Ever since Steve Carell announced that Season 7 of “The Office” would be his last season with the show, there have been months of speculation about who would replace his Michael Scott character as the office manager of the show’s fictional Dunder Mifflin company. Carell’s last episode as a cast member was televised in April 2011.
Now, it is official: Andy Bernard (played by Ed Helms) has been promoted into Michael Scott’s former position at Dunder Mifflin. In a telephone conference call with reporters, Helms and “The Office” executive producer Paul Lieberstein talked about this important transition in the show and what viewers can expect to see in Season 8 of “The Office.”
Ed, you usually play kind of regular guys who eventually triumph, and clearly Andy Bernard has done that now that he’s finally become the manager at Dunder Mifflin. Do you see yourself as that “regular guy” sometimes?
Helms: You know, 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 a regular guy triumphing as much as it is sort of – 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.
Andy has an obsession with reminding us that he went to Cornell. You went Oberlin, which is good college. Where did the Cornell obsession come from? And do you have this sometimes when you talk about Oberlin?
Helms: Well 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.
Does that get some respect in your crowd or do the Harvard people look down at you?
Helms: Harvard people look down on everyone. I’m certainly proud of my alma mater but I don’t wear it on my sleeve the way Andy does. I think for Andy it’s really about insecurity more than anything else.
About the decision to promote from within, they settled on Andy Bernard. Were considerations given to various outside stars to come in and take over “The Office”? Do you have anything you can tell us about how that worked out that way?
Lieberstein: 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.
Ed, can you talk about what it’s like to work with James Spader when his character is a man of few words?
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 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.
Now springing off of the previous question, how did the process go for you in terms of taking the new job?
Helms: I knew about three or four weeks before we started shooting. That’s when the news sort of broke internally. And Paul and I had lunch actually and that’s where I learned of the news.
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?
Helms: Well, 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.
Were the actors lobbying on behalf of their characters to get the managerial position and having your character getting it? Was that a way to capitalize on your future film career?
Helms: 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. 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. 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 I trust you will not quote me.
Lieberstein: I haven’t seen an actor want a specific role. I think what an actor wants in general is something interesting to play and to be challenged and stretched. And we intend to do that with all the cast. A movie can be about the lowliest guy on the street or the President of the United States and 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.
After doing all the searching and everything, what was it about Andy Bernard’s character that you thought, “This is the guy that should have had Steve Carell’s mantle”? And then secondly, what did you think about the chemistry between Ed Helms and James Spader?
Lieberstein: 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. And of course he wants the place to run successfully. But he can take the role of father, partly through genuine affection and being kind of an adorable human being.
Talking about Andy is one who is really caring and interested in being empathetic. 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. One of the things we’re most delighted about is how Andy manages upward and how both scared he is and courageous he is at the very same time when dealing with Robert California.
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?
Lieberstein: Yeah. Like I was just saying, there’s a comic dynamic where he can deal with someone interested in toying with him. So it’s a go-to place.
Are Andy and Erin going to continue to be a storyline as well?
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.
Ed, you and Steve have had a very similar career path from “The Daily Show” through having a film career. Have you had a chance to talk with Steve since the announcement and get any advice from him?
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 “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” that really broke the mold for all of the correspondents on “The Daily Show” in a really wonderful way.
And 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.
Did Steve Carell or Ricky Gervais have any concrete advice in approaching managing “The Office”?
Helms: 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 addressed with him in a number of conversations together. But also I’ve just learned through his example and I’m really grateful for it.
You and Brian Baumgartner (who plays Kevin Malone on “The Office”) went to the same school. Did you guys know each other much back then? And what’s it like working with him now?
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.
So in what ways will we see Andy differ from Michael as a boss?
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. And Andy’s leadership is a little bit of an open question and that’s what I’m really excited to flesh 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.
Do you think we’ll ever see another murder mystery on “The Office”?
Lieberstein: Perhaps. You know, we overshoot quite a bit and we overscript even more than that. So there’s quite a bit that we have that never quite made it on. But I think we actually did air a piece where Toby felt that he put the wrong man to death. And so we have a whole story that’s kind of playing out where so he may start to establish a relationship with them and go visit them in jail.
Helms: Oh my God.
Lieberstein: And then maybe there’s another strangling that happens to throw the whole thing in question.
Helms: Michael Scott is the Scranton Strangler.
Lieberstein: Yeah. Things start happening in Colorado.
What kind of lessons do you think that Andy took from Michael Scott? And also for Paul, do you think Andy’s going to have to change? Is that going to be part of the storyline?
Lieberstein: I think he will change. I feel like Michael was promoted to the level of incompetency. He’s a very good salesman who had no management skills. With Andy it’s different. I feel that he’s more like a very talented quarterback who has been given a professional football team except no one’s told him how to throw a ball yet.
And it’s just like for the first time he’s picking up this football. There’s an arm there. It’s just you’ve got to figure it out. He didn’t start with competency. And probably for those first games or two, he’s a little distracted by the cheerleaders.
He doesn’t know the rules of the game. It’s like Peyton Manning. He was just thrown onto the field without any sense of what the game was or the rules or how to throw. And certainly any lessons that he picked up from Michael Scott were bad, were not useful.
Will Andy and Toby get along and actually have a relationship unlike Michael and Toby?
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 … 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?
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 Michael saw the world was completely emotional, not rational. So we got to find something new for Toby.
Ed mentioned Halloween a few questions back. Is there anything you guys can tell us about that episode since the Halloween episodes are traditionally such fan favorites?
Lieberstein: We did do a lot of costumes with Rainn because he had a series of flashbacks to about six different Halloweens.
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.
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.
Helms: And her Halloween costume is just preposterously adorable this year. So it just makes it that much weirder.
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?
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.
Ed, given how much hype there’s been about who was going to fill those shoes, have you had any trepidation about the change or not?
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. You know, I would say I was anxious. I think we were all a little bit anxious to find out. But always confident that whatever the choice was it was going to be good creatively and that the writers would have made the decision with the future of the show in mind.
Will there be a Michael/Holly wedding and if so, is Andy going to injure another reproductive organ?
Lieberstein: Very specific question. 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.
Helms: Really. So there will be more genital harm coming Andy’s way.
Helms: All right. Good to know. Good to know.
Ed, what do you think about Andy? He’s not great with sales as we’ve heard but is that going to affect him managerially?
Helms: Well 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.
Ed, do you find yourself fitting in your role as you thought you would or is it a little bit complicated for you?
Helms: Well, 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 see, 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 so far it’s been a really nice dovetail. It’s fit quite well. And I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun doing it, in no small part to just overwhelming support of this whole cast and our amazing crew and writing staff.
Since Michael’s gone and there’s like no one to antagonize Toby anymore, what is Toby’s purpose of the character this season?
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.
Now that Steve Carell is gone, do you feel that there’s like a pressure to live up to what the show was with him?
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. I’m moving this weekend and I feel pressure to move really well.
Can you talk about Josh Groban’s guest appearance on “The Office”?
Lieberstein: Sure. It started with 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.
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 is good and some of it is sort of poignant. And there of course is some fun music that gets mixed in there too.
When is he going to be appearing on the show?
Lieberstein: I don’t have the airdate in front of me. I think it’s going to be end of October.
Will there be some sort of a rivalry between Ed and Josh because Josh is such a good singer?
Helms: Well 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 show the fans 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.
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?
Helms: “Myth Busters.”
Lieberstein: I watch Parks [and Recreation].”
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 that is an extraordinary show. It’s incredibly compelling to watch and hilarious. I also [like] “Iron Chef” still. And “Downton Abbey” I got hooked on. I get hooked into those home and garden design and sort of home makeover shows.
That sounds like a very Andy thing to say, right?
Helms: Yeah, right. How’s this for Andy? I’ve been known to watch what is that show, “The Great American Sing-Off” or something that’s a sing off.
“The Sing Off”?
Helms: Thanks. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that’s great television, but I have been sucked in from time to time.
What will the documentary be about at the end? The documentary crew has been with “The Office” for so long.
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.
Helms: Is the show itself not the documentary or is it the show just B-roll from the documentary?
Lieberstein: Some questions shouldn’t be asked because a documentary would have been the most extensive and expansive documentary in the history of documentaries. But you definitely understand why they’re there.
Helms: Yeah. There’s something beautiful in the mundane if you take a big enough microscope to it. And that’s a lot of the best real documentaries out there sort of start on one subject and wind up zeroing in on something that seemed just innocuous to being with, like “Capturing the Friedmans,” for example. And I just think that the smallness of this world is part of what makes it so beautiful and compelling.
Have you ever worked in such a mundane office?
Helms: Yeah. Sure.
Lieberstein: Yeah, me too.
Do you know exactly what Michael does there?
Lieberstein: Out in Denver you mean? No. We haven’t followed him into his new work environment. So I’m not sure if he got that job he thought he was going to get.
Will this season 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?
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 are quite a few stories that are focused on the ensemble.
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?
Lieberstein: 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.
Helms: And I think the episode that we’re shooting right now actually I’m having a tremendous amount of fun with in observing a character of the course of Episode 6 or 7 or 8.
Lieberstein: Yeah. And nine.
Helms: Oh geez. 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.
Ed, earlier you said that Andy is a heightened version of yourself. What other characteristics of Andy do you have in your everyday life?
Helms: Well the wardrobe’s the same. I really like the way Andy dresses in certain episodes. But I struggle with confidence and like most people, it ebbs and flows. And I certainly 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 playing it out in the most petty way imaginable. That [seems to be] Andy’s M.O.
And 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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