Though she's appeared in movies like "Blades of Glory" and "Hall Pass," you know Jenna Fischer best for her part in NBC's perennially popular sitcom, "The Office." Fischer is the heart of the show, unique among a cast of fantastically bizarre characters for her mundane, relatable humanity.
It's the same sensibility she brings to her leading role in "The Giant Mechanical Man," a charming, peculiar indie written and directed by Fischer's husband, Lee Kirk. As Janice, a woman in her 30s lacking anything resembling direction, Fischer taps into a question both terrifying and universal: How do we know where we're going when our lives deviate from well-worn paths?
With Fischer in town for the Tribeca Film Festival, we spoke about her own life path, how producing her husband's movie nearly cost her the acting gig, and how she wants to see "The Office" end, if and when it does.
With your husband as the writer/director, it seems like a foregone conclusion that you'd star in "The Giant Mechanical Man." Did you sign on long before the script was written or did you see the project in progress and want in?
Lee pitched me the film. I was looking for a project to produce and he pitched me the movie, so I attached myself as both producer and star from the beginning. So he was writing it with me in mind along the way.
But there was a point where it looked like it going to get made while I was on "The Office," so I actually had a pretty producorial dilemma. Do I — as a producer — cast someone else in the lead so the movie can get made, or do I — selfishly, as the actor — say that I want to do this part and possibly derail this whole production? What if, then, we don’t get the chance to make it again? And I did not end up having to make that call. The financing fell through, and it didn't matter.
I sure am glad it worked out. Lee was fighting for me all along to do it. He didn't want to have to recast the role. So it was nice to have that support too.
It would be unnerving to watch someone else play a role so clearly written for you, and it would have changed the whole tone of the movie — which, by the way, is the indiest of all indie films. As a viewer, is that your thing, or do you go for big-budget blockbusters?
Both! I love the fancy, big romantic comedies, but I also love the quirky, comedic love stories, like "Cyrus." Loved that. I love stories about offbeat fringe people, which I believe this movie is, that's also funny, but with a type of humor that maybe isn’t as in your face. So I like both... but really I just like movies.
I also love horror movies, I like me a big Peter Berg action movie. I'm a movie lover in general. I'd say the only genre that is not my style is sci-fi, or fantasy. I still to this day haven’t gotten through "Star Wars;" I fall asleep every time. Every time! Even in the theaters, the re-releases.
Like, lands that don’t exist and I have to memorize whole new government structures and weird alien names… I like it to be more rooted in reality or something. I'm not into "Lord of the Rings." The whole "Frodo has the power, there's a ring or something?" My brain can't do it. I don't get it.
Years ago, you said you had no aspirations of movie stardom, and working on a long-time TV series was most fulfilling. You've done a handful of very cool movies now — is that still true?
You know what it is? I just never had any anxiety about needing to break out of television. I feel like there's this stigma placed on television actors that we all wish we were movie stars. But that isn’t the case with me. I'm very happy with television, especially because I'm on a really awesome show. I wouldn't shy away from doing television again in the future, especially now, with all these great shows on TV, like "Homeland," and "Mad Men," you know what I mean? I feel like there are these great choices for actors on television today.
But in terms of film, I'm interested in getting to play more than one part in my career. The fun is getting to wear multiple disguises and getting to explore multiple personalities and bring them to life. So a movie career definitely affords me that.
But I think a lot of my choices going forward are going to be based on being a mom first. Especially until [my son] is in school. I think these are some very important formative years and having me around as much as possible is going to be the priority.
Sometimes doing a movie for a short period of time is better than committing eight months to a television show. So maybe, hopefully, I could get some movie roles that would be a good mommy mix.
You're in the city now for Tribeca — what kind of New York City tourist are you? What do you do when you're here?
Well, now that I have a baby, I'm that person who's looking for all the parks. I'm also the person who lost their coat because I was juggling so many items. So I'm that person: I lost my coat, I lost my scarf, and it's cold now.
I'm always scouting places for kids. FAO Schwarz, Central Park. Any park, really. Gosh, my son is fascinated watching pigeons. He's never seen a pigeon before, and they're not scared of you here. Just seeing the city through his eyes is fascinating. There's so much going on and he loves it. When we come back up to the apartment, he's so crabby, and as soon as we walk out the door, he's happy and laughing and looking around. I think he might be a New Yorker at heart.
Next season of "The Office" is still up in the air — you guys are in a bit of a holding pattern with contracts. But whether it's imminent or years from now, eventually Jim and Pam will leave — and it wouldn't be very "Office"-y to let them leave quietly. Have you given any thought to how you want to sign off? Dramatic deaths? Everyone wins the lottery?
I feel like Jim and Pam have been on this journey where, at first, Pam kinda hated being there, and so did Jim. But then, because they met each other and they have this family — I think their job is kind of a means to an end right now. Because their personal lives are happier than the humdrum of their work, life isn't as much of a downer to them. But I would like to see them feel the strain of two kids and sort of realize, oh, I got a little distracted from the fact that this is not my dream job. And I'd like to see them break out in some way.
I just think especially Jim is much more talented than he gives himself credit for, and I'd like to see him have a little more ambition. But whatever the case, I feel personally we need to have Michael Scott come back. You know, what I want more than anything is for Michael to have a baby with Holly. I mean, man, that character has wanted a baby for so long, and I hope whenever that season is that we get that kind of closure on him. Or we at least get a glimpse into Holly and Michael's world again, because I think we all want to make sure and know that he's happy.
And then there's what the British show did, which was pretty brilliant. Their "documentary" ran and then all these people became well known and they had to deal with suddenly seeing their lives played back for them.
Listen, I don't write the show, so if you're reading this and you hate these ideas, don't worry. I'm the same as you at home, just making s**t up.