In an inspirational story about being paid to do nothing, it was reported earlier this year that HBO gave James Gandolfini $3 million to turn down the role of Steve Carell’s replacement on The Office, perhaps fearing that the integrity of The Sopranos would be compromised if its star read dialogue such as “paper” and “Dunder Mifflin.” B.J. Novak, one of the show’s actors and writers, was asked about such a thing on Thursday’s Watch What Happens Live, and confirmed he was at the meeting where “we tried to convince” Gandolfini to join The Office. “He was shy and intrigued,” Novak recalled. “I thought it would be great, because The Sopranos was actually the biggest influence on The Office because of the way that comedy, drama, and character were all completely indistinguishable. The way Michael Scott will say something very serious but mispronounce a word I feel is a direct descendant of the Tony Soprano sense of humor. I thought he would’ve been an incredible replacement. I really, really wanted to work with him.”
Novak stressed that Gandolfini, who defined himself as “a big comedy fan,” was seriously interested in becoming the new Office boss. Prior to HBO’s eventual don’t-act bribe, he even had a specific vision for how he wanted to portray the character. “We suggested a white-collar character for him to play against type,” Novak said. “And he said something I’ll never forget, which is, ‘I feel as an actor, whoever comes out at 3 a.m., that’s who you should be playing. And at 3 a.m. what comes out of me is a blue-collar guy.’ I thought that was really interesting.” Prison Mike could’ve used that insight.