In Hall Pass, the latest comedy from the Farrelly Brothers, Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate) decide to give their husbands a hall pass, granting them one week of freedom to do indulge their fantasies and do whatever they want outside of their marriages, with no questions asked. To make things fair, the women assume the same freedom to explore the single life, leading to complications that neither couple could have expected. For seven seasons now, actress Jenna Fischer has been winning over fans and critics alike as Pam Beesley on NBC’s hit comedy The Office. And, even though this will be the last season for show star Steve Carell, and all of the actors have only one season left on their contracts, she definitely sees the show going beyond that, if things continue down the creative path they are currently on.
During an exclusive interview with Collider, done at the film’s press day, Jenna Fischer talked about how she got involved with Hall Pass, the importance of chemistry in comedy, and how much she enjoyed working with this cast. She also talked about her upcoming unusual romantic comedy The Giant Mechanical Man, written and directed by her husband Lee Kirk, and what fans of The Office can expect once Steve Carell leaves the show. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you get involved with Hall Pass?
JENNA FISCHER: My agent sent me the script, and then I had a meeting with (producer) Bradley Thomas and Bobby Farrelly. We went out to lunch and we talked about it, and I just loved Bobby, from the minute I saw him. He’s the sweetest man. And then, I met Peter [Farrelly] and had a long meeting with him. Their big concern was that women be as invested in the idea of a hall pass and this movie as men will be. They were like, “We’re pretty sure we’ve got the men on board with the idea.” So, it was really great because they really wanted to hear my thoughts, from a woman’s perspective, as to whether or not they were creating a realistic enough situation for this premise, for this woman to be really wanting to give her husband a hall pass.
Peter told me that his wife was like, “Absolutely not! This is not going to happen.” Then, he pitched her the idea of me and said, “What if it was Jenna?,” and she was like, “Okay, I like her. Maybe if she told me it was okay, then I’d buy it.” So, I was like, “Okay, I’ve got a little credibility there.” And then, we just worked on that. We wanted the role of Maggie to be really credible. That was the main focus. We were like, “She can’t be crazy. She can’t seem like she’s nutso or too desperate. How do we make her this everywoman?” That was how I ended up getting involved.
The success of this type of comedy heavily depends on the chemistry between the ensemble. Did that happen right away for you guys?
FISCHER: It kind of did, yeah. What happened immediately is that Christina [Applegate] and I clicked, like two peas in a pod. We just had the best time. Every time we were on set together, we hung out the whole time. It was so much fun going to work with another woman, who I enjoyed being with as much as I enjoyed being with her. On The Office, I have Angela [Kinsey], and she and I are best friends, but I’d never done a movie where I’d had a woman on set with me, like this.
It was really awesome. We hit it off, right away. And then, Owen [Wilson] and Jason [Sudeikis] were the same way. I think that they just had a really great comedic chemistry together. When it was finally time to do our scenes with the four of us together, we really did have a boys against the girls chemistry going. We were a force to be reckoned with. It magically all came together. I feel like the supporting cast in this movie, with the other guys, was great. They did really good casting with J.B. Smoove, Stephen Merchant and those guys.
Was it fun to work with Owen Wilson as your husband?
FISCHER: I was really moved by Owen, in this movie. Everyone keeps saying, “Do you think women are going to ask their husbands if they want a hall pass?” But personally, when I watch the movie, the way Owen describes his love for his wife and the speech that he gives about her, I feel like women are going to leave the movie, turn to their husbands and be like, “Do you feel that way about me?” I think that’s more the thing that people are going to hook into.
As someone who does a lot of comedy, what’s it like for you to do these films with such successful comedic filmmakers as the Farrelly brothers and Judd Apatow?
FISCHER: It’s a total pleasure. It makes it really hard to just go to a dinner party because, in my work life, I’m surrounded by the funniest people, ever. I’m really spoiled. I laugh a lot, in my day. I feel really lucky. It feels fortunate and fun. When they told me that it was going to be Owen [Wilson] and Jason [Sudeikis], I couldn’t wait. I just couldn’t wait to be on set with those guys, just to be around them.
What is The Giant Mechanical Man and who are you playing in that film?
FISCHER: I love the title. That was one of the things that first drew me to it, when Lee Kirk, the writer/director – who wasn’t my husband at the time – pitched me the idea for the movie. It’s a romantic comedy and it’s about one of those silver-painted street performers, who dresses like a robot and performs on the streets. He falls in love with a girl who works at the zoo, at the concession stand. It’s just this really sweet romantic comedy about the two of them. But, when he falls in love with her, he’s working as the janitor at the zoo, so she doesn’t know that he’s the man who performs on the street. And, her sister, played by Malin Akerman, is always trying to set her up with this book author, played by Topher Grace. He’s this pompous motivational speak, who sets out to fix her and tell her everything about her life that she could be doing better. It’s this really great story.
What resonated with me about it is that it’s about a woman who’s in her early 30’s, and she hasn’t found the love of her life, she hasn’t found the career of her life, she’s struggling, she loses her only job as a temp and has to move in with her sister, and everyone is telling her how she could live her life better. “You should be doing this.” “You should take yoga.” “You should read this book.” “You should date this person.” It’s constant advice and meddling. Everyone is asking her, “Who do you want to be? What do you want to be? What are you going to do? What are you about?” It’s just completely debilitating. And then, she meets this man and love changes everything.
It’s just beautiful. It’s one of those love conquers all stories, but in a sweet way. Basically, the idea is that it just takes one person to see you for who you are. That’s really all you need. It doesn’t matter if your sister sees you for who you really are, or your parents, or your boss, or anything. If you can just find one other person in the world to really see you, then that’s all you need. It’s really sweet.
What are your thoughts about Ricky Gervais saying that Will Arnett should take over for Steve Carell when he leaves The Office?
FISCHER: I love Will Arnett. I’ve worked with Will. He’s amazing. He’s so funny. But, I think we should ask Will Arnett what he thinks.
Is it true that other people are going to come in and fill that spot, and the search for a replacement is going to become a story arc?
FISCHER: Yeah. Ricky also said something that I thought was really smart. He’s been saying, “Everyone is asking the wrong question. Everyone keeps asking who’s going to replace Steve Carell, but what people should ask is, ‘Who’s going to replace Michael Scott?’” In the world of The Office, we’re going to be asking that question. The characters are going to be asking, “Who is going to replace our boss? Who is going to be our new boss?” You’re going to see that journey. You’re going to see us interview people. You’re going to see people try out that job. You’re going to see people from the past. You’re going to see people promoted from within. It will be that sort of thing.
That upheaval and that story of a business losing their leader that they’ve become so attached to is going to be part of the show, which I think is a really great way to do it. It’s a lot more complex and a lot more realistic than just Steve [Carell] out and somebody else in. But, specifically, for the people that they have coming in, there are some people I know and there are some people I don’t, and they want us to keep it a secret. We’re also going to be adding a couple of new characters, unrelated to the position of manager. Sometimes they put out these casting calls, and then sometimes things shift or change, but they’re looking to bring in a new, young accounting intern, and also they’re hoping to add the character of Stanley’s (Leslie David Baker) adult daughter, who’s going to come work for the company after college. And then, they’re also talking about bringing in someone in a marketing division.
Do you guys have just one more year left on your contracts?
FISCHER: It’s true that the rest of us all have one more year on our contracts.
Have you given thought as to whether or not you think the show would be better to end once your contracts are up, or would you like to find a way to continue?
FISCHER: I think that if the show, creatively, can support more years, then there’s a good chance that we would all sign up for more. We all really love our job and we really like the show. Right now, I feel really optimistic about it. If the ideas that they’re pitching pay off and work, then I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t keep doing it.
Is it exciting to have those new people coming in, especially since you’ve been on this show and played this character for while, at the same time that it’s bittersweet that you’re losing Steve Carell?
FISCHER: I think that’s exactly right, yeah. I feel both nervous and excited. I’m excited to see how the new character personalities shake up the dynamic. It’s one of the things about the show that we’ve been really fortunate with, so far, and I hope it continues. We seem to defy the odds. We seem to be able to do things that people tell us we can’t do. So, what’s fun about the shake-up is that we get to be the little show that could again. We tend to do very well, in that dynamic. I hope this will be another challenge where we’re able to rise to the occasion. That’s the hope. Everyone’s working really hard, and that’s what we want. But, it’s sad to have Steve, the man, leaving. It’s going to be weird without him there. There’s some days where he doesn’t have to work, and it’s always weird on set. That’s going to take some getting used to.
Are there things that you’ve learned about yourself, as an actor, from playing the role and being on the show for as long as you have?
FISCHER: That’s a really good question. I can memorize lines really fast. I never thought that. I always thought, as an acting student, that that would be really daunting to me. That’s something I learned, just on a very technical level of acting. Another thing that it taught me was how important the chemistry of the other actors is. When the chemistry is not there – and I’ve done projects where it’s not – your job is so much harder. You have this desire to push because you’re not feeling it, but you don’t want to push it too much.
My job on The Office is very easy because it’s very effortless. We all have this great give-and-take. I was very spoiled by that when I started doing movies and getting paired up with other people, where maybe chemistry wasn’t there. That was a shock to the system. I definitely learned that that elusive thing called chemistry is real and it does play a role. The chemistry in Hall Pass was real. That makes your job a lot easier. You can feel it. You notice it from the minute you walk into the first table read. You just know. You’re either like, “Oh, boy, this is going to be an uphill battle,” or “Oh, yeah, this is going to be an easy one.”