner was a welcomed option to replace Carell.
“[Director] Paul [Feig] went and met James Gandolfini, who was really the one that we were super excited about,” Forrester revealed. “It was like, ‘Wow, that would be crazy having him as the boss.'”
Critic Alan Sepinwall was in favor of Gandolfini taking over the role, and knew the actor wanted to shed his persona as the infamous mob boss.
“Jim was really funny and he would’ve been menacing as hell because he’s James Gandolfini,” he said. “They could’ve done a lot with him and it would’ve been great for him too, because he was really desperate to not be Tony Soprano anymore.”
When further discussions took place, Gandolfini began to hesitate. “I remember him being really, really complimentary, but he wasn’t super familiar with the show,” Chun said. “He had watched a few episodes and he was really unsure about comedy. He was like, ‘I don’t one hundred percent know how to play this.'”
Gandolfini, who died from a heart attack in 2013, was close to taking the role but moved on due to other opportunities and knowing what a tough act Carell was to follow on the show.
“Boy, I miss that actor,” Weinberg told Greene of Gandolfini. “That conversation went on for some time, but he also had some shows that he was developing for himself and that was just part of what his focus was, so I don’t think that he was necessarily ready to just jump into this role… to take on something that Steve [Carell] had essentially stepped out of, to try and step into.”
Spader won the role of CEO of Sabre Robert California, though he only appeared for one season on The Office.