After seven seasons of playing Pam Halpert, née Beesly, on The Office, Jenna Fischer is America’s pencil-pushing sweetheart. Which is why her role in the indie drama A Little Help is a bit of a departure, with Fischer playing a borderline alcoholic widow who has a rocky relationship with her 12-year-old son. Come this fall, it’s back to comedy when The Office kicks off its eighth season. We spoke with Fischer, who is pregnant with her first child, about the stress of concealing a pregnancy in Hollywood, playing a troubled mom on the big screen, and what her real-life bun-in-the-oven means for Pam.
Your character in this movie is so different from Pam.
Laura is the least like me personally of any character I’ve ever played. She was this very pretty girl in high school and things came very easily to her. That was not my experience at all. I was kind of a wallflower. I was neither a nerd nor popular, I just went unnoticed.
In the scene where she has a big fight with her son, did it feel wrong yelling and swearing at a kid, even though it was just acting?
That was one of the reasons I wanted to do the movie, because I thought the scene was just so raw and so real. I think that a lot of parents are going to relate to that scene; in their fantasy, maybe they wish they could say how they’re really feeling.
It was hard at first to imagine you as the mother of a 12-year-old. You don't look old enough!
When I first read the role I thought, Oh, I’d love to play this part, but I’m too young. And then of course I stopped and thought, I have friends who are my age and they have 12-year-old children. So I clearly am not!
Chris O’Donnell is also in the film, and he’s another actor who doesn’t seem to age. He looks pretty much the same as he did in Scent of a Woman.
He does. He’s so handsome. He’s a father of five, how about that? It was so cool to work with him. I’ve been a fan of his since Fried Green Tomatoes.
He’s been on NCIS for a couple of years. Does every actor have at least one crime-show role under his or her belt? You have one from Cold Case.
You know what’s really crazy is that I’m a huge Law & Order: SVU fan — I’ve been watching a lot of it since I became pregnant — and I just saw one with Will Arnett. He was part of a child-pornography travel agency ring. And then I watched one with Rainn Wilson! He played this weird janitor in a morgue and he was a suspect in a child abduction or something. So I’m dying to go back to work and ask Rainn about being on SVU. I feel like if you watch that show long enough, you’ll see everybody.
Now that you’re pregnant in real life, do you have to go in for new wardrobe measurements for Pam? Or can you just reuse the clothes she wore during her pregnancy in the show?
I don’t think so. I’m much bigger than Pam was. All that grew when Pam was pregnant was her belly. Everything about me has grown: My arms are bigger, my legs are bigger, my face is bigger. When you get pregnant in real life, your whole body gets pregnant, not just your stomach.
[Ed note: These next two questions were part of a post we ran last week.]
Is your pregnancy going to be incorporated into the show?
Yes. Pam will be pregnant when the season starts. Pam and Jim snuck away last season on Valentine’s Day, and they had sex. The story is that they conceived this baby at that time and were keeping it a secret until we come back from the summer. So, yeah, Pam and Jim are gonna have their second child this season.
Did they write that in because you were pregnant?
No. When we shot that episode I knew I was pregnant, but I hadn’t told anybody yet. When we started shooting that episode I thought to myself, If everything goes well, this is going to be a very, very convenient coincidence. A very happy accident. And I think I found out I was pregnant when we were shooting that episode.
Did anyone question your weight before they knew you were pregnant?
When the movie Hall Pass came out I was pregnant, and I couldn’t share that with anyone yet. I hadn’t shared it with my managers, my agents. We hadn’t told my family. And I started gaining weight right away. At eleven weeks I’m buying my first maternity jeans. I don’t know if it was water retention or what, but when I was dressing for [the Hall Pass premiere and press], I had to explain to everybody that I had gone up a size and I refused to wear Spanx. I couldn’t explain why I was suddenly being such a diva about all these things that I had been willing to do in the past. I’m like, “I’m not wearing Spanx! I refuse!” Because, you know, you can’t restrict that area when you’re pregnant. So that was very interesting, just in terms of the early pregnancy, the part where it was a secret. Even early on when we were shooting The Office, I was growing out of my skirts and I couldn’t tell people I was pregnant, so I would walk around with it half-unzipped so that I could sit down. And then one day we came back from a hiatus and I knew I wasn’t going to fit into my shirt, so I went out to J.Crew and I bought my own shirt and brought it to work that morning. Again, everyone was very confused. Why is Jenna insisting on wearing this purple shirt from J.Crew? In seven years she’s never brought in her own clothes before. The truth was if I wore the shirt they put in my dressing room, I wasn’t going to be able to button it. That was very stressful! So it was a big relief to finally be able to share the news and get clothes that fit me. Now I get to let it all hang out.
James Spader is joining the show full-time as Robert California, the CEO of Dunder Mifflin’s parent company, Sabre. What do you think he’ll bring to the series?
I’m really excited because I didn’t get to have any scenes with him when he was on the finale. They told me I’m not allowed to say, but there’s a great story line with Pam and Robert California. And then the new role of the manager, they told me who that’s going to be — and also said I wasn’t allowed to say. I’m really happy about the choice that they made, and I think that fans are going to be really happy, too.
Without revealing who the new manager is, was there a part of you that hoped a female actor would get the role?
Yeah, I really wanted Christina Applegate to play the role. That’s who I was rooting for. I had just worked with Christina on Hall Pass, so maybe part of me was just selfishly trying to find a way I could work with her every day.
Had they actually considered her?
As soon as I said her name, their ears perked up. I think they looked into it, then they said NBC already realized that she should be starring on a TV show and gave her a different one.
We want to run a couple of reader questions by you. EVANGILBERG wonders if you have any aspirations to direct an episode of The Office like so many of your co-stars have?
No. I don’t have any writing or directing aspirations. I did a small film called Lollilove that I wrote and directed, and that was a really challenging project artistically, but it definitely showed me that writing and directing are not in my future.
Here’s one from JMJE: "What kind of emotions did you have when filming the last scenes at the airport with Steve Carell in his last episode?"
That was really emotional. They said, “You know what, Jenna? Just say whatever you would want to say to Steve. Just say good-bye and we’ll tape it and when you’re finished, just give each other a hug and go your separate ways.” And it was actually a challenge because every time I got down there I would start to cry right away, and I had to try to hold that in a little bit. We did so many takes of that good-bye and I cried every single time. I even got choked up just telling the story right now.