While watching Jenna Fischer play Janice in "The Giant Mechanical Man" (premiering this week at the Tribeca Film Festival), it's hard not to think, Oh, I remember her. Not that Fischer has disappeared, but the wide-eyed innocence of Janice is refreshingly reminiscent of Fischer portrayal of Pam Beasley during the early seasons of "The Office" -- a comparison not lost on Fischer. And it's not lost on Fischer that current-day Pam Halpert seems to have less and less to do around the offices of Dunder-Mifflin.
In "The Giant Mechanical Man" (directed by Fischer's husband, Lee Kirk), Fischer plays a woman who can't even keep her job at a local temp agency. She finds solace in a street performer named Tim (a.k.a.: The Giant Mechanical Man), played by Chris Messina.
Here, Fischer discusses her new film -- which she jokes took longer to produce than her current marriage and child -- what she misses about Pam from the early seasons of "The Office," and what she hopes will bring a fresh angle to Jim and Pam's relationship.
So, I enjoyed your movie.
Thanks for saying that. Because I produced the movie as well. Not by myself -- with a lot of help, because I've never done that before. But I've been with this project from its inception. And it's been four years in the making from the time Lee pitched me the movie idea until now.
It's always jarring when I hear that an indie movie took that long.
It's crazy! We joke that it was easier to fall in love, get married and have a baby than it was to get our indie film off the ground. Because we did all of that before the movie came out. Because we were not husband and wife, or even dating, when we started this process.
Is it weird being directed by your spouse?
You know, it wasn't for me. It was actually great because he knows me so well that there were certain types of direction that only he could give me. To illicit a certain response he could help me recall a story or details about my life that only my spouse would know about me and that was really helpful. He would whisper stuff in my ear.
Oh, like what?
Well, now that's the point! Right? That's the point that only my spouse would know. On the train platform there's a scene when I'm talking to Chris and it's a very emotional moment and Lee came up and whispered in my ear. I won't say specifically, but he said, "Do you remember that moment in our relationship when this thing happened?" And just recalling it brought tears to my eyes. And he said, "Just think of that."
I like any movie that has a Janet from "Three's Company" reference in it.
Isn't that amazing? Do you know what I love about that scene? He's going on about, "And that's why the show was so popular ... Janet."
Right. Not John Ritter or Suzanne Somers or even Larry.
Exactly! That was my favorite thing. And I love the line, "So you're telling me I should be more like Janet from 'Three's Company'?" And he's like, "That is what I'm saying."
There's a scene in which you character has a dream that her teeth are falling out. I have that dream all of the time.
It's one of the most popular dreams. That and flying and falling. It's funny, because there are a few things in the movie that are from my real life. So I told Lee about my recurring dream of my teeth falling out and he said, "Oh, I'm going to put that in the movie." And the scene where a guy is poking a monkey at the zoo and I yell at him, I did that once in my life: I saw a guy at the zoo poking a monkey and I went ballistic.
What zoo was that at?
It was at the San Diego Zoo. No, no. I'm sorry, it was at the Santa Barbara Zoo.
The San Diego Zoo [correction: Los Angeles Zoo] is where one of the opening credit sequences of "Three's Company" was filmed, I thought we were coming full circle.
Is it? Oh, no, no. It was at the Santa Barbara Zoo. And, very much like Janice, I went up to the guy and said, "Don't do that." And he said, "I'm not doing anything." And I said, "I saw what you did!"
Did you hit him with a broom, like in the movie?
I didn't beat him up or anything, we took it to a cinematic extreme. But there are little aspects of my real life that Lee ended up writing into the film.
I have that dream and the one where I'm back at Mizzou and I realize that I haven't been to a certain class in three months.
I've had that, too! Or that grades are coming out and it's graduation and I realize that I've never gone to history class. How am I going to get this grade?
Right, maybe I can talk to the professor and explain the situation.
I don't know what that dream means. I have that all of the time. Or I have the one where I'm in a play and I haven't memorized any of my lines. It's very similar to the "I haven't done any homework all semester and grades come out tomorrow."
I don't want to directly compare this role to Pam on "The Office," but there is an innocence to this character that reminds me of Pam during the first few seasons. I think you play innocent characters very well and I don't think Pam today is that type of character any longer.
I think the character of Janice is similar to early Pam in a lot of ways. I think that's a fair comparison.
Do you miss playing that type of character?
It's my favorite thing to play. And I don't mind having multiple characters share that quality. I think that is the root of me as a person. So, in the same way that I'm not like that all of the time anymore, that's the person I carry around inside of me. Does that make sense? I struggled for so many years through middle school -- just feeling invisible. Having this desire to express myself, to be an artist, to fall in love -- all these things that, for me, took a lot of time in life to achieve. So, the base of me is a person who walks around with that sensibility. And then, over time, I've developed confidence or ambition or all of these other qualities that I kind of put on top of that other quality. But I love the opportunity to relive that experience. I love getting to take this person who is struggling and wants a lot of things out of life and doesn't know how to find it -- and then give her Jim Halpert in the end. Or give her Tim Tucker. Or give her her dream come true. I love reliving that in my roles.
So if that's your favorite thing to play, do you still like playing this version of Pam?
I like the evolution. I love feeling the person go from that kind of innocence and that struggle into finding what they want. So, it's very satisfying to me to play it all the way through. But, I wouldn't mind seeing Pam struggle again a little. Like, I'd like to bring some more of that back in her life because I think it's realistic. She has two kids now and life gets hard again when you have two kids and the monotony of one relationship. So, I think I'd like to see that wear on her a little bit.
I don't feel you've had enough to do this season.
I appreciate you saying that. Do you want to write that in a letter to anyone official who I work for?
Are you concurring with that sentiment?
I'd be happy to do more. I'd like to, you know? And I think John [Krasinski] and I both would love to pull back the curtain from our tidy life and get a little dirty again. That sounded dirty. Just get into the dirt of our lives a little bit. Because one of the constraints of the show is that we don't follow people home. These people don't let the cameras into their home life. So, it's very hard. If you are having struggles, you generally don't bring them to work and air your dirty laundry. I think it's been difficult to find, like, "We can't have them fighting at work." But I do hope, though, and I believe the plan is to have some of that come out next year.
Are you for sure coming back?
It's not up to me. The actors are all prepared to come back, we're just waiting for NBC to pull the trigger on that.
Once "The Office" ends, would you want to do television again or make movies?
That's a really hard question. I love the consistency and the family aspect of making a television show -- of going to work every day and seeing the same people and the same crew. But, I also like the opportunity to play more than only one person. As an actor, it's like your dream to get to do multiple things. I like television a lot, but it's hard with having my own family. I mean, right now, I'll work all season and then the other four months I'll do a film or something. I don't know if I would want to work that much while my kid is little. So, I don't know how to answer that question.
That was a good answer.
That's the whole thing: What do you do then? I think I'd have to see what is the best thing for our family. With Lee writing and directing, too, having the freedom to go with him on location with the baby and keep us as a unit is going to be a top priority as well.
See, that is a good answer.
It seemed very honest.
It is true! I know! That's like what my mother would ask me, "What are you planning to do?" And I'm like, "Oh, mom, I don't know."
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com and GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter
Stars At Tribeca 2012