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Human Resources: Toby and Holly Talk Season 5 of <i>The Office</i>

For years, HR sad sack Toby has been a thorn in the side of The Office manger Michael Scott, not allowing him to have fun because the "fun" is usually mildly sexist, or racist, or both. Well, the Season 4 finale saw Dunder-Mifflin bid a fond (on Michael's part, anyway) farewell to Toby as he left for Costa Rica, and a lukewarm welcome to his beautiful and goofy replacement, Holly. In anticipation of the September 25th premiere of the new season, writer/producer Paul Lieberstein ("Toby") and Academy Award nominee Amy Ryan ("Holly") held a conference call where reporters got to ask them all of the questions we were dying to know about Season 5. The best parts are of the call are below, so enjoy! (That's what she said!)

Amy, How did it work out that you got the part of Holly on The Office?

Amy Ryan: I think there were a few things in play. One is I knew Paul Lieberstein many years ago from a television show we both worked on called The Naked Truth. And then most of the Office writers turned out to be fans of The Wire. And then I had briefly known Steve Carell when we shot the film Dan in Real Life. And then I got nominated for an Oscar, and I asked my agent and manager, I said, "You know, the one job I'd like that I don't think I'd get if I weren't nominated, I want to be on The Office." Some people laughed at me when I told them that story, they said I shot too low. But I disagree. I think that's one of the best shows on TV.

So what can fans expect this season in the relationships between Holly and Kevin, and Holly and Michael?

Ryan: Well, Holly and Kevin is probably a little bit more a misunderstanding. Her misunderstanding that he's [got] a handicap shows its truth pretty soon. And with Michael and Holly, I think that it gives us all hope that there's a lid for every pot, or as I like to say, there's a lid for every cracked pot out there. So everyone has a chance at some form of love.

Paul, we fans are assuming Toby is going to come back eventually -- is it his love for Pam that brings him back?

Paul Lieberstein: I think what brings him back is failure to escape. There was a friend of mine -- who's actually one of the writers here -- that, maybe about ten years ago, collected enough money to live poor in Hawaii, and he was going to just do it and surf, because he loves to surf. And he made a big deal of it, had a going-away party, and he was back in two weeks because he was lonely. Nobody talked to him. He was robbed on the beach and that was it. So that was our model for the success of Toby.

If Toby were to tell an exciting story about Costa Rica to to impress Pam, what would it be?

Lieberstein: Maybe the time his camera was stolen by a monkey, or the time he was attacked by a monkey, or the time when a monkey took his wallet. Probably one of those three.

How dangerous is Toby, really? Audiences haven't seen him really angry, but he seems a little unhinged. Are Pam or Jim, or Michael in danger?

Lieberstein: [Laughs.] I don't think Toby is a danger to anybody. You know, in my mind -- which is really not what everybody is seeing -- I think Toby kind of likes Michael a little bit.

Ryan: Aw.

Lieberstein: You know, for the most part he's happy -- you know, more or less. But he's never going to be, like, a really happy guy. But I think a lot doesn't get to him, you know. I think he doesn't hear a lot of the things that might get [him upset]. He might be spaced out in the meetings. And I think I space out while I'm acting, and I might not hear what's going on -- if, all of a sudden, everybody is looking at me, I know it's time to say my line.

Amy, is Holly as socially dysfunctional as Michael, or is she just quirky and she happened to catch Michael on a really good day?

Ryan: Yeah, I think she is slightly odd, you know. But, you know, the nice way to say it is she's just really playful and she finds him funny, and that unleashes her sense of humor. It's like they're children, in that they're playmates, you know.

As a newbie, how was it adjusting to the set and the show's routines? Was it easier being a big fan of the show, or harder?

Ryan: The first day when I walked on set, yeah, it feels like almost walking into a museum. Just anything that you're very familiar with from the comfort of your own living room couch, you know. So it took a minute just to -- you know, I felt like a little kid walking around. But one of my good friends is Rashida Jones, who was on the show, as you know, and so I would call her a lot and ask for advice before I joined -- you know, "What can I expect?" I knew some of the actors. I knew Rainn, we share mutual friends, and Steve and I, I had a small part in a film of his a year before that, and of course, Paul and I knew each other many, many years ago on another TV show. So that all helps walking into a new environment.

Did you get a chance to personalize your desk with any of your own personal effects?

Ryan: No, but that's kind of the magic of the prop department. One day during a scene, I looked over, and there was some photograph of me and some other woman that looks just like two friends. But I don't know who that woman is. So they Photoshopped a couple of things together. It's amazing what they find.

What would you say separates your experience on The Office from everything else you've done -- all the TV and film, a little bit of Broadway?

Ryan: Lipstick. No, it's a wonderful departure to be in the world of comedy. Most of my career, I feel, has been mostly these really heavy dramas, rooting for the underdog on the lowest scale of the, you know, financial world. But showing up to work to do a comedy, and you're guaranteed three fits of hysterical laughter a day, it feels really good. Not that dramas don't, because they can be satisfying in their own ways, but there's something -- it's just being like a kid, getting together with your friends and, you know, just playing, play acting. It was a nice split.

Paul, you're primarily known as a writer -- how is it that you came to be in front of the camera?

Lieberstein: I think it got started as a bit of a practical joke, or just Greg Daniels wanting the writers to have a little in-front-of-camera experience to inform the writing, see what that's like. And then Kevin Reilly was President of NBC at the time, and he was watching dailies, and I think he forgot he knew me as a writer, and said, "That redheaded guy who's kind of funny -- more of him." And that kind of got around town as a joke in itself, and all of a sudden I was in most episodes.

You mentioned that you liked writing dialogue and scenes for the other actors. How do you tackle it when you have to write for Toby?

Lieberstein: You know, I almost never do it. I give him like one or two lines in my episodes, so the best and certainly the most Toby talk comes from the other writers. I tell them to make me a star.

How did last year's writers' strike affect the last season?

Lieberstein: I think it affected it really positively. I think it let us do two groups of 12, instead of this giant block where we have to kind of guess how things are going to come out. It let us do a reasonable group in the fall and then take a break, see how those episodes came out, edit them and really respond. And I think in the spring came a group of our strongest episodes. So, you know, I think they're like kind of the model of how HBO and The Wire will do 12 or 13 in a row, and then they'll come out so strong.

Some of the deleted scenes are priceless -- does it break your heart when so many great scenes wind up on the cutting room floor?

Lieberstein: Yeah, it's awful. They're often our favorite scenes, because they're maybe pure comedy scenes and they're not quite on-story. And that's why they got in there, and we've just played with them. And then we forget what's in and not -- you know, we'll think everybody knows, "Creed [plays with] the band" and then someone will say, "No, we cut it." And we're disappointed.

We critics saw some bloopers from the Season 4 DVD of people who couldn't get through scenes because they were laughing so hard. Amy, did that ever happen to you?

Ryan: Oh my god, yes. It was one of my favorite things, to see who's going to go first. And the day that I went first I was mortified. I was like, "That's just not done with the new kid. You can't do that." But I laughed so hard at one point that it turned into just bawling tears. So I'm not sure where the laughter began and sorrow took over, but makeup had to come in and reapply everything.

Lieberstein: I didn't know that.

Ryan: Yeah, you could see -- I'm trying to hide behind my hair and just my shoulders are convulsing. And Steve just carried on like, you know, no bother. I couldn't believe it. But it feels really good to do that. But it's like when you're in school, and you're told to be quiet during a test, and once someone goes you all do, and it becomes like dominoes.

Paul, there are a lot of relationships on the show -- is there every any concern that maybe you guys are spending too much time on them and not on the stories?

Lieberstein: Yeah, that's a great question, and we talk about it a lot. We always need a balance. You know, we'll never go into an episode saying this is the episode about a relationship. There's always something else happening. One of our [upcoming] episodes is a robbery in the office, and there's ethics training. And that's, I guess, the way we answer it, that the relationships are always the "B" stories.

Will Ryan be making a comeback? He went down kind of a bad path.

Lieberstein: He went down a bad path, yeah. So he'll spring back up in a way that I think is typical for people who can spin anything.

Will audiences see Angela and Andy actually make it to the altar?

Lieberstein: That is such a good question. I want to answer right. They will make it to an altar of sorts. But probably not what you're thinking or in the way you're thinking. I don't have a good quip to answer that without giving away the good stuff, but I think there's a lot of fun coming up in that relationship.

What'll happen with Jan's pregnancy? Are we going to find out there really is a father, or who the father is?

Lieberstein: We're taking it bit by bit. You will see a baby shower that the office throws for her, but we won't visit the father. Well, there is some talk about who the father might be.

Lastly, Paul, will there ever be a Toby bobblehead? Michael and Dwight have them, after all.

Lieberstein: I know at one point, they had mock-ups of bobbleheads for every character, and they never quite reached the NBC store. And I think they must've done the smallest amount of market research to see there wasn't a market [for Toby].

Joanne Park: Hey you guys, it's Joanne. There will be bobbleheads.

Lieberstein: There will be?

Park: Yes, yes. There will be bobbleheads of everyone.

Lieberstein: Oh that'll be fun.

Hooray for bobbleheads! Read our Office weecaps and talk about this interview in our forums!

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