When talking to Ed Helms (Andy Bernard) and Paul Lieberstein (Toby Flenderson, as well as Office writer and producer) on a media call earlier this week, everyone wanted to know how Andy of all people got the gig, if Andy could ever really be as good as Michael, if the writers are just using Helms' budding movie career to boost Office viewership... all fair(ish) questions, but pretty damn brutal. True professionals, Helms and Lieberstein just wanted to be clear that they're excited for the future of the show, but they managed to throw in a few fun lines about writing in a post-Steve Carell series. They were the highlights of the phoner, along with a few of the choice quotes below.
On choosing Andy as the new manager
Paul 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 I guess; you might say that. It's a little simplistic... of course he wants the place to run successfully. But he can take the role of father of a family partly through his insecurity, partly through genuine affection and being kind of an adorable human being. Andy is really caring and interested and 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. And his stories are a generator. One of the things we're most delighted about is how Andy manages upward, how he's both scared and courageous he is at the very same time when dealing with Robert California.
On the differences between Andy and Michael
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 out, and it was really fun in that opening episode ["The List"] 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 that informs his world view and he's also prone to anger management issues. But at the end of the day, he's trying to do the right thing. 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.
On working with James Spader
EH: 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.
On the post-Carell pressure
PL: 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.
On Andy and Erin's relationship
EH: They're a pretty odd pair because they have very strong emotions and very poor communication skills. 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 get tricky especially around Halloween.
On the aforementioned Halloween episode
EH: It's a really fun one to shoot just because the office is completely decorated and 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.
PL: 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.
EH: And her Halloween costume is just preposterously adorable this year. So it just makes it that much weirder.
PL: And we do a lot of costumes with Rainn Wilson because he had a series of flashbacks to about six different Halloweens.
On Helms and Carell's relationship
EH: Steve and I certainly have a few sort of signposts along our careers that match up. And I really credit Steve going all the way back to the Daily Show. When Steve did 40 Year Old Virgin, that really broke the mold for all of the correspondents 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.
And if I take a step back, I've known Steve for a long, long time and I've always really admired Steve both creatively and personally. 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. I'm really grateful for that example that he's set. 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 of after the premiere. So that means an awful lot.
On the series-long documentary
PL: 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. I think what we missed is the very first episode, the one that told us why the documentary [crew] is there and what they came to explore. I mean some questions I guess 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.
EH: 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 begin with, like Capturing the Friedmans for example. I just think that the smallness of this world is part of what makes it so beautiful and compelling.
On the possible return of the Scranton Strangler
PL: 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. We 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 he may start to establish a relationship with the Strangler and go visit him in jail. And then maybe there's another strangling that happens to throw the whole thing in question.
EH: Michael Scott is the Scranton Strangler.
PL: Yeah. Things start happening in Colorado. [laughs]
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