Emmy nominee Jenna Fischer captured the hearts of television audiences as Pam Beesly Halpert in the long-running sitcom The Office. On May 16, as her TV show aired its final episode, Fischer stepped onstage at the Lucille Lortel Theatre for her off-Broadway debut as Steph, the foul-mouthed and unlucky-in-love heroine of Neil LaBute’s dark comedy Reasons to Be Happy. Broadway.com caught up with the popular star to discuss making the leap from screen to stage, adjusting to life in NYC and why it would never take her four years to reach out to the love of her life.
How are you enjoying your off-Broadway debut?
I really, really love it. I love the show, and I love the people that I’m working with, so I’m having a great time.
Steph is quite a pistol, and she begins the show with a spark. Are audiences taken aback by her during that first scene?
I think it’s such an exciting way to open a play. I have seen a nice amount of theater, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a play that opened [this way]. I just think it would be so exciting as an audience member to have the lights flash on to two people standing there at the peak of an argument screaming at each other. It's like a rocket that takes off.
Why return to the stage after a long TV run? Does it cleanse the palate in a sense?
Cleansing the palate is a great way to put it, but for me, I just was really eager to do something that felt completely different from The Office— not just in terms of a character but as an entire experience. So to be out of Hollywood, out of a studio, in front of an audience [and] living in New York—every single piece of it was new and different. I was looking for a 100% different experience.
What’s life like backstage at the Lortel? You four seem like a fun bunch, and you and Leslie Bibb are both making your off-Broadway debuts.
The dressing room at the Lucille Lortel is shared, and the boys and the girls are divided by a pocket door; we can open our door and it’s like we’re all in one room. The boys [Josh Hamilton and Fred Weller] are very calm and very professional and subdued and intellectual, and Leslie and I are like a couple of rowdy sorority girls. Sometimes the boys will come over and sit on our cot and talk to us. It’s fun. It’s definitely got a little summer camp feel to it.
This is your first time living in New York City for an extended period. What’s your favorite part about it?
Oh my gosh, there’s so many things I love about it. I love the energy of the city. I love walking everywhere, as opposed to driving, or taking the train. I’ve even been enjoying the weather; I like looking out our window everyday and seeing what other people are wearing to determine what the weather is. It’s become our little ritual.
How is juggling the demands of a new show with the demands of being a mom in the city? [Fischer and her screenwriter husband Lee Kirk have a 20-month-old son, Weston.]
It’s easier here. It’s easier doing theater. I spend all day with him, and I get to get up with him every morning. I used to have to wake up at five in the morning, and I would be out of the house before he woke up. While I would get to have dinner with him and things like that, this is a much more concentrated, and I would say effective, amount of time that I get to spend with him. So I’m really quite nearly a full time mom and a working actress at the same time, which is the best in the world.
You and your co-star Josh Hamilton have fantastic chemistry. Did you do anything special to get to know each other?
No, we didn’t; we just rehearsed together. He has a new baby, so we actually spent a lot of time talking about our families and our kids and sharing photos. We were at work one day, and it was raining out, and we simultaneously got pictures from our spouses of our kids splashing in the rain. It’s not something our characters have in common, but I think, as people, that was a great starting place.
What are the pros and cons with being so closely associated in people’s minds with Pam and The Office?
I’m so proud of The Office and I’m so proud of being a part of that show, and of the character that I helped to create in Pam and the relationship of Jim and Pam, that I think it’s really only a positive. That exposure has given me a lot of opportunities. And when I meet people who are fans of the show, or fans of Pam, they’re always so warm and kind and they tell me good stories usually about their love life or about how they have a Jim or a Pam that they’re trying to acquire. And so it’s really been a huge positive.
Do any fan stories particularly stick out?
There’s this one couple that are really memorable to me because the guy wrote me a letter early on and he said, “I like this girl at work and she’s my Pam, and I asked her out and she said yes.” Then, a couple years later, they sent me an invitation to their wedding! And then they sent me a baby announcement. People have grown up with the show and their lives change the way the characters’ lives change. And that’s a really sweet thing.
Having said that, what do you think fans who assume that Jenna is Pam would be most surprised to learn about you?
That’s a good question. I’m much more decisive, and I take action, unlike Pam. I think that’s the biggest difference: I’m a go-getter. It would not take me four years to reach out to the love of my life; it would take me about four hours, maybe. If I want something I go after it.
On Twitter, you say you’re a “lover of trash TV.” What are your favorites? Are you a Housewives fan?
Yeah, I always loved the Atlanta women and I love the O.C. women. But I also love Survivor, and I love Big Brother. I love to watch the people interact.
Would you be any good on one of those competition shows?
No, I would be horrible on Survivor; I’d get kicked off. I don’t do well without food or sleep.
What’s next after Reasons to Be Happy? Any hopes the show will move to Broadway?
I would love to do more theater, and I’d love to do this play more and again, so [Broadway] would be amazing. Immediately following this, I don’t have any plans to do anything. I’d like to go back to Los Angeles and just take a break for a little while, actually—sort of a second phase of cleansing the palate. I’ve always believed that it’s important for artists to live life and have times in their life where they aren’t always working, so that when they are working, they have something to draw from. I’m going to just be a full time mom for a little while, but I’ll be chasing more theater projects, that’s for sure. I’ve really loved it.
Don’t miss Jenna Fischer’s New York stage debut in Reasons to Be Happy at the Lucille Lortel Theatre through June 29.