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The Office Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Ed Helms

This is an interview with Ed Helms and Paul Lieberstein on September 27, 2011 about the show The Office.

Question:
Ed, lots of time you play kind of regular guys who eventually triumph and clearly Andy's done that now. Do you see yourself as that sometimes? Do you see yourself as kind of a regular guy who kind of here in your 40s is kind of breaking loose?

Ed Helms:
Well first I'd like to address the issue of my age. I'm 37 years old. So now that that's cleared up, I think that in some respect yeah, I think I'm a pretty normal guy but I do work very hard. And I've been focused on a lot of goals over time. But I think that the characters that I play are just sort of a heightened version of myself. I relate to Andy. I'm not sure it's about regular guy triumphing as much as Andy Bernard is in a lot of ways an opportunity for me to exercise some of my own demons of insecurity and social awkwardness. So he is a heightened version of those aspects that I think I have and that most of us have to some extent.

Question:
Where did the Cornell obsession come from?

Ed Helms:
It's funny. We have a handful of Harvard writers on our writing staff. And I'm a little out of the loop on that to be honest. But I think there's some Ivy League rivalry and Cornell is sort of a punching bag in the Ivy League sometimes. So it's just a fun, it's something that Andy clings to. It gives him a sense of identity.

Question:
Were any considerations given to various outside stars to come in and take over The Office?

Ed Helms:
Allow me to channel Paul Lieberstein for a second. Ed Helms is just an unbridled genius and it was important to us to capitalize on that, so. So I trust you will not quote me directly on that.

Paul Lieberstein:
We talked about it I think really considering it wasn't the big question was the natural question, a lot of what you guys were asking was should we continue after Steve Carell leaves. And the answer was only clear when we said our cast is amazing. And we don't need anybody else. People want to watch our cast. We still want to write for our cast. And so think that although maybe batted around different views at time, we were never really considering changing the focus on the show to anyone else but our people.

Question:
Ed, I wanted to know, can you talk about what it's like to work with James Spader when his character is a man of few words?

Paul Lieberstein:
Would you call him that?

Ed Helms:
James Spader has played a lot of very creepy and odd characters throughout his long and wonderful career. James Spader the man could not be more different from those guys. He's a wonderful sort of benevolent and cheerful guy. And so that is a fantastic energy to have on set. And it's wonderful. It's a kind of fun new energy for us all to respond to.

Now his character of course, Robert California, is different than that. Robert California is a kind of aggressively confident person who seems to take a lot of pleasure in exerting his power and that is a - that is a really crazy energy because it's so new to Dunder Mifflin and it's not something that Andy Bernard is particularly well equipped to deal with and that is exactly why it is so fun.

Question:
How did the process go for you in terms of taking the new job? Did you know ahead of time?

Ed Helms:
I knew about three or four weeks before we started shooting. The news sort of broke internally. And Paul and I had lunch actually and that's where I learned of the news.

Question:
What are Andy's plans in terms of what to do with Dwight now that you're the manager and you guys had a checkered past?

Ed Helms:
Let's just say the checkered past carries over to a checkered present. And Dwight is someone who responds very well to a firm hand of leadership, which Andy is still sort of searching for a little bit. But I'm really excited that in that first episode we started to just see the very first inklings of a backbone in Andy. And that I'm really excited about because it sort of makes Andy's leadership more plausible in a way and also kind of shows you a lot of where Andy still has to go and where he has to travel. And that - Dwight provides a constant friction for that.

Question:
I was wondering if any of the actors internally were vying for that managerial spot on behalf of their characters?

Ed Helms:
I kind of felt like I've always really trusted the creative judgment of the show creators, Greg Daniels and Paul Lieberstein and felt like they've gotten us so far. And there was a lot of internal sort of wondering and questioning what was next, who might be the next boss. But I think it's a testament to this cast and the dignity of everyone involved that we all sort of took a little bit of a back seat to the creative considerations upstairs. And we're sort of eager to support whatever decision came down.

Paul Lieberstein:
I think in terms of vying I haven't seen an actor want a specific role. I think what an actor wants is in general is something interesting to play and to be challenged and stretched. And we intend to do that with all the cast and a movie can be about the lowliest guy on the street or the President of the United States and if it's not so much who's the manager you can find something interesting. So no one really was pressing. They just want to be engaged and challenged. You know, and that's what we wanted to show as well.

Question:
Paul, why after doing all the searching and everything did you finally decide that Ed Helms should be the choice? What was it about Andy Bernard's characters that you thought this is the guy that should have had Steve Carell's mantle?

Paul Lieberstein:
Well, there are a lot of aspects to the Andy Bernard character to make him extremely suited to manager. One, I think it's that he cares about people more than he does about the product I guess; you might say that. It's a little simplistic. I and of course he wants the place to run successfully. But he can take the role of father and a family because he partly insecurity, partly through genuine affection and being kind of an adorable human being talking about Andy is one who is really caring and interested in empathetic. And any little problem that anybody's having, he would feel very deeply, which makes him very suited to be a comic lead in the show. And his stories are a generator.

Question:
We saw Andy kind of standing up to Robert a little bit. Are we going to continue to see sort of a push and pull between these two characters? Is Andy going to kind of find himself as a boss over the season?

Paul Lieberstein:
Yeah. Like I was just saying, comic dynamic where he can deal with someone interested in toying with him. So it's a go-to place.

Question:
Andy, everyone wants to know or I guess of Andy and Erin are going to continue to be a storyline as well?

Ed Helms:
They're a pretty odd pair because they have very strong emotions and very poor communication skills. And so there's always been something kind of charming about watching them try to connect and try to communicate. Of course now with Andy's new boss position, there's a power dynamic that comes into play which just makes all of that tension and awkwardness that much more difficult. And things do get tricky especially around Halloween.

Question:
It struck me that you and Steve have had a very similar career path from the Daily Show through the bridge and then film career. I wondered if you had any thoughts on that and if you had a chance to talk with Steve since the announcement and get any advice from him?

Ed Helms:
Yes. Steve and I certainly have a few sort of signposts along our careers that match up. And I really credit Steve certainly going back to the Daily Show. When Steve did 40 Year Old Virgin, that really broke the mold for all of the correspondence on the Daily Show in a really wonderful way. It allowed the general public as well as the entertainment industry to suddenly see the Daily Show correspondents as something more than just these sort of snarky news reporters. And that's just something I'll always sort of be grateful that Steve did.

I've known Steve for a long, long time and I've always really admired Steve both creatively and personally. And he's one of a number of actors that I've looked up to and sort of taken cues from as I made choices in my career. And I'm really grateful for that example that he's set. And he's always just been really supportive and even going into this new season remains so. And I even got a really lovely note from Ricky Gervais the day after the premier. So that means an awful lot.

Question:
Did either of them have any sort of concrete advice in approaching managing The Office?

Ed Helms:
No. Not exactly, no. But the biggest lesson that Steve has taught me is more just about work ethic and preparation and execution and professionalism. And that's something that I've address with him in a number of conversations together. But also I've just learned through his example and I'm really grateful for it.

Question:
Did you and Brian Baumgartner know each other much back then? And what's it like working with him now?

Ed Helms:
We did know each other in high school. He's a year older than me. And we weren't best buddies but we certainly overlapped and we were in a few plays together and our high school chorus and stuff like that. And it's just been this sort of fun ridiculous reconnection. We went off in different directions and then circled back 15 years later. We even have a writer on staff that went to our high school, Halsted Sullivan.

Question:
So in what ways will we see Andy differ from Michael as a boss?

Ed Helms:
I think that the biggest difference right out of the gate is that Michael was a well-established manager for much of his run at Dunder Mifflin and that Andy is just finding that. It's a fresh new thing. Andy's leadership is a little bit of an open question and that's what I'm really excited to flesh and - and it was really fun in that opening episode to kind of see a little bit of that backbone and see a little bit of a poignant turn about what might be ahead.

But I also think Andy comes from a place of privilege and that informs his world view and he's also prone to anger management issues, but what he always is trying to do at the end of the day, he's trying to do the right thing. And that's why he sort of stepped up in that first episode. But it's also he has so many personal hurdles and insecurities that it's a real struggle.

Question:
Paul, I was a really big fan of the Scranton Strangler. Do you think we'll ever see another murder mystery on The Office?

Paul Lieberstein:
Perhaps. Perhaps. We we overshoot quite a bit and we over script even more than that. So there's quite a bit that we have in our lure that never quite made it on. But oh, actually did air a piece where Toby felt that he put the wrong man to death. And so we have a wholestory that's kind of playing out so he may start to establish a relationship with them and go visit them in jail.

Question:
Will Andy and Toby get along and actually have a relationship unlike Michael and Toby?

Ed Helms:
That's a great question and I was wondering the same thing. I feel like in some respects Gabe is Andy's Toby but I don't know quite what we saw a little hint of that on The List episode. But Gabe certainly has been Andy's nemesis in love with Erin. But I don't know that Andy has any specific beef with Toby. Paul, you want to elaborate.

Paul Lieberstein:
Yeah. I'm not sure he does. It's very hard to say why Michael hated him. But I think it's had a lot to do with the way Michel saw the world was completely emotional, not rational. So we got to find something new for Toby.

Question:
Can you ell us about that episode since the Halloween episodes are traditionally such fan favorites. I know Rainn Wilson posted a petty funny video of himself in costume a few weeks ago.

Paul Lieberstein:
Yeah. We did a lot of costumes with Rainn because he had a series of flashbacks to about six different Halloweens.

Ed Helms:
Oh yeah. Well yeah, it's a really fun one to shoot just because The Office is completely decorated to the hilt and I think we all get in that Halloween mindset. But as far as the story goes, I don't know what I can say other than the fact that there is definitely some tension brewing with Erin and Andy in there.

Paul Lieberstein:
Erin finds herself in a place where she doesn't know how to interpret the fact that Andy's not giving her work and being a little quiet towards her.

Ed Helms:
And her Halloween costume is just preposterously adorable this year. So it just makes it that much weirder.

Question:
Ed, a lot of people are saying that this is the new era of Andy Bernard at Dunder Mifflin Paper. Do you think of it that way?

Ed Helms:
I'm trying not to over think it actually and just come in and do the best work I can every day. And that's something that if the era is defined by any one particular thing, I think that time will tell.

Question:
Given how much hype there's been about who was going to fill those shoes whether you had any trepidation about the change or not?

Ed Helms:
Well there was a long period of uncertainty. You know, Steve announced that he was not going to be coming back to the show pretty early last year. And right away the question came up well, what's going to happen next. And there just wasn't an answer for a long, long time and that in some ways was a blessing. I think it gave us all time to just sort of zen out about it and come to terms with whatever it might be.

Question:
Will there be a Michael/Holly wedding and if so, is Andy going to injure another reproductive organ?

Paul Lieberstein:
Yes to the reproductive organ. But I really don't know if Steve will find his way back to the show. I certainly hope he does.

Ed Helms:
Really. So there will be more genital harm coming Andy's way...

Paul Lieberstein:
Yeah.

Ed Helms:
All right. Good to know. Good to know.

Question:
Ed, what is it you think about Andy that is going to affect him managerially?

Ed Helms:
Sales and management are different skills. And I think like Paul said there, Andy I think has some real leadership potential. But it's just a matter of finding it. It's a matter of Andy doing the work to dig it out of himself. And hopefully that'll be a hilarious process to watch. But yeah, I'm excited for that journey.

Question:
Do you find yourself fit into your role as Andy or is it complicated for you?

Ed Helms:
Andy's really taken shape over five seasons of The Office and so I have an awful lot to build on. And what's really exciting about this season is that the writers are focusing a little more on Andy and exposing more of his background and where he came from and that of course is sort of fun and for the audience to just learn more about Andy.

But also for me as an actor it's incredibly helpful and exciting to learn more about this character. And I feel like so far it's been a really nice dovetail. It's fit quite well. And I've had a tremendous amount of fun doing no small part to just overwhelming support of this whole cast and the whole - our amazing crew and writing staff.

Question:
Since Michael's gone and there's no one to antagonize Toby anymore, what is his purpose of the character this season?

Paul Lieberstein:
In terms of the role of Toby, I'm not really sure what it is. I'm really focused on kind of making the whole show work. But as I start to do scenes with different characters, I think different aspects of conflicts in character arise that are kind of interesting. That was kind of long and winded. Sorry.

Question:
Now that Steve is gone, do you feel that there's like a pressure to live up to what the show was with him?

Paul Lieberstein:
I always felt a pressure to make the show as best I could. And for every table read, I get nervous and that was with Steve or without Steve. I don't know if the pressure I feel is bigger. Certainly there are a lot of eyes on the show right now. But I think that's it. Yes. But I put pressure on everything. So of course I feel it.

Question:
Could you talk about Josh Groban's appearance on the series?

Paul Lieberstein:
Sure. It started when we were casting Andy's brother. Mindy Kaling thought of Josh and it seemed like a natural click. And he was excited and he wanted to act and then I'll let Ed talk about what it's like to work with him because I wasn't on set.

Ed Helms:
Of course we all know Josh is an amazing singer and then I saw him in Crazy Stupid Love and thought he was great in that. And so I was not at all surprised that he was really great and hilarious to work with as an actor too. The choice of Josh is kind of a fun teaser because obviously he is musical and we all know that Andy has a certain penchant for music. And Josh's appearance is part of a really exciting episode for me and for Andy because it's really where we learn a lot about Andy and not all of it's good and some of it's sort of poignant. But there of course is some fun music that gets mixed in there too.

Question:
I kind of feel like there might be some sort of a rivalry between Ed and Josh because Josh is such a good singer and so I was wondering if you could elaborate a little bit more on that?

Ed Helms:
I'll just say that there is some rivalry but it takes a compelling turn that I think is unexpected. And the source of the rivalry may not be what you expect. Of course Josh is a great singer and that wasn't lost on our writers. But I'm excited to sort of show the fans kind of where and how Josh's character fits into Andy's life and also what it means for who Andy is. And it's not all good. You can see an aspect of Andy exaggerated in Josh, which is a guy who's even more naive and socially sweeter if you can believe it. So it's interesting to see the two of them together.

Question:
Having done so much creatively on TV and film, what are some of the things that you like to watch on television and what might be on your DVR at the moment?

Ed Helms:
Myth Busters.

Paul Lieberstein:
I watch Parks.

Ed Helms:
Parks and Recreation is fantastic. I love that too. And one of my favorite shows on earth right now is Rob Corddry's show, Children's Hospital. Of course Rob is a buddy from my Daily Show days. And I just think he is killing it with that show. But I wasn't joking about Myth Busters either. I think that is an extraordinary show. It's incredibly compelling to watch and hilarious. Iron Chef attic still and Downton Abby I got hooked on. I get hooked into those home and garden design and sort of home makeover shows.

Question:
Paul, what will the documentary be about at the end?

Paul Lieberstein:
That's a very interesting question and I'm not going to tell you because I think that'll be a very fun reveal. But it might not be about what you think.

Question:
I noticed in the premier last week that we saw more of some of the minor characters than we might in the average episode and even towards the end of last season. So in this coming up season, will it be more ensemble based than it has been in the past or is it going to be more of Andy and Robert California filling up the extra time from Michael?

Paul Lieberstein:
Well it's a mix. You know, we have some very ensemble based shows and some that really focus in on Andy and his relationship with Robert. But our big Robert shows are generally big Andy shows too. And there's quite a few stories that are focused on the ensemble.

Question:
Paul, in this first episode there seems to be a big mystery behind Robert California. But he also has a like a subtle but strong control in the office. Should we expect it to stay that way or what type of surprises will we see in his character of evolution?

Paul Lieberstein:
Well it's interesting. You know, if someone starts off very enigmatic and hard to read, you start to get to know them after a while. So yes, we'll see other aspects. We're going to kind of hold onto that for a while and then we'll start to see other aspects of him come through. And he's the guy who's just very interested in the interactions with people and playing out power dynamics and watching people squirm and putting them in situations where they're tested and watching them. Unlike Kathy Bates who is just interested in results, he is a voyeur of the process.

Ed Helms:
And I think the episode that we're shooting right now actually I'm having a tremendous amount of fun with because as Paul said, like you do just in observing a character of the course o Episode 7, 6 or 7 or 8 and nine. And so we know Robert California pretty well by now. And there's still some revelations happening. And it's really cool. He's not a one-note character by any stretch.

Question:
What other characteristics of Andy do you have in your everyday life?

Ed Helms:
The wardrobe's the same. I really like the way Andy dresses in certain episodes. But I struggle with confidence and like most people and it ebbs and flows. And I relate to Andy's fear walking into a situation. But I do think I'm a little better equipped at handling it than Andy. But there's something really fun and cathartic about just sort of playing it out in the most petty way imaginable. That's seems to be Andy's MO. And it's often how I think a lot of us are pettier than we will admit. In other words, we're better at governing our behavior. But sometimes our feelings and emotions are much pettier inside. And Andy's just much more exposed. And that's therapeutic for me in a way.

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