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Jenna Fischer, the Emmy-nominated star who brought Pam Beesly to life on the NBC comedy The Office, was not cast in her breakout role overnight. It took eight “grueling years” and plenty of rejection before she landed a part on the hit show that would go on to air for nine seasons.
In her new book, The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide, Fischer details the highs (crashing an SNL party) and lows (riding a Jurassic Park water ride for 12 hours straight as an extra) of her journey to becoming a fan-favorite on a network television show.
From accidentally auditioning to be a high-priced call girl to losing roles to Alyson Hannigan, Fischer gets candid about her experiences to serve a larger purpose: to be the mentor she wishes she had when she first started out in the business. As a fresh college graduate in the 1990s, Fischer “completely expected to be a rich and famous actress” within the first six months of moving to the Sunshine State.
In 1996, she said goodbye to her hometown in Missouri, where she was raised by her father, a plastics engineer, and her mother, a teacher. But she endured six years of “small successes, followed by heaps of rejection,” while accumulating debt and living in “crappy” apartments; she describes one as a “cave,” furnished with cardboard nightstands that were so depressing her cat licked out patches of his fur.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Fischer about the roadblocks she faced in her 20s, the advice she would give aspiring actors today and what the casting process was like for The Office.
You are enough. How you are is enough. You don’t need to pretend to be someone else. You don’t need to lose weight or gain weight or dress a certain way or be a certain way because the most interesting people to watch are the people who are being like a fully expressed authentic version of themselves and you create a niche and then you fill it. That is really my advice: don’t go into an agent’s office thinking you have to be what they want you to be. The more self-realized you can be, I think the more expressive you can be in bringing that self to the character you are being asked to play and the more layered the character will become.
Among the various day jobs you held in Los Angeles, one of your first roles was that of an office assistant — a position that would later help you develop The Office character Pam Beesly. What was most valuable during that time in shaping Pam?
I could never have anticipated that I was going to end up playing a receptionist or a secretary on a television show at the time. But ultimately, having worked in an office I think gave me details to my character and world that I wouldn’t have had if I’d never worked in an actual office.
I earned my living as an administrative assistant for seven years as a struggling actress, so I had many office jobs. When I got my job on The Office, one of the things that I did was I went to an office supply store and I bought my own pot for my desk and I bought the things that I used to really like having on my desk when I was a real administrative assistant. And I think that it just made the whole world feel more real, because I had that real-life experience when I got The Office job.
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