John Krasinski and Greg Daniels Interview – The Office Final Season

Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski in 'The Office'
Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski in 'The Office' - Photo by Chris Haston © 2013 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
The series finale of NBC’s The Office will air on May 16, 2013 and while executive producer Greg Daniels wouldn’t give away any real spoilers about what fans can expect from that last episode of the series, he would say that it will be at least one hour in length. In fact, Daniels also revealed it could possibly run over the one hour mark and that he’s working with the network now to push it a little past the 60 minute running time.
Daniels, teaming up with John Krasinski (‘Jim Halpert’), participated in a conference call in support of the final few episodes of the popular series which has given viewers an inside look at the staff of the fictional paper company, Dunder Mifflin. Daniels and Krasinski also provided a look back at past years as the series nears its end after nine successful seasons.
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 and Rainn and Ed. And this was something that we wanted to do, but the bones of it came a lot out of something from his brother. Do you want to tell the story?”
John Krasinski: “Yeah. You know my favorite thing about the show has always been how, especially with the Jim and Pam story, how real the writers have always been to a relationship in that 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. And so you know my whole pitch to Greg was that we’ve done so much with Jim and Pam, and now, you know after marriage and kids there was a bit of a lull there, I think, for them about what they wanted to do. And the idea of Jim’s ambition was always one of my favorite things from the early seasons that it seemed like between, you know, Australia and trying to being the boss at corporate and NYC…I think that all those things for me were really exciting that Jim always felt like there was something that he could be doing more of, and then 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 and 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 sort of seemingly simple things like basic spending time with your children and in the same city was becoming more and more difficult, and putting a strain on [on them]. You know, just harder to do and – 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 sort of take a guess at what Jim would do and what Pam would do, and so to run those numbers on this relationship was really, really interesting to me. Rather than like introducing an affair or something like that, which I think, you know and a huge credit to Greg and the writers. They’ve never gone the easy route. They’ve always gone the very realistic route and I’ve always really, really admired that.”
Greg Daniels: “Yeah, and 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. And in order to get that feeling of involvement there, you need some ups and downs.”
The last scene of April 25, 2013’s episode seemed to sort of 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 Jim and Pam?
John Krasinski: “Yeah. I think the last episode for me, the one that just aired, you know I remember Greg saying very smartly, ‘You know, we have to give the audience something, as far as, you know trying to see light at the end of the tunnel,’ but I don’t think it necessarily answers all the questions as to how they’ll solve it. I think that there’s a romantic, as always with Jim and Pam, there’s a romantic hope that everything will be okay at the end of that episode.
And now there’s going to have to be a little bit more brass tact, if you will, as far as getting to understand how this will work, because 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. And so it’s an interesting thing that I think Greg was really smart to say, like 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.”
Greg Daniels: Yeah, because you know 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. So, 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: “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 premiere – or the finale, rather.”
The basic synopsis for the finale says it takes place a few months after the documentary has aired. Was that idea influenced Ricky’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. This year the plan was to air the documentary in episode 17, and 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 and we kind of, I think, got the best of what we were looking for, in terms of the characters seeing old footage and everything.
But, we thought it would be difficult to have a bunch of episodes afterwards after it had aired, and so we kind of ended up pushing it off and off. And then it ended up being more close to the British show. […]And after attempting to beat that ending a number of different ways, I think we kind of ended up very similarly.”
What are you going to miss most about playing Jim?
Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski in 'The Office'
Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski in 'The Office' - © 2013 NBCUniversal
John Krasinski: “Wow, big question. You’re trying to get tears and I appreciate it. I’m saving my tears for Barbara Walters. But, I mean, there’s so much to miss. For me, and I think probably more than the other cast members…I was a waiter before this show so what I miss most about this character is way too complexly entwined in my real life. So 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. And 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 sort of meshed in the experience. But for sure, you know 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’s some people who are looking for Jim. And, you know, I think to me, and I know to Jenna playing the Jim/Pam relationship and realizing how important it became to so many people was such a incredible honor that […] there was a small part of my brain that really didn’t want to let anyone down every single week. And 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, 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, bizarrely, 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. I think that I, 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 so that 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. And, you know I always joke that there’s a number. You know, my favorite thing was our DP, Matt Sohn, was like, ‘So, on this scene when you look to Jenna [Fischer], give me the number four.’ And I always loved thinking that I had somehow got it down to a catalog of different looks.
So, 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 and 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. It’s fun. And I asked you to do some improv about your favorite fruit…”
John Krasinski: “Oh, my goodness.”
Greg Daniels: “We kind of went off the script and you were talking about pomegranates being your favorite fruit, because you know you only get them once a year or something. And I kept saying, ‘Be more sarcastic about it.’ And then, you tagged it with this amazing look right into the audition camera, and you know it was so funny. It just made people laugh. And so John was just the absolute best Bugs Bunny at getting those looks across.”
John Krasinski: “I’ve never been compared to Bugs Bunny and that’s amazing. Thank you. By the way, it should be noted that that audition tape you were watching today was right after I told 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, and 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.”
John, you had some credits before you got The Office role but you said you were still a waiter at the time you got the part. How was your career 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?
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, you know, I’d work lunches during the week and then on a Wednesday would go be lucky enough to be in a movie and go shoot for a day and come back. So, it was one of those things where I definitely was lucky enough to have a few jobs and few commercials. But, no, not anything that would allow me to claim that I was a working actor and didn’t need another job.”
Greg, what was it at the time that made you realize John was Jim? And what was your reaction when he said he wasn’t sure the series was going to work?
John Krasinski: “Basically what he’s asking, Greg, is what the hell were you thinking?”
Greg Daniels: “Yeah. I mean, I remember that happening. You know, he wasn’t the only person saying that.”
John Krasinski: “Yeah.”
Greg Daniels: “It didn’t hit me with the same force. You know, I was used to getting that all over the place. But I had seen John a series of commercials that he did for, I think, ESPN or something. Do you remember that, John?”
John Krasinski: “Oh, NASCAR. It was NASCAR.”
Greg Daniels: “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 like a masculine leading man. When all the different people came through, it was very clear that John was the best.
And then, 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, kind of an amazingly audacious thing to ask for an actor to do without paying them. But, 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. And in the improvs between John and Rainn [Wilson], John was the only person who could stand up to Rainn really and kind of throw it back – throw Rainn back on his feet. And so, he kind of hit all the marks. It wasn’t a hard choice.”
Is there a possibility of Michael and Holly coming back for the final show?
Greg Daniels: “Well, you know I think that Steve [Carell] felt, which I agree with, that 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.”
The show has sort of changed comedy. What did it all mean?
Greg Daniels: “I mean, 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, and so I actually don’t think that there’s like a straight line progress kind of a thing with TV. Like, I think it’s more cyclical, but I think that for the people for whom that 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 their British show was like such a defining thing for so many people, and it brought together all these people with that paste. And I was such a fan of that style too, and 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, you know, I don’t think it’s like all future comedies have to be like The Office now. I mean, there’s 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.”
What are your thoughts on The Office fan base and what it’s meant to you over the years?
John Krasinski: “Well, I can jump in on that one. I mean, I think 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. I mean, I think that when we first came out the only reason, in my opinion, that we made it past these pickups […]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.’ And I was like two things, ‘What’s an iPod? Also, what are you talking about?’ And 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, as soon as that first… 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.’
And so you had this group of people who almost started like a grassroots 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 mean, I completely agree with that. […]Part of the amazing, I think, 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.”
Were there any emotional moments during the last few days of filming? Were there tears?
John Krasinski: “I don’t think there were any tears, right? There was just celebration that this thing was finally over, right Greg?
No, 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. I mean, to say it was emotional would be a complete understatement. I think that 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 think no matter what any of us go on to do, I think that this show will probably be what we’re most known for – and that’s incredible. I think 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, you know I’m not giving anything away [but] we randomly chose a random theme 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, and I think it was at the beginning of the show or something, so it’s not like it’s the last shot. And we were all – 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 and we were all joking around waiting in the hall every time we exited. And 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.’ I mean even talking about it now, you know 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. You know, that’s a very rare thing. And growing up I remember the Cheers finale and M*A*S*H, and all these amazing finales. I remember them being very, very important. And so for us to be a show that even got there is incredible, and I think that we’re just all so proud of the work. And that’s, I think, 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, and we had lunch with each other every day and there was nobody here who didn’t work on the show on this little lot, and so we did get very close. One of the hard parts about the finale, I think, is that you have to be professional and 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 like writing and directing. It’s very difficult if it also means that you know 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. And so there is like a lot of weird overlap between the end of your personal work experience and what’s going on on screen, so it was very sad.”
John Krasinski: “It was very sad. Yeah.”
What was your favorite episode from throughout the series?
Greg Daniels: “That’s a really hard question to answer.”
John Krasinski: “That’s a really hard question. It’s like saying what’s your favorite movie? You’ve got to have more of like a top ten and whichever one’s get named get named. But for me for so many different reasons, again personally and professionally, I think that there’s so many important moments, some having to do with my characters and others not. I think the first moment that I can remember the most was shooting the first day of Diversity Day, because the pilot was pretty much word-for-word the British show, which I know we weren’t all super excited about, but we could understand why we had to do it to see how it stacked up against the other show. And then our first sort of running at our own pace was Diversity Day and I actually remember people looking around the room at each other, as if you do when you saw something incredibly special and important. We all knew that something very, very special was happening, and that this show tonally and from a writing perspective was just really, really incredible. I remember that moment feeling like that just set the tone for what this show is.
And then, of course, personally for me, two episodes that I’ll never forget are Casino Night – I think just I had never been a part of anything like that. I remember shooting that last scene and Greg had the set cleared and the lights were low and there was like an importance put on this. You realize that it wasn’t an importance because of us, like you know that the actors needed it necessarily, it was more like, ‘We’ve got to get this right for the people that are watching.’ People, like Greg was saying earlier, are so invested in a way that you never thought people would watch TV and be so invested that you can’t just at the end of the episode say, ‘I love you,’ and kiss. It has to be very real and very special and exactly how they think the characters would do it, and that was amazing. That was an amazing night.
And then the other thing that I remember defining the show was Booze Cruise. [It] will always be one of my favorite episodes on many levels. I think it’s hilarious and one of my favorite episodes. But, going up on the top of that boat and Greg… You know, I remember the sun was almost coming up. We were shooting all night. It was the last thing we shot. I think we only had like 15 minutes or something, Greg, if you remember, and Greg just said, ‘You know, you’re here to say I love you to her. I don’t know how that would go, just do it.’ And I got up there and just stared at Jenna and had absolutely no idea what to do or how to say it. And when it aired, I remember it was like 20-something seconds of silence, and I remember watching that episode and saying, ‘You know, I’ve never seen that. I’ve never seen a show commit to the characters and the story above what would be good for ratings or what the audience would see as very dramatic.’ It was just like, ‘No, this is two people who are trying to figure out how to love each other.’ And I just thought that that was really incredible.”
Greg Daniels: The thing [is] that that moment, I think, is very indicative of the show because often times we would put a frame around very small things and you would then be able to see the really small things that were going on that became beats of a story. And so that was 21 seconds, but it wasn’t the same beat for 21 seconds. It was his face expressing that he wanted to say and she knew that something might be coming, but it didn’t and he wasn’t 100% comfortable doing it. There was a lot of micro moments inside that that you normally don’t get when you have that pressure for getting a laugh every couple of seconds. But yeah, I loved that episode too.
I would add the Job, the end of Season 3, and Business School was a great episode.”
John Krasinski: “And The Injury is…”
Greg Daniels: “The Injury was wonderful. But, there’s so many. The first season had all these very comical episodes, I thought, where we weren’t really too concerned with the likeability of anybody, but I kind of loved them just for the comedy sake. And then we had some very good mixes of touching episodes, I think. Whatever. It was good. We had some good stuff.”
Is it really emotional for you to do this?
John Krasinski: “Yeah, 100%. I mean, again, I don’t think there’s any way to describe it other than I would imagine a long time back in olden days, as they say, when you had to leave your family behind for something, whether it was moving somewhere else or going to war or something like that. I think leaving…this is a part of me that has […] defined me.”
Greg Daniels: “We put gym equipment in your trailer, by the way, John.”
John Krasinski: “Oh, good. Perfect. So, good, at least they care about me the way I care about them. No, but I mean to say that this show gave me everything would be the biggest understatement ever. I think that not only every single opportunity, and I mean every single opportunity has come from this show, and people who have watched this show and have given me a chance because of it. But also every sort of creative impulse and desire of trying new things and wanting to experiment with new mediums and writing and things like that, has all come from the show because of the enthusiasm I have for it. That instead of being some sort of soul-crushing job, it was the exact opposite, which is this job that made you just feel like a superhero and that you were in the one family that’s never loved a child more in the history of the world, and that’s how I felt leaving this show.
So, it’s incredibly hard to leave, but at the same time I know in my heart that it’s given me everything that I have and has defined me, and hopefully given me every single strength and talent that I have to go on and do other things. But I will always use that as a touchstone going forward.”
What’s the next thing for both of you? What do you have on your slate coming up next?
Greg Daniels: “Well, I produced a couple of pilots this year, written by Office writers, and one of them is starring Craig Robinson, and waiting to hear about those. So I have some hopes for something to work on there. And I’ll probably be able to have spent some more time on Parks and Recreation next year. And then, I don’t know. For me personally, it’s been such a ride that, you know my wife just says, ‘Just don’t do anything for a little while. Just come off the roller coaster and then think about your next move.'”
John Krasinski: “Yeah, I totally agree. I’ve been advised to just take a second, because I think it’s just such an emotional roller coaster. And the fact that we stopped shooting but the shows haven’t stopped airing is very surreal. The fact that our emotions we thought were over, and then you have people telling you, you know, ‘Last week’s episode was amazing.’ And you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, right. It’s still going.’ So, that’s sort of bizarre. But yeah, I’m just waiting to see where I want to go next. And I’m writing a couple things and I auditioned for Craig’s role on the Craig Robinson pilot, and it turns out I didn’t have a shot.”
Because the show is so really realistic to the corporate world, do you feel that you sort of got an idea of what it’s like to be part of that world? Did you develop an appreciation of that kind of lifestyle?
John Krasinski: “That’s really funny. I definitely remember Rainn Wilson in some of the scenes were we were doing background work where you had to just pretend to do paperwork. He was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is exhausting. How would you ever do a 9:00 to 5:00 job?’ And I remember laughing really, really hard. I mean, I think that there were definitely tastes of it here and there. But, yeah, when you’re surrounded by it, it does feel like you’re just working in an office and that you’re not on a TV show. I think the number one comment, I’m sure Greg can agree, the number one comment of people who visited the set was, ‘Oh, my God, it looks just like an office,’ which I loved. I don’t know what they expected, that it would be huge CGI walls and places for us to wire work and stunts. I don’t know what they thought, but it was really funny that everybody was like, ‘Oh, my God, it looks just like an office.'”
Greg Daniels: The experience was not very Hollywood, compared to so many. You know, we were in this little industrial street in the corner of Van Nuys surrounded by stone cutting businesses and we looked at the set when we wrapped. I walked the set trying to think of what I would take as a memento, and there was nothing that out of context was very special. It was only special all together on the set. All the decorations were motivational posters that [inspire] and a picture of a sailboat – the same things that are in any office anywhere. And if you took it and put it on your wall at home and said, ‘Oh, this is from The Office,’ you would go, ‘Yeah. Okay, I guess it could be.’ You could have just gotten it from the insurance agent’s office down the hall.”
Were there any storylines you wished you had had a chance to explore, something that you just never could quite get together?
Greg Daniels: Well, you know this season we hit a few of them. Like, for example, the Belsnickel episode for Christmas was something that we had had on the board for years and actually had been written with whole scripts, one during the year of the writer strike. That was going to be our Christmas episode that year. And then, another time, another year and it got changed. So, that was one that we really wanted to hit from the writing perspective. But, yeah, that is a little bit of a nostalgic, sad aspect is you still are coming up with ideas for the show and you’re like, ‘Well, the sets have been torn down and the actors don’t work here, and we don’t have any crew.'”
Is the set down already?
Greg Daniels: “The set, yeah. It’s sad, man. It’s just empty. They’re painting everything to look back the way it was before. You don’t want to see it.”
John Krasinski: “Oh, god.”
Greg Daniels: “Yeah, but all the future ideas will be the (Fan Section) comic books that I’m going to be doing.”