John Krasinski and Greg Daniels – Shutting Down The Office
Updated: Jul 14
“The Office” cast members and crew celebrating the final episode of the series. (l to r: Rainn Wilson, Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski, Howard Klein and Greg Daniels.)
John Krasinski and Greg Daniels
Shutting Down The Office
by Jay S. Jacobs
After nine years, 203 episodes, dozens of workers, a few weddings, some babies, uncounted lovers, lots of collating, and hundreds of thousands of reams of paper, it's time to shut down Dunder-Mifflin.
Scranton, Pennsylvania's finest sons are closing up the place where America went to laugh weekly at their own miserable jobs. Since the show debuted in 2004, an Americanization of the beloved British comedy which made a star of Ricky Gervais, The Office has slowly but surely invaded out cultural consciousness.
Originally considered a project for comedian Steve Carell, who became a superstar as obtuse Dunder-Mifflin boss Michael Scott. However, the show's ensemble kept things hopping, exposing such comic gems as John Krasinski and everyman worker Jim Halpert, Jenna Fisher as his crush, Pam the receptionist, Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute, the oddball from hell. Actors like Ed Helms, Rashida Jones, Craig Robinson, Amy Ryan, Creed Bratton, Mindy Kaling and BJ Upton became stars from their time in the show.
After many dramatic changes, the show creator Greg Daniels has decided to go out on top. The series finale will air on May 16.
A couple of weeks before the series' grand finale, we were able to take part in a conference call with series star Krasinski and creator Daniels discussing the final days at The Office.
Fans got pretty nervous when Jim and Pam started experiencing marital problems after several seasons of bliss. Greg, what made you decide to explore that route in the final season, and John, what was that like to play?
Greg Daniels: Well, for this one, I want to compliment and share credit with John and the cast, who became producers this year – John and Jenna [Fischer] and Rainn [Wilson] and Ed [Helms]. This was something that we wanted to do, but the bones of it came a lot out of something from his brother. (To John) Do you want to tell the story?
John Krasinski: Yeah. My favorite thing about the show has always been, especially with the Jim and Pam story, how real the writers have always been to a relationship. Yes, there are incredibly blissful times, like you were saying. But there’s also times where the world around them can stall out and feel like it’s not enough. Or that it is enough. Or feel bland or more exciting from time-to-time. So, my whole pitch to Greg was that we’ve done so much with Jim and Pam. After marriage and kids there was a bit of a lull there for them, I think, about what they wanted to do. The idea of Jim’s ambition was always one of my favorite things from the early seasons. It seemed like between Australia and trying to be the boss at corporate and NYC.
All those things for me were really exciting – that Jim always felt like there was something that he could be doing more of. I wanted to explore that. The idea of him going to another city came from my brother, actually. In his work at the beginning of his job, he was traveling a lot all over the country for all his different clients. It was definitely a strain on the family in a very new way. Obviously, not a strain that was as dramatic as what we did on the show, but it was a thing where seemingly simple things like basic spending time with your children and in the same city was becoming more and more difficult. Putting a strain on. Just harder to do mentally.
So, for me, it was: Can you have this perfect relationship go through a split and keep it the same? Which of course you can’t. I said to Greg, “It would be really interesting to see how that split will affect two people that you know so well.” I think the exciting thing was to know that the audience would take a guess at what Jim would do and what Pam would do, so to run those numbers on this relationship was really, really interesting to me. Rather than us introducing an affair or something like that. A huge credit to Greg and the writers. They’ve never gone the easy route. They’ve always gone the very realistic route. I’ve always really, really admired that.
Greg Daniels: I was just very attracted to the idea of doing something that would matter, and where people would feel very involved. I think that there are a number of moments this year where you really become involved in what’s happening. In order to get that feeling of involvement there you need some ups and downs.
Are there any finale spoilers that you might be able to tell us about? I know it’s a one-hour one this year.
Greg Daniels: Yeah, it may be even bigger than the one-hour one. We’re trying to get more time. The network’s being very creative about scraping some more time together for us without having us start the finale in a weird time that will cause half the audience to miss the first ten minutes or something. So, we’ll see how we’re doing, but we’re still hopeful to get slightly more than an hour too.
Going back to the Jim and Pam stuff, the last scene of last week’s episode seemed to say that they’re going to be okay. Can you talk a little bit about how things play out over the last few episodes for them?
John Krasinski: Yeah. The last episode for me, the one that just aired, I remember Greg saying very smartly we have to give the audience something, as far as trying to see light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t think it necessarily answers all the questions as to how they’ll solve it. I think that as always with Jim and Pam, there’s a romantic hope that everything will be okay at the end of that episode.
Now there’s going to have to be a little bit more brass tack, if you will, as far as getting to understand how this will work. You know Jim needs to figure out what he wants to do with Billy and Pam needs to figure out how she feels about Jim doing this for her. It’s an interesting thing that I think Greg was really smart to say we can’t just hold this out to the last episode and have people almost getting terrified to the point where they wouldn’t enjoy the finale. (chuckles)
Greg Daniels: Yeah, we’re going to end up with 203 or 204 episodes, and it feels like all these characters and storylines... my hope is that people will treat the last several episodes as the finale and not force us to do everything in the last episode. We didn’t want there to be such anxiety over Jim and Pam that you could think of nothing else during the last episode.
John Krasinski: (laughs) I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t laugh though, thinking about people being so terrified that they just sort of blacked out for the first part of the finale.
Greg, the finale says it takes place a few months after the documentary has aired. Was that idea influenced at all by Ricky [Gervais]’s Office Christmas special where it looked at David Brent and what he was trying to do afterward?
Greg Daniels: Well, probably. We didn’t start off with that as the finale. (chuckles) This year, the plan was to air the documentary in episode 17. As we got closer and closer to that point the writers and I would have furious debates. We ended up having promos air for the documentary at that point. We got the best of what we were looking for, in terms of the characters seeing old footage and everything.
We thought it would be difficult to have a bunch of episodes after it had aired, so we kind of ended up pushing it off and off. Then it ended up being more close to the British show, which goes to show again how brilliantly they conceived it. (laughs) They thought of it all in advance in a much more compressed time period. After attempting to beat that ending a number of different ways, I think we ended up very similarly.
John, what are you going to miss most about playing Jim?
John Krasinski: Wow, big question. You’re trying to get tears and I appreciate it. I’m saving my tears for Barbara Walters. But there’s so much to miss. For me – and I think probably more than the other cast members – I mean I was a waiter before this show. So, what I miss most about this character is way too complexly entwined in my real life. To me, this was a winning lottery ticket, except with a winning lottery ticket you just get money, and with this you get a whole change of your life. Everything about my life has changed and become better, and I feel so lucky to be where I am.
So, it’s hard to separate the two, because I’m so meshed in the experience. I will say, and I don’t know if this a good answer or a bad answer – but I will say I think the thing I’ll miss most is playing a character that people believe in so much and attach themselves to in various degrees. There are some people who think they are Jim. There are some people who are looking for a Jim. To me, and I know to Jenna, playing the Jim/Pam relationship and realizing how important it became to so many people was such an incredible honor that I think that there was a small part of my brain that really didn’t want to let anyone down every single week.
That was actually really exciting. I felt like I was given a tremendous responsibility, and that responsibility I really will miss because it’s just so much fun to play a character that people are watching and rooting for and loving. So, I really appreciate that.
John, I’m wondering how much you’re going to miss being able to look at the camera, since Jim was really one of the characters that utilized that throughout the show?
John Krasinski: I wish I could say I was professional enough to never look at a camera again on another job, but that’s already been blown several times. And on movie sets they don’t really dig it when you look in the camera, which is a bizarre fact.
I will miss it very much. Going back to the other question, I think one of the best things about Jim is that he’s one of those characters, and there are a few others in different television shows, or I guess movies too, but I remember talking to Greg in the first week about how he saw Jim as the window for the audience into this office. Everyone could watch this office. But they needed someone to tell them that it was okay to laugh at everything, and to see everything as a little bit ridiculous, and to me that was so much fun to play.
I remember the first time reading the script that I had to look in the camera. That’s very stressful, because you don’t want to blow it and overdo it. I always joke that there’s a number. My favorite thing was our DP [director of photography], Matt Sohn, was like, “So, on this scene when you look to Jenna, give me the number four.” (laughs) I always loved thinking that I had somehow got it down to a catalog of different looks. I will miss it very, very much, and hopefully can leave it on The Office set and not blow any other professional opportunity by looking down the lens.
Greg Daniels: I was watching this morning. There’s going to be this NBC News special on the night of our finale. They requested footage from the cast auditions. And I was watching John’s audition this morning - in New York.
John Krasinski: Oh, my God.
Greg Daniels: Yeah, it’s really interesting. (laughs) It’s fun. I asked you to do some improv about your favorite fruit...
John Krasinski: Oh, my goodness.
Greg Daniels: ...so that we kind of went off the script. You were talking about pomegranates being your favorite fruit because you know you only get them once a year or something. I kept saying, “Be more sarcastic about it.” And then, you tagged it with this amazing look right into the audition camera. It was so funny. It just made people laugh. So, John was just the absolute best Bugs Bunny at getting those looks across.
John Krasinski: (laughs) I’ve never been compared to Bugs Bunny. That’s amazing. Thank you. By the way, it should be noted that that audition tape you were watching today was right after I [talked to] what I thought was a nameless person, who asked me if I was nervous to be auditioning. I said, “I’m not nervous for the audition, because you either get these things or you don’t. But I am nervous for the people making it, because we have a tendency in America to screw up all the good shows that come over from England. I don’t see how you’re going to make this work.” And he said, “Hi, I’m Greg Daniels,” and I threw up in my mouth. So, the video that Greg was watching this morning was probably seven minutes...
Greg Daniels: Yes, exactly. It was probably ten minutes after that you brushed your teeth.
John, you did have some credits before you got the show, but you said you were still a waiter at the time. How was your career was going at that time? Were you waiting because you were good at it, or were you waiting because you still didn’t have enough work to get by at that point, or what?
John Krasinski: I definitely had fun being a waiter. I can’t say for sure that I was a good waiter. I think that I made people have a good time. I probably couldn’t tell you what was in any of the plates I was serving, so probably not great for the house. But no, by being a waiter 100%, I think I was a lot like any other actor in New York, I had credits because I’d work lunches during the week, and then on a Wednesday would go be lucky enough to be in a movie like, Kinsey, and go shoot for a day and come back. It was one of those things where I definitely was lucky enough to have a few jobs and few commercials. Not anything that would allow me to claim that I was a working actor and didn’t need another job.
Greg, it’s a hugely important role. As you said, it’s the window for the audience, and you gave it to a guy with very, very few credits, but turned out to be perfect casting. What was it at the time that made you realize this was the guy? And also, what was your reaction when he told you, I didn’t know how it was going to work, before he knew who you were?
John Krasinski: Basically, what he’s asking, Greg, is what the hell were you thinking? (laughs)
Greg Daniels: Yeah, I remember that happening. He wasn’t the only person saying that. (They both laugh.) So, it didn’t hit me with the same force. I was used to getting that all over the place. But I had seen with John a series of commercials that he did for like, I think, ESPN or something. Do you remember that John?
John Krasinski: Oh, NASCAR. It was NASCAR.
Greg Daniels: NASCAR, yeah. They were very funny. I think they were completely improvisational, and he was doing man-on-the-street interviews for NASCAR. But yeah, it’s a hard role to cast. Very infrequently, I think, do you find an actor who is very, very good at comedy and extremely sincere and vulnerable, and capable of being a masculine leading man. When all the different people came through it was very clear that John was the best.
We also had these three days of screen tests. After the auditioning process we brought the leading contenders to Los Angeles and shot in the style of the show with our director, Ken Kwapis, for days. Which was an amazingly audacious thing to ask for an actor to do without paying them. In addition to being very funny in the talking heads and having a great chemistry with Jenna, one of the aspects of the role was to be able to have this relationship with Dwight.
In the improvs between John and Rainn, John was the only person who could stand up to Rainn really and throw it back - throw Rainn back on his feet. And so, he kind of hit all the marks and, you know it wasn’t a hard choice.
Greg, I know this is sort of a John-specific news conference, but I think I’d be remiss in not asking about the return of Steve [Carell].
John Krasinski: (tongue in cheek) How dare you?
I can’t imagine how there’d be a reunion show without Michael [Carell's character] and Holly [Amy Ryan] coming back to the final stage. I know you can say, “No comment,” but I have to ask you anyway, can you speak to that at all?
Greg Daniels: Well, I think that Steve felt – which I agree with – that "Goodbye Michael" episode was his goodbye, and that he didn’t want to overshadow the endings that the other characters deserved after all these years. So, I think he made a good call. Obviously, it’d be wonderful to have him back, but you know...
Well, that's not exactly a no. Anyway, I’d like to ask you to address the legacy. It’s coming to an end, and an historic one. What did it all mean? The show has changed comedy, and in a way. You obviously created out of it another classic Parks and Rec. What’s the legacy here at the end of the day, do you think?
Greg Daniels: Wow, yeah. I don’t think that there is one type of person. The audience is made up of people with a lot of different desires and ways that they want to be entertained. So, I actually don’t think that there’s a straight-line progress thing with TV. It’s more cyclical. But I think that for the people for whom the sensibility that we did was just hitting the sweet spot that they got a great long drink of that comedy juice from the show. And it maybe encouraged other people who like that sensibility to do more along those lines.
I certainly feel like the British show was like such a defining thing for so many people. It brought together all these people with that taste. I was such a fan of that style too. It was an amazing treat to be able to work for so long in that style, which I think beforehand was more like a really old comedy kind of a thing, you know?
For a while we made it very mainstream, and I think there’s benefits to that, because I love that sensibility. But I don’t think all future comedies have to be like The Office now. There are a million different types of comedy, but I think this was a good long example of a type that I hold dear to my heart.
NBC has gone off in a very different direction as well. Parks and Rec, of course, will continue, but you had a very specific tone, and it seems like NBC has gone off in a different direction and that you’re yesterday’s flavor to a certain extent. Do you ever feel that all?
Greg Daniels: (laughs) We never had an expectation of big success when we started it. You remember this, John? When we did the pilot, we were just so excited to all get together and to do this type of work with other comedy people who loved the same type of thing.
John Krasinski: Yeah, 100%.
Greg Daniels: And the writers and the cast, and we never...
John Krasinski: I remember every week being told that this would be our last episode, and unfortunately, we weren’t going to keep going. (chuckles) I think it was every week, and I remember saying, “Is there any way I could get a DVD of this to show my mom, because this is definitely the best thing I’ve ever done.” I was happy with that, and I actually still have that DVD. So, for us, it was just like we were in the best regional theater group in the world. We just thought no one was necessarily paying attention, but we were having a blast.
Greg Daniels: Yeah, so every time we hit any kind of milestone, like the pickup for the first season or pickup for the season two, or to get to after the Super Bowl...
John Krasinski: ... or a back order...
Greg Daniels: .... or any of the thing...
John Krasinski: ...we were like, “Thanks. We’re going to get a whole season?”
Greg Daniels: Yeah, there was always a feeling that we were pulling something over the NBC Executives, I guess. (laughs)
That’s great news that there’s still hope for supersizing the finale. So very happy to hear that, and...
John Krasinski: I know, I was happy to hear that, Greg...
John, speaking of commercials from the previous question, you know one of my favorite commercials that you were in was for Kodak.
John Krasinski: Oh, my God.
Remember you and your roommate trying to one up each other?
John Krasinski: Oh, I know it very well.
You ended up with a shaved eyebrow or something.
John Krasinski: I ended up with a fauxhawk, which is reverse Mohawk, and the other guy had to shave his eyebrow. Weirdly, I remember the night before I got cast calling my dad, who’s a doctor, and just saying, “Eyebrows grow back, right?” And he’s like, “There’s no way to tell, so hopefully you’re the fauxhawk guy.” So, I was terrified until I got the Mohawk.
You’re both going to be attending The Office wrap party in Scranton this weekend. I was wondering if you could talk about your thoughts about The Office fan base in general, and what it’s meant to you over the years?
John Krasinski: Well, I can jump in on that one. There’s a lot of shows that can say they owe it all to their fans. But we actually technically can say that we owe everything to the fans, because I for one think that our show is so fan-driven in such a specific way, as evidenced by iTunes. When we first came out the only reason, in my opinion, that we made it past these pickups that Greg and I were talking about is because people actually decided they liked the show so much – and it was such a small group at the beginning – that they would pay money to see the show, rather than just wait for it on Tuesday or Thursday, whatever time it was back then.
I remember that was life-changing for me to see, because to be part of something like that was incredible. I was walking down the streets of New York, and someone would just stop on their way to work and say, “Oh, my God, you’re on my iPod.” I was like two things: “What’s an iPod?” Also, “What are you talking about?” They just held up this thing.
I also think that during the early speculation of what our show would be when people were obviously being really hard on the show without seeing it – because everybody thought that it was going to be terrible because the English one was so good – I remember “Diversity Day” hitting and just every other person on the street would come up to me and say, “The show is awesome. The show is awesome.”
So, you had this group of people who almost started like a grass roots political campaign for our show. I don’t know how Greg feels, but I think we owe absolutely everything to the fans.
Greg Daniels: Yeah, I completely agree with that. Part of the amazing experience of doing this show is that back and forth, and the serialized nature of it. The show has these arcs, and the characters were very real and so well acted, and they really mattered to people. The fact that it mattered so much to so many people and they would debate what’s going to happen next and what happened. Is that the right way to behave? How could she do that? Why isn’t he seeing this? You could go and read about it, and you could lurk, you know? I mean, I’ll tell you I lurk all the time on the sites and listen to what people are saying. And I don’t know that many other writing experiences where you have that kind of relationship with the audience while you’re doing it. It’s just very special.
John Krasinski: I do like imagining you in a dark office creeping around on the Internet.
Greg Daniels: (laughs) Yeah. Yeah, well, I’m not wearing anything while I do that.
John Krasinski: I was going to say that as well.
Okay, Greg, I’m posting that.
Greg Daniels: No, no, please don’t. (laughs)
There’s been such a Boston-area influence on the show, both writing and acting, I didn’t know if you maybe could talk about that? And also, maybe how we’ll see all of you guys end up or reunite in the finale?
John Krasinski: I love having a huge Boston contingent. I thought it was totally random, but Greg can speak more to that.
Greg Daniels: Yeah. No, I think it is. I mean, the craziness of it is the BJ [Upton]/John connections that go back to high school. BJ will be back for the finale, so you have that to look forward to. But it does have a northeast flavor. It was very specifically set in Scranton, and it was a remake of an English show, and so New England maybe had some cultural affinity. I don’t know.
I just didn’t know, just because there were other connections that existed before? Like if it brought something to the chemistry or...
Greg Daniels: Well, I mean I definitely, when trying to think of where to set it, I was thinking about different regions of the country, and I’m most familiar with the northeast. My dad’s from Massachusetts and I spent a lot of time in New England. For some reason I thought it would have a different feel if it were in Florida or Arizona or some of the other places that we thought about. It just didn’t have the same kind of feel to me. It’s a compliment. I think the people of New England are very articulate and have a great sense of humor. We're used to of gray skies out the window and carrying on through it all.
I was wondering about the last few days of filming. Were there any emotional moments, were there tears? I know you joked about it earlier, John, that you were saving your tears for Barbara Walters, but how were the last few days of filming the show?
John Krasinski: I don’t think there were any tears, right? There was just celebration that this thing was finally over, right Greg?
Again, I think for so many people this wasn’t just a job, and there’s no way it could be just a job. This was a huge, incredibly emotional family and connection that we all had. To say it was emotional would be a complete understatement. Knowing that we’ll see these people still in our lives, and it was still that emotional. It says a lot about how much we are all defined by this show and how much we honor how defined we are by the show.
I just think that no matter what any of us go on to do, this show will probably be what we’re most known for, and that’s incredible. For people to feel so good about that and feel that they were a part of something so special, not only in the television world, but in their personal lives, was massive.
So, I’m not giving anything away. We chose a random scene where everyone’s exiting the office for the last shot that we ever did, and I’m so glad we did. It was a very sort of mundane walking out of the office. It wasn’t big and dramatic or anything. It was at the beginning of the show or something, so it’s not like it’s the last shot.
I’ll never forget, we were all joking around. I was, as per usual, crying laughing as we exited. I’m a crier laugher, which is a bummer, but I was crying laughing with Craig [Robinson]. We were all joking around waiting in the hall every time we exited. Then, one of the times we came back, instead of saying, “Going again,” Greg randomly appeared and just said, “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s the end of The Office.” And it was. It really was, I mean even talking about it now, it was a gut punch.
It’s a life-changing event and there’s just no way to describe it. It’s not like ending college. It’s not like anything, really. It’s a part of your life that defined you, and to have it go away is so incredibly bittersweet. I think the only thing that helped us all is that we’re so proud of the work, and that we’re so proud that we got to have a series finale. That’s a very rare thing. Growing up I remember the Cheers finale and M*A*S*H and all these amazing finales. I remember them being very, very important.
For us to be a show that even got there is incredible. We’re just all so proud of the work. That’s the only thing that prevented us all from just having a complete meltdown.
Greg Daniels: Yeah, it’s also very special. The lot that we shot it in is all by itself in Van Nuys. We had lunch with each other every day. There was nobody here who didn’t work on the show, on this little lot, so we did get very close.
One of the hard parts about the finale is that you have to be professional. You have to act, and you have to try and keep the tone a certain way when you’re on the set and everything, in terms of writing and directing. It’s very difficult. It also means that you’re going to say goodbye to everybody you’ve been hanging out with for eight years. You know you’re going to have to find a different place to have an office in. There is like a lot of weird overlap between the end of your personal work experience and what’s going on onscreen, so it was very sad.
John Krasinski: It was very sad. Yeah.
We’re excited for the finale, but sad to see it end.
John Krasinski: Us too.
Greg Daniels: At least there’s so many episodes that if you wanted to like re-watch them, it would take you a long time. You could enjoy that aspect of it.
Let's go on walk down memory lane. What was your favorite episode from season