It’s been quite a calendar year for Ellie Kemper. The former UCB performer transitioned from day player on The Office into a key role as hypernaïve receptionist Erin, and has become an in-demand face of female comedy: The comedienne has signed on for a role in the Judd Apatow–produced film formerly known as Bridesmaids with Kristin Wiig and Maya Rudolph, and has an appearance in Sofia Coppola’s next project, Somewhere. Kemper spoke with Vulture from Los Angeles about tonight’s season finale of The Office, her gym playlist, and what the cast was saying about the rumors that Steve Carell will make next season of The Office his last.
At the beginning of the season, Erin was still one of the fringe characters. But in the second half she’s certainly taken on a much larger role. How did you adjust to being a full-time cast member this year?
It’s the coolest thing that has happened, I guess, in my life. A few episodes ago, in “Secretary’s Day,” that was probably the best week of my life. Mindy Kaling had written this really great script and Erin sort of has a breakdown in it. There was that restaurant scene with Steve Carell, and I was really nervous because it was just Michael and Erin. And of course, Steve is such an amazing improviser, I thought, Oh gosh, is he going to be improvising? Because I don’t want to ruin his takes. And at the end of the day, it turned out fine. The episode was really cool because, so far, we had only seen Erin happy and a little weird and like a happy orphan; it was really cool to explore what else is happening with her — she is a character with layers.
We loved your line in that episode, “In the foster home, my hair was my room.” Was that an improv?
Oh no, Mindy wrote that. Oh, yeah. Isn’t that the best line ever? When we read it at the table read, I thought, I hope this stays in.
Does that happen a lot where great lines don’t make it into the show?
Absolutely. The first few episodes of mine that I watched, they would cut stuff out and I’d be like, “I did a bad job! They were making fun of me in the cutting room.” I was going crazy. But then I realized they shoot so much stuff. I was talking to Creed Bratton about that. I was like, “Am I doing a bad job?” And he was like, “I’ve been here six years. Things just get cut.” I’m glad they put the deleted scenes online.
You’ve done a lot with Mindy Kaling, including the online webisodes, “Subtle Sexuality.” Are we going to see more of those? And would you want to write episodes with her?
In terms of the web, I hope there’s another “Subtle Sexuality.” There has been talk of that happening. I hope that comes true, because I can’t think of something more fulfilling than being in gold spandex dancing with Mindy. I hope this doesn’t sound disgustingly egotistical, but I run to that song. And it’s not because I’m singing! It’s just a great song! [Laughs.] As for the writing: I will not be writing episodes with her. That’s a very nice thing to say, but I will not write episodes. I’ll leave the writing to her.
You’ve written for McSweeney’s and The Onion. Is writing something you want to do?
I do want to eventually write a screenplay, but I’m not doing that right now. I do this one-person show, and the director gave me a compliment: ‘It was McSweeney’s on the stage.’ Which I sort of like. I really enjoy writing those short pieces.
When we last saw Erin and Andy together, they had slowed things down considerably. Will their relationship be coming back in the finale?
I think the focus shifts to other stuff that’s going on in the office for the final episode. But you have to watch because it is revisited. I don’t know what I can say; I don’t want NBC to murder me. I’m just too paranoid, so I don’t know what to say other than tune in.
Speaking of which, there have been reports that Steve Carell will make the next season of The Office his last.
I had heard rumblings of that, or things that I picked up at the craft-service table — not from his mouth. But I had heard word that he was not going to be there, and then I heard that interview. I guess, if he says so, that will be his last season. So that’s sad, but I don’t really know much about it.
If he did leave, do you think the show could continue on?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, the writers would have no problem creating stories or bringing on new characters or shifting stuff around. I think that happens in television shows — even the main character will leave. And especially with The Office, there are enough characters to keep it going.