Jenna Fischer of The Office Takes a Personal Day
St. Louis native Jenna Fischer steps out of “The Office” and walks down the aisle.
“I have a wonderful balance right now, and that is a first for me.” Jenna Fischer told me in our interview on the eve of the Screen Actors Guild Awards. It was mid-awards season, when the flurry of red carpets and parties alone can keep actors busy, or at the very least, entertained. Jenna, however, is plenty occupied with work: in the middle of filming the sixth season of “The Office,” she recently wrapped two films set to release this year and just started filming on a new movie co-starring Owen Wilson.
It had been a few years since I had last caught up with the St. Louis-raised actress, and I must admit; hearing about everything she had going on, I was a bit surprised by how content she seemed. Here is a woman who has been making a name for herself on a hit TV show and is just beginning to land roles opposite actors the likes of Susan Sarandon and Michael Douglas. Seems like this is just when things start heating up.
And they are—but in other parts of her life. Currently planning a summer wedding with fiance? Lee Kirk, Jenna finally feels grounded. And after a short time with her, it’s clear that, despite her booming career, she’s happy right where she is, and is focusing on just what she needs to be: building a solid foundation for the next phase of her life.
Here, the demure and ever-approachable star of NBC’s “The Office,” who charms viewers in her role as Pam, Dunder-Mifflin’s comically low-key receptionist, shares her advice for actors and thoughts on wedding planning.
ALIVE: Congratulations on the nominations this season [“The Office” received both Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations.] What’s it like sitting with your co-stars on nights like those, being recognized together in that way?
Jenna Fischer: It’s weird, because to us, we’re very isolated where we work, on an independent sound stage. We don’t come in contact with famous people all the time, and we all became famous at the same time so we don’t see each other as celebrities. You have a moment where you’re like, “What are we doing here? Are they sure?” To be at one of those big award shows all dressed up, the spectacle of it all, is always surreal. Even years later.
ALIVE: How do you choose what to wear to the shows?
JF: When I first started on “The Office,” I went to my first Golden Globes. I went to Macy’s and bought a dress. As the show became more popular and we became more visible, we started to have designers reach out to us. It’s all very daunting because I’m not really a fashionista, so I started hiring a stylist for the big events. They talk to all the designers and they get a bunch of their samples and come to your house. It’s sort of like having a little dress boutique in your living room.
ALIVE: How fun.
JF: It’s great; I get to borrow them, which is really nice because these gowns are like $7,000. Where are you going to wear that again? You can’t wear it to another Golden Globes because you can’t wear the same thing twice. But also, where am I going in my regular life that I need a $7,000 beaded gown? Nowhere. I’m going nowhere that I’ll need that! So it’s very nice that they let us borrow them. Actually, one of the outfits that I wore to a recent event the designer gave to me so that I can donate it to Nerinx Hall when I come in town to host their charity auction [AuctioNerinx, on March 13].
ALIVE: Let’s talk about Nerinx Hall. Why is supporting your alma mater so important to you?
JF: Nerinx was the place that gave me my voice as a young woman. I wasn’t flourishing in the public school system—I was very shy. I got overlooked. It wasn’t a matter of being unpopular; I was just kind of invisible. When I went to Nerinx, it was like every girl was valuable. They really try to find what’s special about each person and bring it out of her. It was a very safe environment. It gave me confidence and courage, and I felt very supported there, to try new things, like move to Los Angeles and have the will and determination to stick it out and become an actress.
ALIVE: What advice do you have for aspiring actors?
JF: I think that anyone that wants to pursue acting seriously should go to college. Go to an acting conservatory, go to Webster or go somewhere in Chicago or come out to L.A. even, but just get a four-year degree. It has nothing to do with needing something to fall back on. It’s that there’s this four-year period where you’re like an adult but you’re also still a kid. College is a really safe place to fail. Hollywood is not the place you want to be as an 18 year-old kid. I’m very happy that my years were spent in Kirksville, Missouri and that I was able to grow up a little before I came out here. And, when you’re on a set, it’s a business. It’s not about looking cute or having the right hair, like Heidi Montag; all those surgeries are not going to make her a better singer.
ALIVE: Let’s talk about “The Office.” This season has been a really big one for you, starting with your character, Pam, getting married on-screen to Jim in October. What was it like to shoot that much-anticipated episode?
JF: It was a very special, very emotional episode. It felt like it was time for this couple to get married and be together. John and I really did go to Niagara Falls together—and the rest of the cast did not go. We celebrated the wedding with the cast and had all the big scenes together, then John and I got on a plane and we flew to Niagara Falls and we shot all the stuff on the boat—so it mirrored the show in that way and really was like a small elopement.
ALIVE: Off-screen, you’re also getting married this summer, to your fiance?, Lee Kirk. What’s he like?
JF: He’s a playwright and a screenwriter. [Gushing] He’s the perfect man as far as I’m concerned. He’s certainly the perfect man for me.
ALIVE: How are the wedding plans coming?
JF: Really well. We happened to pick a venue where you have to bring everything in yourself. I never realized how many decisions I would have to make. Usually they’re like, “Okay these are the three kinds of chairs we have.” But since my place doesn’t have any chairs to choose from, I can have any chair in the whole world! I got an email with eight different kinds of chairs. I never thought I would have an opinion about a chair. But then I suddenly did! I suddenly had a very strong opinion about chairs! And the same thing went for tables and tablecloths. And my first response is always, “Oh. I don’t care. Whatever. Just as long as it’s pretty.” But by the end, I’m like, “It MUST be the rectangular table with the table runner!” Suddenly I got a very strong opinion where I had no opinion at all. But it’s been fun. We haven’t picked a wedding cake, so we still have a cake tasting to do, which I’m looking forward to.
ALIVE: Are you going with a specific theme for the day?
JF: No, I really don’t want anything to stand out too much. I feel like if people walk away remembering my escort cards, then I’ve done something wrong. What I want people to remember is that they had a great time; I want the details to blend into the background. And even though it’s my wedding day, I don’t feel the need to be a princess. In my life I get the chance to be in the spotlight a lot, where people take your picture and you’re all dressed up. That makes me feel like I’m at work. For my wedding, I want it to feel more like it’s everyone’s day and we’re just sharing in this exciting moment. We’re not having a videographer—no video cameras on me! I’ll keep a mental memory of the day and that will be more special to me. You put a camera in front of me and I just don’t feel like I can be as natural anymore. And I just want to feel like myself as much as possible.
ALIVE: Do you and Lee collaborate at all creatively?
JF: I am actually producing a film that he wrote and we collaborated
a little bit on the story. He’s a great writer; I definitely have to say that’s part of the attraction. His writing is very romantic and very funny. I’ve always had a thing for writers, I guess [Her ex-husband, St. Louisan James Gunn, is also a screenwriter]. When you can express yourself with words, I find that very attractive.
ALIVE: Your character on “The Office” is having a baby this month. Do you think you will become a parent yourself?
JF: Absolutely. It’s really important to us. I hope that’s in our near future; I really do. It’s definitely a part of why we were attracted to each other and why we want to get married; we both want that.
ALIVE: What do you think the biggest challenges will be in balancing parenthood with your career?
JF: One of the things that is really hard is that I’m very attached to Midwestern values. I really love the fact that I grew up in St. Louis. My family ate dinner together every night and my parents had jobs that allowed them to be home. Those are the values that I want to emulate when I have a family and yet I’m in a career where sometimes I go to work at five in the morning and get home at seven at night. I don’t have that same structure. I’m always trying to find ways to create that for myself in my personal life. I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge for me having a family—It’s not going to look like how I grew up because it’s going to be L.A., not St. Louis; because I live an artistic lifestyle, which is very different than the traditional lifestyle that I grew up with. I’m not sure what that’s going to look like, but I definitely feel like I found the right partner and I found the right person to figure it out with me. It’s interesting. I have right now what I feel to be a wonderful balance of adventure and a very grounded life. We go on these great adventures together and yet I always feel like my feet are on the ground—and that is a first for me. I feel like I’ve figured out some sense of balance and that’s the thing I’ve been most concentrating on these past couple of years. Lee’s been a big part of that. It was hard, you know? You can feel very unstuck [in L.A.] and, coming from such a traditional upbringing, it is sometimes hard to adjust to the way things are here. I wish that either the entertainment industry would move to St. Louis or my entire family would move to Los Angeles. [Laughs.] I don’t think either of those things are going to happen, so for the time being, I just have to try and figure it out.
AuctioNerinx takes place Saturday, March 13 at the Sheraton Wesport-Lakeside Chalet. Auction items include a set visit for four to “The Office,” featuring lunch and a photo opportunity at Michael Scott’s desk. Funds raised at the event will go toward special programs of the school.
St. Louis-born Jenna Fischer of “The Office”
Jenna with her first SAG Award (2006)
Jenna Fischer with high school friends at Nerinx Hall
Jenna with her first SAG Award (2006)
Jenna with fiancÀ_ Lee Kirk
Photo credit: Photograph by Larsen & Talbert/Icon International