Jenna Fischer just wrapped the ninth and final season of "The Office," but instead of kicking back and letting the summer become one endless wrap party, she's taking on one of her most daunting acting challenges yet.
The Emmy-nominated actress, best known for playing sweet-natured receptionist Pam Halpert on the long-running workplace sitcom, is headlining the world premiere of "Reasons to Be Happy," a new play by the always controversial Neil LaBute.
The writer and director's merciless and profanity-fuelled examinations of gender relations and allergy to any form of political correctness in works like "In the Company of Men" have made his work the definition of polarizing. You either find it daring and brilliant or you hate it with an unbridled fury. There's not much room for middle ground.
Fischer claims that "Reasons to Be Happy," a companion piece to his 2008 relationship drama "reasons to be pretty," is a gentler work from the theater and film world provocateur, although she promises there will be more than enough obscenity to please LaBute devotees. The play marks Fischer's New York stage debut and was directed, as well as written, by LaBute.
"Reasons to Be Happy" is currently in previews at the Lucille Lortel Theatre and is produced by the MCC Theater. Its limited engagement run opens officially on June 11 and is scheduled to play through June 29.
The play finds the couple from "reasons to be pretty," toying with getting back together three years after breaking up. The major catch is that Steph (Fischer) is married to another man and her former boyfriend is enmeshed in a relationship with her best friend.
Fisher took time to speak to TheWrap about what drew her to LaBute's dark work, the difficulty of saying goodbye to "The Office" and why her dream theater role might find her following in the footsteps of Ethel Merman.
You've just ended a successful run on "The Office." Why not do another television show or a movie? Why theater?
My heart wouldn't allow me to step into another television show. "The Office" was just such a special work environment that I would have felt disloyal or something.
It's like a relationship. How do you date again after you've had your heart broken? So I wanted a work experience that was totally different. I moved to a different city, I worked in front of a live audience on a stage with no cameras or set or anything to remind me of "The Office."
That what was so infectious about this opportunity and you can't go wrong with Neil LaBute.
Were you pleased with the way "The Office" ended?
Oh yeah, I loved how it was wrapped up. I felt like each character got their own moment in the last 15 minutes of the show.
When we had the table read of the finale and I found out that Pam got the last sentence of show, I burst into tears. It meant so much to me.
What drew you to your character Steph in "Reasons to Be Happy"?
This character is a big departure from Pam, but it's not a big departure from me. It's another part of my personality that I get to draw from.
I loved this woman. I loved how she was romantic, impulsive and just has no edit button. She's a girl who has decided to love a man who doesn't love her back.
Do you have any fears that people won't be able to accept you in such a different role and that they will always associate you with Pam?
It doesn't feel like such a departure from myself. It feels very natural and authentic. I can't control how other people view my work.
You'd have to ask an audience member if they're able to see and accept that transformation. But if I'm going always be known as Pam, it was such a great role on a great show, that I’m okay with it.
Is this play going to be as provocative as some of Neil Labute's other work?
This is a little bit more romantic. I think couples will like this a lot. I think women will really relate to the pain and struggles the characters face. I don't think this play is going to have the edge of say "In the Company of Men" and it's more hopeful than "Reasons To Be Pretty."
That's not to say it's not full of cursing and hitting. Fear not Neil LaBute fans, we've got you covered.
What been the biggest challenge in terms of taking on a play like this?
Managing my fears and insecurities.
It's different when you're going on the emotional journey of a character so many times a week. On a movie you go through the full journey over three months of filming. I tend to approach my work with a very open heart, so that can be taxing. I'm trying to figure out how to stay open while not allowing it to consume me when I'm off-stage.
Do you have any theatrical dream roles?
As a child, I dreamed of playing Mama Rose in "Gypsy." I can’t sing, but if I ever got that role it would fulfill my childhood fantasy.