Steve Carell Has Seen One Minute of the BBC ‘Office’

It was that moment when Ricky Gervais said something cringeworthy
Steve Carell Has Seen One Minute of the BBC ‘Office’

Steve Carell said on The Office Ladies podcast with old pals Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey this week that the audition for The Office was unlike any other. He spent a lot of time in a deli discussing the character with show creator Greg Daniels, talking about Michael Scott’s foibles, hopes and dreams. But one thing he didn’t do? Watch the original version of The Office that his new character would be based on.

“I had a pretty specific take at that point,” he said, taking in only a minute of the BBC show before choosing to take a pass. “I chose not to watch the British version because I just didn’t want that to influence whatever this version was going to be. And because (Ricky Gervais) was clearly so great. It was such a distinctive character. I didn’t want to do an impression of him.”

Fischer, on the other hand, took the opposite approach. Despite Carell telling her about his creative choice, she chose to watch the entire BBC version from start to finish and “completely copy Lucy Davis” who played Pam Beesly’s British counterpart, Dawn Tinsley. Since the pilot for the American version was essentially a word-for-word remake of the original, Fischer thought it would be a good idea: “And I was like, I think she nailed it. I don’t know how to say the lines better than that so I guess I’m going to go with what she did.”

Carell and Daniels were “definitely on the same page in terms of who this guy could be and would be,” Carell explained. Before he even got the part, Carell began thinking about an arc for Michael Scott, one he got to see through to one of his favorite episodes, the one where Michael leaves Scranton and Dunder-Mifflin behind. “It was a really difficult episode to do, but I also loved it at the same time because it was that end game for Michael. It was the culmination of his growth that he didn’t need the big send-off. He didn’t need the big party. He could say goodbye to all of his friends on his own terms without any of the fanfare.” 

But Carell also definitely dug the cringe. While Michael’s farewell was a contender for Carell’s favorite episode, “‘Dinner Party’ is up there,” too.

“We come back after the writers’ strike and that was the first thing that we shot,” Carell recalled. “And it’s so weird and dense thematically and crazy and had great guest appearances and great sight gags. It was also really dark in a lot of ways, very sad, and kind of emotionally fraught. There was a lot going on in that one.” 

Another favorite? The infamous “Scott’s Tots,” the episode in which Michael reneges on a decade-long promise to fund a group of kids’ college educations.

“I loved doing that episode because it was so horrible. But it expressed so much about this guy’s persona because his heart is definitely in the right place and a huge heart, but so wrong!” Fischer reminded Carell of his talking head that summed up the character’s misguided motivation: “Of all the empty promises I’ve made in my life, this was the most generous.” 

Carell recalled barely being able to make it through that line with a straight face, prompting memories of other Michael “talking heads” that the actor struggled to deliver without bursting into laughter. Kinsey’s daughter Isabel is obsessed with Office bloopers, and a favorite is one that Carell took several takes to finally deliver. After an unfortunate mishap with Meredith, Michael confesses to camera: “I’m not a bad guy. Sometimes I hit people with my car.”

“It’s fun going to work every day,” remembered Carell, “knowing you’re going to laugh until you cry.” 

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