Jenna Fischer helped make the case for office romances for nine seasons on workplace comedy The Office. Her receptionist character, Pam Beesly, and Dunder Mifflin co-worker and sales rep Jim Halpert, played by John Krasinski, had viewers laughing with their sophomoric sense of humor and swooning over their romantic gestures.
The role gave Fischer — who was relatively unknown when the show premiered in 2005 — the career jolt she had long been waiting for since arriving in Hollywood. An Emmy nomination for supporting actress followed, as did the film offers.
Fischer’s road from St. Louis to stardom was less than glamorous. She spent so much time as a struggling actress working temp jobs to make ends meet that she wrote a book about it, The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide, in 2017, to help aspiring actors. Here’s a closer look at that path and how Fischer has transformed over the years.
Jenna Fischer’s humble beginnings in community theater "ended in failure"
Jenna Fischer was landing starring roles right off of the bat when her acting career began in St. Louis. Of course, it helps that she was the one doing the casting, as these roles were for plays she had written and performed for her family when she was a child. "I cast my little sister in various roles," Fischer told Master Chat. "My parents would joke with me that I always gave myself the lead role in all the plays I made up."
Once it came time to audition for plays that didn’t take place in her garage, Fischer — who was part of the theater club and took dance class — was hit with hard dose of reality. "These auditions mostly ended in failure; I never got the lead roles," Fischer said of school plays in The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide. "In fact, I barely got the supporting roles. I usually found myself being offered the obligatory consolation prize: A role in the dancing chorus."
Jenna Fischer fought for equal rights… at Long John Silver’s
Jenna Fischer was a pioneer at the Long John Silver’s where she worked at age 16. Upon learning that the cooks working in the back made 70 cents more per hour than employees such as herself working the cash registers in the front, she asked to become a cook and wouldn’t take no for an answer. "The manager said, ‘I’m sorry, girls have to stay up front and greet the customers with a smile,’" Fischer recalled on Conan. "And I said, ‘Have you heard of a little thing called discrimination?’"
Fischer was granted her request, only to regret it immediately. This is Long John Silver’s, after all — home of fried, um, everything, which meant she was standing over a hot fryer for much of her nine-hour shifts. Her hair and clothes smelled. Her hands were burnt. And her once-determined spirit was broken. She returned to the manager after three weeks with her tail between her legs and was given her old job back. Still, she’s proud of what she accomplished in that Long John Silver’s. "I do feel like I broke down barriers," Fischer told Conan facetiously. "I brought women to the fryer." Progress!
Jenna Fischer "felt so disconnected" from her parents as a teen
Like just about any other teenager, Jenna Fischer butted heads with her parents over what she felt were restrictive rules and kept to her room. It wasn’t until her senior year when she discovered a date book they kept on her that she developed a newfound appreciation for mom and dad. The book included entries such as "You tried strained peaches today and you loved them!" and "Today you tried on your Easter outfit. It has little bunnies on it and you look so cute!"
"It had honestly never dawned on me that the people responsible for incarcerating me in my bedroom… had once been two kids who were overwhelmed and excited about having their first baby," Fischer told Oprah.com. She noted, "To see that kind of humanness in them at a time when I felt so disconnected from them was deeply affecting."
Another major source of tension was when Fischer decided she wanted to move to Los Angeles after high school, but her parents stood firm that she go to college. Looking back, she’s glad they did. "I was so eager to get started on my acting career and I didn’t see what I needed to learn," Fischer told Master Chat. "But my parents insisted I go to college and I’m really glad I went… I don’t think Hollywood is a great place for a 17 or 18 year old kid to be figuring out who they are."
Alyson Hannigan made life difficult for Jenna Fischer
Following her college graduation, 22-year-old Jenna Fischer drove her Mazda 323 Hatchback to Los Angeles with visions of stardom in her head. Things didn’t click as quickly as she’s hoped, and she was soon broke and depressed — so she became a receptionist. Her first few roles were in a sex ed video for mental health patients and extra work in an ad for Universal Studios’s Jurassic Park ride. Fischer described this unstable time in her life as "six years of small successes followed by heaps of rejection" in her book.
She landed better auditions and parts after that, including a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo on Spin City, but still struggled to get her big break. One reason: Alyson Hannigan. "I had been knocking around Los Angeles for years going to various auditions," Fischer told The Jeff Probst Show (via People). "I would do eight auditions for a new television show and then at the very end they would offer the role to Alyson Hannigan. She was my biggest competition. I would get to the final audition and I’d go, ‘I know I’ve got this one.’ And then she’d walk in the door and I’d go, ‘Nope.’"
Jenna Fischer was told she was "just not hot enough" by casting agents
Believe it or not, Jenna Fischer was up for the role of CIA spy Sydney Bristow in Alias, which went to Jennifer Garner. She revealed to Entertainment Weekly that she was told she gave a great audition, but she was "just not hot enough." That had to sting. But don’t feel too bad for Fischer. She doesn’t think she would have been a great fit for the physically demanding role. And besides, Fischer’s girl-next-door looks may have helped her land her biggest role to date.
Fischer told NPR, "When I went in for The Office, the casting director said to me, she said, please look normal. Don’t make yourself all pretty, and dare to bore me with your audition." Odd advice, but, as we now know, it must have been effective. It doesn’t hurt that Fischer knew a thing or two about being a secretary after having worked as an administrative assistant for seven years while waiting for her big break.
The Office made Fischer a star and led to big-screen roles in Blades of Glory, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and Hall Pass. Suddenly, How I Met Your Mother‘s Alyson Hannigan had some serious competition.
After an accident, Jenna Fischer "gained 10 pounds and got flabby"
Jenna Fischer told USA Today that, just when things were finally going her way, she fell down a flight of stairs at an Office cast get-together in 2007, fracturing four vertebrae in her back and tearing a ligament in her elbow. Unable to work out while she recovered from the accident, Fischer, 33 at the time, sulked and gave in to her junk food cravings.
She was in amazing shape at the time of the accident because she had just wrapped Walk Hard – she told USA Today that she "trained very hard" for that role. This only juxtaposed how difficult it was to be incapacitated while her body healed. "Before the accident, I wore size 26 jeans! I was truly in the best shape of my life," Fischer told Shape. "Afterward, I gained 10 pounds and got flabby."
Once cleared to resume normal activity, she picked herself back up and focused on her diet (cutting fat) and exercise (hiking with friends). The result: she returned to her pre-accident size-26 jeans, and two years later showed off her figure on the cover of Shape, bikini and all.
Jenna Fischer married MCU director James Gunn
Back in 2000, Jenna Fischer married Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn after the two were introduced by his brother, and frequent collaborator, Sean, as per People. She was actually featured in his cult horror comedy Slither, although, as Screen Rant notes, the part wasn’t written for her. Funnily enough, though, by the time of Slither‘s release, she was the most famous cast-member thanks to The Office and did much of the publicity for the movie. Fischer revealed during one such appearance that Gunn had given her the role as a "birthday present."
Of their marriage, she admitted in an interview with Redbook magazine, "When I was younger, I thought you married the person you fell in love with the most. But … I realized there was a whole other set of criteria. You have to ask, Do we have the same goals?" It ultimately wasn’t meant to be for Fischer and Gunn, but the two have nothing but love for each other, with Gunn telling the Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend podcast (via CheatSheet), "I think in some ways we misinterpreted a really close bond."
Jenna Fischer and James Gunn had an amicable divorce
In September 2007, People confirmed Jenna Fischer and James Gunn were calling it quits. Notable about their joint statement was the following line: "The enthusiasm we have expressed for each other’s lives, spirits and careers is real — we have been each other’s cheerleader and friend during the past six years and continue to be so now and in the future." Though it may seem innocuous, the couple’s shared respect for each other would come to personify their entire divorce, as Pajiba so memorably recounted in a piece later enthusiastically shared by Gunn himself on Facebook.
"I never quite understood how two people can love each other deeply but, when they break up, they grow suddenly hateful and cruel. Just because a relationship doesn’t work, doesn’t mean the other person is bad," he wrote alongside it, describing his ex as a "great person" and "wonderful friend" among other lovely things. Speaking to Deadline in 2019, the prolific filmmaker explained their approach as, "Let’s get along as well as we possibly can and be kind to each other because we’re both a large part of each other’s lives."
Jenna Fischer was ready for a new ‘do after The Office
One of the downsides of playing Pam on The Office — and let’s be honest, there probably weren’t many — was that Jenna Fischer was stuck with pretty much the same hairstyle for much of the series. Sure, there were slight changes, like when she dropped the "girl mullet," as she called it in an interview with TV Guide (straight in the front, curly in the back) for a hair curlers look. But that wasn’t enough for Fischer.
"I’d love to color and cut my hair into a style, any style: bangs, a bob, go blonde," Fischer told Redbook in 2011. "I’ve had the same hair for eight years, and it’s starting to get to me!" After The Office wrapped in 2013, Fischer contemplated getting a pixie haircut. Though that idea was tossed out, she proudly showed off her curly bob in 2015. Then, in 2018, she raved about her big, crazy hair in The 15:17 to Paris. Clearly someone is enjoying their hair freedom.
Jenna Fischer’s Office co-star’s love advice stuck with her
The best piece of love advice Jenna Fischer received after her divorce from Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn in 2007 was from… Toby? Paul Lieberstein — who played HR rep Toby Flenderson on The Office — told Fischer that "finding love is not as hard as picking the right person to spend the rest of your life with." That stuck with her as she took a dip back into the dating pool.
"When I was younger, I thought you married the person you fell in love with the most," Fischer told Redbook. "But as [my ex-husband and I] learned what we wanted, I realized there was a whole other set of criteria. You have to ask, ‘Do we have the same goals?’"
Fischer gave marriage another chance in 2010, marrying screenwriter Lee Kirk, whom she began seeing while working together on the film The Giant Mechanical Man. Fischer revealed to Redbook that they didn’t jump into things right away — there was a slow build of "six or seven months." But, thankfully, not as slow as the two-season build to Jim and Pam’s love affair.
Jenna Fischer started a family
In 2011, Jenna Fischer became a mother. While pregnant for the first time, she admitted to E! News that morning sickness wasn’t much of an issue. However, she said she had accrued "plenty of cellulite." Of her weird cravings, the actress noted, "In the beginning it was a lot of macaroni and cheese and Lucky Charms. Now it’s a lot of strawberries." Vulture confirmed the pregnancy would be written into The Office accordingly, too.
That September, People confirmed Fischer and her husband, Lee Kirk, had welcomed son Weston, with her rep advising, "Mom and baby are doing great." Daughter Harper followed in May 2014, as confirmed by E! News. "We are happy, healthy and sleepy," the family confirmed at the time. Although being a mom is a major part of her life, she revealed to fans on Instagram it’s not all it’s cracked up to be after her children billed the actress for a Mother’s Day breakfast in bed. However, they did throw in a copy of The New York Times for free, so it wasn’t that bad of a deal.
Jenna Fischer was fired for the first time
After The Office, it was back to the drawing board for Jenna Fischer. She has been working steady in TV and film, including the Clint Eastwood-directed The 15:17 to Paris, but hasn’t had nearly the same level of fame as she had on The Office. It appeared Fischer found her next sitcom home in CBS’s Man with a Plan. And then, in what was a career first for her, she was fired in 2016 because focus groups felt there was no chemistry between her and co-star Matt LeBlanc. To be fair, Pam and Joey seem like an odd couple, don’t you think?
Fischer — who rebounded with a co-starring role in ABC’s Splitting Up Together — has been finding out the hard way that Hollywood isn’t going to hand her everything just because she was on a hit show. She told Parade, "I still audition for things. Sometimes I’m offered things, but if there’s a role that’s different from the work I’ve done, I have to go fight for it and I have to audition. … There’s no finish line in this business."
Jenna Fischer would sacrifice her dream role if it doesn’t meet this one crucial requirement
The No. 1 thing Jenna Fischer takes into consideration when looking for her next project isn’t the script, director, or cast — it’s where the production is located. "Now that I have a family, I look for work that’s happening in Los Angeles, number one," Fischer told Master Chat. Fischer has shifted her priorities in order to stay close to her husband and two young children, even if it means sacrificing a role that interests her.
"Sometimes there’s a really cool indie film with great people, but it’s shooting in Louisiana for six weeks," she told Master Chat. "As much as I would like to go create with that group of people, I can’t leave my family for six weeks. And I can’t really bring them with me because it’s so expensive to relocate a family. … I have a very pragmatic approach to work now."
Jenna Fischer tackled all things The Office with a podcast
Although she said goodbye to The Office in 2013, six years later, Jenna Fischer and offscreen buddy Angela Kinsey (who played Angela Martin on the beloved sitcom) returned to Dunder Mifflin in a way with their podcast Office Ladies. The New York Times noted it was an instantaneous hit, garnering thousands of positive reviews off the back of its first episode. The duo discusses all things Office on the show while re-watching the entire thing, sharing everything from behind-the-scenes titbits to their desire for a reboot.
Fischer admitted the idea came from their co-star Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute), who frequently told the duo they should be fronting their own talk show. As Fischer revealed, "We have dreamed for many years of one day taking over the fourth hour of The Today Show. …That was what morphed into the idea of a podcast — we wanted to be storytellers and tell our stories out loud." She enthused to Entertainment Weekly that their time recording together is "sacred" and they have to ensure to always carve it out no matter what else is going on in their lives.
Jenna Fischer will forever be connected to Pam
The Office is arguably more popular now than it was during its original release, and Jenna Fischer remains synonymous with the role of Pam. Far from taking offense, however, the actress welcomes the comparison. While appearing on the An Oral History of The Office podcast, Fischer revealed (via CheatSheet), "I believed with my whole heart that this was the part for me," adding, "I believed I was the one who should play it … I am literally the only person who should play this part. This is mine."
She also felt her best as Pam opposite John Krasinski as Jim. The actress revealed, during a chat with Entertainment Weekly, that she could empathize with her most famous character’s struggle because she was her for years while trying to make it in the industry. "I know about that deep desire to have a change in your life," Fischer admitted. Clearly, Pam made an impact on viewers watching at home too, as Fischer told The New York Times that fans have come up to her to gush over how much her journey meant to them.