The Office is considered one of television history’s most iconic sitcoms. Launching the careers of several cast members, the show catapulted actor Steve Carell into superstardom due to his brilliant portrayal of the socially inept Michael Scott.
Created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant from the BBC version of the series, Carell knew he had big shoes to fill when the comedy came over to the States. The Office alum revealed some words of wisdom he received from Gervais prior to the show’s premiere in America.
Ricky Gervais on playing David Brent
The BBC comedy aired from 2001 to 2003, inspiring the American version of The Office. Some NBC execs were hesitant about trying the ‘mockumentary’ style, which seemed better suited for British audiences.
Yet they forged ahead and created somewhat of a mirror image for the states-side version. Gervais served as show creator as well as playing office manager David Brent for the BBC show. The comedian clearly relished his role as the socially incompetent boss of a dysfunctional staff.
“You just act like an idiot. It’s easy. It’s so much fun,” Gervais told Piers Morgan in 2011, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “I’ve never had as much fun playing a character as David Brent. Everything he does is so desperate. He’s just so desperate to be loved.”
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Casting Michael Scott
When producers wanted to cast Michael Scott – the American version of David Brent – they knew they needed an actor that was both approachable yet comedically gifted.
“We wanted somebody with the kind of generic Americana appeal that most TV stars of the time had,” producer Ben Silverman told Andy Greene, author of The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s. “Tim Allen, Seinfeld, all of these people were not the most extraordinary looking. They were Americana, and that I think was something we knew we needed in our lead as well.”
Film stars including Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman turned down the role. Bob Odenkirk, now of Better Call Saul, was close to landing the part until a strong recommendation for Carell from Universal Pictures and Fox Movies chairperson Stacey Snyder made producers look at The Daily Show personality.
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“I was aware of Steve Carell because I had just seen him in Bruce Almighty,” Silverman explained. “[Stacey] knew I was making The Office… She said to me, ‘I’m telling you. Carell is the guy… You should grab him.’”
Michael Scott gets advice from David Brent
When preparing to take on the part of the Dunder Mifflin manager, Carell revealed he didn’t study the original version of The Office.
“I’d never seen it. Then just before I auditioned, I had a chance to look at the pilot,” the Anchorman star told New York Magazine in 2005. “No one involved has any aspirations to equal the original or make it better—we just want to make a good show.”
Despite glancing at the pilot, Carell didn’t see any more of the BBC show in order to put his own stamp on his character. “I figured the more I watched, the less chance I’d have of creating anything original,” he said. “It’s one of these definitive television characters. I’m definitely intimidated by it, and I don’t want to try to copy [Gervais].”
RELATED: ‘The Office’: The Best Michael Scott Episodes and Where to Watch Them
Coming up with his own strategy, Carell also heeded the words of wisdom he received from Gervais.
“I based it on the same tenets that prop up David Brent: this middle manager with an absolute lack of self-awareness,” Carell revealed. “That same archetypal character, but more in my wheelhouse. The best piece of advice that Ricky Gervais gave me was just to try and make the other actors crack up.”
Carell aced his role on The Office from its premier in 2005 til his final episode in 2011.
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