Phyllis Smith offers insight into the currently airing eighth season of the NBC hit comedy The Office
This month, Phyllis Smith co-stars opposite Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake in the hilarious comedy Bad Teacher, coming to Blu-ray and DVD October 18th. We recently caught up with the NFL cheerleader-turned-casting director-turned-actor to chat about the movie. We also chatted about Season 8 of The Office, which is currently airing Thursday nights on NBC, and returns with an all-new Episode October 20th.
As you may know, there have been some big changes on the sitcom in the past year. James Spader has joined the Dunder-Mifflin staff as the new regional manager, Robert California, and Ed Helms's Andy has taken over boss duties from Michael Scott (the recently departed Steve Carell. How does Phyllis feel about all this?
Here is our conversation.
How are you handling the changes at The Office?
Phyllis Smith: It's been great. It's different. James Spader brings a different kind of energy to the set. He is lovely. Really nice. The process is different than it was with Steve Carell, I believe. His approach to things is different. He is really interesting to work with. I am enjoying watching his character develop and grow. Getting to watch the writers decide which direction all of the characters will go. They have a real challenge ahead of them.
Can you give us a hint as to where your character is headed this season?
Phyllis Smith: So far, she hasn't had to do much. She isn't going too far. She is still at her desk. I'm looking for my first big scene with James Spader, one-on-one. I am hoping and wanting that to happen. Because I'd love to have that opportunity. I have been a fan of his for so many years. I just think he is interesting. I like to watch him. Hopefully, somewhere along the line, I will be hooked up with him. Who knows? Maybe we will make Bob Vance a little jealous.
I like what is happening with Ed Helms' character, Andy, in the boss' seat. He seems to be pulling you all together, rather than pushing you all apart.
Phyllis Smith: That is always interesting, too. Each of us had a different relationship with Andy, when he was at a clump, at the desks, with Stanley and I. We had a different dynamic going on. We are still now just trying to figure out these characters, with Andy being the manager. You don't talk to your manager the same way you talk to your desk clump person. I think we are still feeling that out. So are the writers. We will figure it all out.
Desk clump. Is that what you guys call it? I have never heard that term before.
Phyllis Smith: We have a clump there. A trio, or triangle, three...It's a clump.
That sounds like a growth on a tree...
Phyllis Smith: It is kind of a growth. Yeah. Its funny. We take ownership of that little space. That becomes out little chair. Oddly, in real life, we go, "Um, would you mind...Getting out of that chair..." Because every chair has its own feel to it. I have become very territorial about my space there. But, we are having a good time. We have our table reads midweek, Wednesdays or Thursdays. That's when we read the next script. That is when we find out what the writers have in mind. Not only for the show, but also for our characters. Its at the table that you find out you are having an affair with someone, or that you are getting married. Whatever the situation is. We'll see how it goes. We'll see how it envelops, here. We are only in the middle of out tenth episode. And we are doing twenty-two this year. I feel like we have just started. But hopefully we can pull another couple of seasons out of the bag. You know?
I'm not sure how you got the part as Phyllis. I know you were a dancer, and then you worked as a casting director. Was acting something you'd always wanted to do?
Phyllis Smith: Oddly enough, no. When I was young, I always wanted to be a dancer. When I got too old to compete with the 18 year olds, and I had to have knee surgery...Now they have the surgery where you can get back on the skis, or whatever, but when I had my knee injury, it ended my career. As it turns out, through a number of jobs trying to keep my head above water and pay the bills, I wound up in casting. I was trying, when I first came out to Los Angeles, not only to be a dancer, but to also get into commercials. I had taken a commercial class here or there. A friend of mine worked in the casting office of one of the court shows. He said, "Phyllis, they are looking for a mousey woman, and she is works for the superior court." I said, "Oh, man. I only have an hour lunch. It's in Hollywood, I work in the valley." He says, "Just get in the car and go." In the process of going to that audition, because it was a huge corporate office that I worked in, I ripped a big hole in my nylons. I wore nylons back then. It wasn't something I could hide. My entire knee was out. So I walked into that audition, and I lifted my dress. I said, "Excuse me, are you looking for mousey? Or are you looking for tacky?" I showed them that huge hole. I didn't get the job. But a year later, through the course of that conversation that we had, I said, "I might be good at casting." I had a hunch. A year later, she had an opening in her office to start in casting. Then, I did that for 19 years, working for various really good casting directors. When we got to working on The Office, we were in the second day of the screen tests for the five leads. For Jim, Pam, Dwight, Bryan, and Steve Carell's character...What is his name? How soon you forget, right? (Laughs) So, it was the second day of testing. I was trying to get the session going. The director says, "Phyllis, I want you to read the character of Pam today." I thought it was odd, but I said, "Eh, okay." We were at that point where we were pairing the males and females up to see if they had any chemistry together, and to see how they looked together. Blah, blah, blah...I though it was odd. I thought maybe one of the girls was late, maybe she had gotten stuck in traffic. But it turned out he was auditioning me. I didn't know it. No one ever approached me about that. No one ever said, "Hey, would you like to be in this TV show?" It was about a week later that the wardrobe called me. They said, "We understand that you are playing the character Phyllis." I said, "Yes I am." That's how Phyllis wound up on set. It doesn't normally happen that way. I remember my casting cam-padres, when they found out I was in a show, all said, "Really?" Because the odds of this were few and far between. Oddly enough, 19 years prior to this, I had done an industrial in Saint Louise, and I had gotten my SAG card. I paid my SAG dues for 19 years. I really thought that ship had sailed. Of all the projects that I worked on, I was always happiest in casting. I was never sitting there, going, under my breath, "Oh, I wonder if there is a role for me." I always thought this part of my life had dissipated. The ship did sail, but it came back and picked me up. Now I have a new career in my latter years.
The Office episode 8.5, "Spooked" stars Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, B.J. Novak, Ed Helms, James Spader, Leslie David Baker, Brian Baumgartner} and is directed by Randall Einhorn}.