Season 2 of The Office ended with some serious cliffhangers, and Season 3 kicked things off by introducing two important new characters: Andy Bernard and Karen Filippelli.
On the latest episode of the , former co-stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey talked about all the goings on in Season 3, Episode 1, “Gay Witch Hunt.” In addition to chatting with Oscar Nunez about his character development in the Season 3 premiere, Fischer and Kinsey also discussed Jim’s transfer to the Stamford branch and how the hilarious Ed Helms and Rashida Jones got to join their cast.
When Fischer called Helms to hear about his journey to Dunder Mifflin, he explained to her that before the show even started he had auditioned for the role of Jim Halpert.
“Ed told me that he was a huge fan of the original BBC Office, and he said not many people know this, but he originally auditioned in New York for the role of Jim,” Fischer explained. “Oh! I didn’t know that,” Kinsey said. “I didn’t either,” Fischer replied.
“[Helms] said he didn’t get the role [of Jim] obviously, but he heard that Steve got the role of Michael Scott and he was so excited because he had worked with Steve on The Daily Show,” Fischer said. “He was so excited for our American version of the show and he watched it and loved it, and somewhere near the end of Season 2 he got a phone call to meet with Greg Daniels and Paul Lieberstein about a new character that they wanted to introduce in Season 3.”
Helms told Fischer that the meeting went great and he loved the character of Andy, but that he was originally only asked to do a total of eight episodes. “They thought that the Stamford storyline would not necessarily end in a merger, and that his character would be finished when Jim went back to Dunder Mifflin,” Fischer explained. “That was the plan, that Jim would eventually return. But this idea that the other Stamford characters would return wasn’t quite in the works yet.”
Because the writers and showrunners weren’t sure how fans would react to Jim and Pam’s separation, they told Helms that they would only hire him in two episode chunks. And since Helms was living in New York at the time and filming took place in Los Angeles, he had to stay at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in North Hollywood and rent a convertible Sebring (basically drive in Michael Scott style). Luckily, by the sixth episode he was offered a deal to stay on for the rest of Season 3.
As for Rashida Jones, who later went on to star in Parks and Recreation (which was originally intended to be an Office spinoff,) she told Kinsey over text message that she was “so damn nervous” to play the role of Karen and constantly felt like she was going to be fired.
According to Jones, “Karen was written to be more ornery, sour, and mean,” but her portrayal really softened the character up and even made her genuinely likable.
Fischer shared that the first time she worked with Jones was actually during a screen test over the summer. Fischer was called to run lines with different Karens, and at the end was asked to choose her favorite. She told Kinsey that she picked Rashida Jones because their initial connection reminded her of how it felt when she met John Krasinki for the first time.
“I just didn’t even feel like I had to work hard in my scenes with her. I effortlessly felt this chemistry between Pam and Karen. I knew who Pam and Karen were and who they were going to be,” Fischer said. “I didn’t know that they would necessarily care who I thought was the person I responded the most to, but it made me so excited when she was cast, so it’s funny to me that she thought she was going to be fired.”
Jones told Kinsey that she was actually so nervous about people hating Karen for coming between Jim and Pam that she didn’t sleep the week before her first day of filming. She wound up playing such a cool, calm, intelligent character though, that even Fischer admitted she might be Team Karen.
Just as Andy, Karen, and Jim’s transfer to Stamford took some getting used to for fans, it was also an adjustment for the rest of the Scranton employees who no longer got to work with Krasinski on a daily basis.
Fischer and Kinsey explained that the set for the Stamford branch was built on the swing lot on the warehouse sound stage, which is where they built sets for the New York offices, Pam’s hospital room, apartments, and more. They’d shoot Stamford scenes one or two days of the week — giving the Scranton branch time off — and then switch, so Scranton employees only saw Krasinski during table reads or wardrobe fittings.
“I completely used all of my feelings with John being over on that other set to the character of Pam.”
“He was so super gushy about working with Ed and Rashida,” Fischer recalled, and she admitted that she had major FOMO about not getting to film with the three actors. Kinsey also noted that the original cast would see that Krasinski, Helms, and Jones had inside jokes at table reads and feel a bit left out in those early days of Season 3.
“I completely used all of my feelings with John being over on that other set to the character of Pam,” Fischer told Kinsey. “You really became closest with the people who you had the most scenes with, because you had the most downtime with them, and for those first two years of the show [Krasinski] was really was my buddy, you know? I spent so much time with him and now he was just gone. So when they came back I just used it for my character.”
Thankfully, fans didn’t have to wait too long to see Jim return to the Scranton office, and Andy and Karen ended up becoming invaluable characters to the show.