"I Think Selling Pot Becomes a Way For Him to Have Something to Do"
MP: I think Jonathan is sort of the ultimate executive assistant. The reason he wants to do his job so perfectly is he sees Jack Donaghy and he thinks, "This man is perfection, and I, too, could be like that." I think he develops this whole way of seeing the rest of the cast through Jack's eyes. Like his relationship to [Tina Fey's character Liz] Lemon is that he needs her at times, bur for the most part she's nothing, compared to his boss. But at the same time, that crazy respect creates a lot of fear for him, so he's terrified of messing up. He wants to be seen as the perfect assistant at all times.
MB: Is it hard to convey all that in, like, ten words per episode?
MP: Creating that with no words is sort of the way you play any character. You know who you are and then you just try to bring that to the scene. I don't really think of it in a different way than if I did have lines. And sometimes I do get some lines, which is nice. Plus, on television you still get to discover a character as it's written, so you come in with an idea, but then you allow it to be shaken up a bit. You're constantly finding the reason for any discrepancies, and when the writing is strong like it is on 30 Rock or Weeds, it's not hard to see how the discrepancies can fit into the mosaic of one human being.
MB: In the way you describe these two characters, it sounds like they overlap quite a bit. Both of them stand outside the action, and they both have someone they idolize. Is that a connection that informs your work at all?
MP: It could be. Huh. I think both Sanjay and Jonathan are sort of the low rung on the ladder, and they're both seeking some upward mobility. And yeah...structurally, they both have these strong bosses that they love for different reasons. But I don't think Sanjay is so concerned about being put together, and for Jonathan, it's about making sure that every paper clip is in exactly the right place. So the way they pursue objectives is quite different, although they might be going for similar things.
MB: Is there ever going to be an episode where Jonathan and Jack McBrayer's character take over?