Jenna Fischer on Her New SLIFF Film, and Who Should Replace Michael on The Office

Jenna Fischer on Her New SLIFF Film, and Who Should Replace Michael on The Office
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In her new movie, A Little Help, Jenna Fischer transforms from Pam, her cardigan-wearing, telephone-wielding "office administrator" character on The Office into a beer-swigging, suddenly widowed mom struggling to relate to her 12-year-old boy -- quite the change of gears. The movie screens this Sunday as part of SLIFF (watch the blog tomorrow for a review), where Fischer will also be honored with this year's Cinema St. Louis Award.

Daily RFT caught up with Fischer, who attended high school and college in The Lou. She told us about her upcoming films, who should replace Michael on The Office and finding a little piece of St. Louis in California.

Click behind the jump to read excerpts of our conversation with the lovely Ms. Fischer. 
RFT: Thanks so much for talking to us today!

Jenna Fischer: Oh my gosh, it's like a childhood dream of mine to be interviewed by the Riverfront Times, and I think this might be my first time, so it's kind of awesome. 

Are you excited to be back at SLIFF? You had another movie, LolliLove, premiere here a few years ago.

It's a great festival, and you guys do a good job. I've been to a lot of festivals now with different movies, and the St. Louis festival is great. You have great theaters, they plan good parties and take care of people in a good way. I've been to some festivals where some of the screens are a real bummer, but St. Louis, you guys have good volunteers and stuff.

How did you feel when you were told you were winning the Cinema St. Louis Award?

I was definitely surprised. I mean, that's -- I was reading the people who have received the award before. It's weird, I don't know that I've necessarily built up the body of work to deserve this award, but I'm definitely flattered to be receiving it. 

So you'll be at the screening this weekend. Do you like getting up in front of people and explaining your work? Do you get nervous?

I love doing Q and A's. I love to talk about acting and my work. I especially love talking to other people who are interested in pursuing acting as a career, especially when those people are from St. Louis. I know what it's like to grow up in St. Louis and having dreams of being an actor, and having that dream feel like it's very far away and very unreachable. So I love the opportunity to come back and talk about my experience and just kind of make it something that's doable and obtainable. I grew up in St. Louis like everyone else! I didn't have an agent as a kid, or do any child acting. I didn't have an uncle in the business or know anybody here, so if I can do it, anyone can do it, truly. 

Ellie Kemper, who plays Erin on The Office, is from St. Louis too. Do you guys bond over that? 

Yes! And so is Phyllis! Phyllis [Smith] is from St. Louis too, and Ken Kwapis, who helped develop our show, is from Belleville too. So we have our own little posse. Also, one of our assistant directors is from St. Louis. So we have our little St. Louis club. And it was really fun because on The Office there are a lot of guys from Boston, so the year that we were playing the Red Sox, it would be like me and Phyllis versus John [Krasinksi] and B.J. [Novak] and we would trash-talk each other. That didn't turn out so good for us, but anyway, it was really fun because we had like, our sports rivalry on the set. 

Rainn [Wilson] always makes Phyllis say "fork" and "forty" because she says it with a St. Louis twang and then he makes fun of her. He'll go, "Phyllis, what number comes after 39?!" It's really funny. 

What attracted you to the script for A Little Help?

It was a real departure from what people were used to seeing me do. I was really excited that this director trusted me to do a part like this. So I think the big thing that attracted me to it was that it was different, but also how well-written it was. It's just a really well-told story. Mostly because it's this woman who's struggling with the death of her husband and she has to raise her son, and she's not really great at it, but it didn't have a bunch of clichés. I liked that it surprised you. 

So do you look for roles that are different from Pam?

No, I'm never really looking specifically for anything. I read each script, and I might have a general idea of what I'm looking for, like I did call my agents and say something like, I'd like to do something where I could be the lead. I'd like to try that. And this fell in that category. But it could have been something like a traditional romantic comedy that someone handed me. At that point, it's just what spoke to me. But then I called them and I was like, I'd like to do a big comedy again, and that's when Hall Pass came along, which will be out in February.  

You must be incredibly busy, between shooting the show and putting out films. How much time a year do you have for movies?

We shoot The Office about eight months a year, so I have maybe 16 weeks a year to do movies, but I also really like to have a little time off, so I try to balance that. I try to get about four weeks off a year that's pure vacation time. So that really only leaves me one movie opportunity a year for significant roles.  

Does that makes your selection of roles more careful?

It does, and also me and Ed [Helms] and John and Steve [Carell] and Rainn, we all have the same time off every year. So between April and July, there are only so many movies to be made, and we're all trying to be in a movie. It's kind of funny because there've been a lot of times that I'll come to set and be reading a script and really like it, and Rainn will ask what movie it is, and then be like, "Oh yeah! They sent me that too!" And I think, "Darn it, we can't both be in it!" And then it becomes kind of a race to see who can throw their hat in the ring first. I've lost opportunities because, say, Steve was going to do it instead, or John was going to do it. John has Everybody Loves Whales coming out, which Ken Kwapis directed, they sent me that too. Obviously I think Drew Barrymore is gonna do just fine in the movie, but it was one of those things where John and I couldn't be in the same movie, so it doesn't turn into "an Office movie." 

So selection has a lot of factors; it's not just did I like it. It's like, did I like it, are they shooting at a time I can do it, are there any other Office people in it? And then by process of elimination, eventually something will click. 

One last question that I absolutely have to ask: Do you think Pam could or should replace Michael?

I don't think she should. I don't think that Pam is really management material. I think she's really going to enjoy her job as office administrator. One of the jobs as branch manager is that you have to be kind of good with the clients and with sales, and I think Pam has proven that that's not her strong suit. 

Who do you think will?

I have no idea. I don't want to speculate, because people take it like I actually know something. But I know nothing, and I really have no opinion. There are people much more qualified than me to make that decision. 

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