NBC's The Office is headed towards what many expect to be a disaster: the forthcoming departure of Steve Carell. With that sea change on the horizon, what does one of The Office's secondary character actors, Oscar Nunez, have to say?
Scott Wampler sat down with Oscar Nunez, one of the best secondary-character actors on the show, to find out what the mood is like on The Office set, why Will Ferrell's been hanging around lately, and what the hell was up with that episode where Pam slapped Michael in the face last season. As the interview began, Nunez was asking where we were calling from:
Oscar Nunez: Where you calling from?
ON: Oh, right on. I was just in Austin a few months ago.
Oh, yeah? What for?
ON: Well, my ex lives in Austin. I miss my little dog, and I wanted to come see her. So I came down, and they let me take her— the dog, I mean— back to the hotel. It was very fun, I'd never been to Austin.
Yeah, it's a great town. I moved from Dallas. Austin's a bit of an oasis in Texas—
ON: Yeah, Dallas is kind of financially-orientated, kinda big. I was there, too. Shot an independent film there last year. But compared to Austin, it's like comparing San Francisco to...I dunno, something else.
(Laughs) Yeah, well, Austin's a city that was built on art and film and music, and Dallas is a city built on oil and business and commerce. So, the people seem to match up with that. But I love Austin, very happy I moved down here. At any rate, are you filming right now? Episodes are still being shot, right?
ON: We were off this week, and we go back in Monday. Will Ferrell's joining us.
I heard about that! Are you excited to have him joining the cast?
ON: I am! We had a table read last weekend, and it was very funny. He's a very funny, very nice guy.
If I understand it correctly, he's got a several-episode arch coming up, right? Like, three episodes?
ON: I think he'll be there for four episodes. He's a good guy.
You've been with the show for seven seasons, and you're heading into the end of an era with Steve Carell leaving. What's that like, having that knowledge hanging over everyone on the set?
ON: It's all very exciting...and it's all...it's exciting, but it's a mixed bag. It's a little sad because Steve's leaving, and he's the lead of the show, and he's a really good actor and he's really funny, and Nancy's great— Nancy's his wife— so it's sad, but the exciting part is that he's gonna get some time off, he and Nancy and the kids are gonna spend some time together. We're not gonna see him every day like before, but we'll see each other. He won't be around, but we're gonna get different people to come in and play with us. Will Ferrell's coming in, and who knows what else they have lined up for us? I think it'll be very exciting for the cast and the show.
So, it's kind of a bittersweet thing?
ON: Yeah, absolutely. We already had a party for him— Nancy put it together— last week, and that was kinda cool. I'm sure that we'll have another one.
How do you feel about Steve leaving, personally? Having Michael (Scott, Dunder Mifflin's head manager) leave the show seems almost like having Homer leave The Simpsons. Do you think the show can go on without Steve Carell's Michael Scott?
ON: Um...I don't think it's like removing Homer...well, what would happen if Homer left?
Well, you'd have to ramp up the contributions of the secondary characters. It'd be more reliant on those guys. I think with Homer, he's the unofficial face of the show— kind of the de facto leader— and there's a similarity there, where Steve Carell's also the unofficial face of the show and its leader.
ON: Remember, though, Homer's the father of a family, while Michael's the head of an office.
Yeah, but you could make the argument that Michael Scott is almost like a father figure to some of the people on The Office. In fact, he's said— on more than one occasion— that he consider the people that work at Dunder Mifflin to be a family. So...
ON: Yeah, that's true. And I guess Bart would be...Dwight?
I think Lisa would be Dwight. She's kinda the brainy, know-it-all character. I think— because he's a prankster— that Bart would be Jim.
ON: Right...well, who would Dwight be? There's something there. That's a good analogy. Because...look, I don't think we can survive without Steve, but I think we can try new things. It's like The Mary Tyler Moore show without Mary Tyler Moore, or Taxi without Judd Hirsch. I think that the supporting cast is stronger than Homer's character, though Homer's character is very strong. But I think our supporting cast can be funny...I don't know if it'll succeed— that'll depending on viewership— but shows like Arrested Development and Freaks and Geeks were funny even though people didn't get it. So, I think it'll still be funny without Steve.
I won't bother asking if you'll tell me who's replacing Steve, but I'm curious if you know.
ON: I don't think they know. And if they knew, they wouldn't tell us.
Is that the kinda situation where you'd find out, like, a few days before, or will you find out, like, a month in advance who'd be taking over his position?
ON: There's no rule, but I would say a few days. A week. But there's no rule. But here's the thing, I don't think they're wringing their hands about it, thinking, "Who are we gonna pick?" I think they're going to bring in different people and have fun, and say, "Well, it didn't work out for this reason or that reason", and meanwhile they're awesome people. Y'know, just coming through The Office and we're having fun with them. I don't think it's going to be a painstaking process. Get someone in, see what happens with them, then get someone else, see what happens with them...I don't think they're worried about "Who's going to replace him?" so much as "Well, now we can just have some fun".
Well, that's the best approach. Once you've said— definitively— that this is the person that's gonna replace Michael Scott, that this is the boss, then you've eliminated your opportunity to play around with his absence and do anything else.
ON: Yeah! You'd be wasting a lot of momentum and hype and opportunity. It's that period that's kinda nebulous that you could take advantage of.
Ricky Gervais showed up on the show a few weeks back, and— for anyone that didn't hear about it when it leaked the day before— it was a really great surprise. Were you around for that, when they filmed it?
ON: I don't think anyone was around for that.
Was it a surprise to you?
ON: No, we knew, but I don't think any of us knew what the bit was.
Oh, cool. Well, how do you feel about what the critics have had to say about the show over the past few years? The predominant outlook seems to be that The Office was best during its second-through-fourth seasons, and that since then it's been kinda rocky. Do you feel that way, or do you disagree that the show's changed at all, or turned in mediocre episodes? Have there been storylines you didn't...well, maybe not "dislike", but ones you weren't happy with?
ON: There weren't storylines I didn't like, but there have been individual episodes where I thought, "Eh, that wasn't so great". I don't think there's been more than a two or three-episode arch where...I guess I've seen anomolies, but not two or three episodes in a row that I don't like.
I watched TV religiously when I was a kid, but nowadays— with the internet— there's so many people writing about TV on the internet, that everything's sort of under a magnifying glass. I watch repeats once in awhile, but usually I just watch the show when it airs. And I think that it's still a good show, it's funny....I think that some of these people that write about TV should try and write a spec script. You know, write an episode of your favorite show, and let's see how close to the mark they come on it. You might be a great writer, or you might be horrible. You might think, "This is really hard to do!" I really like Fringe, but I couldn't write an episode of Fringe.
Well, I thought that the episode where Pam slapped Michael in the parking lot was really weird. It felt too dark, or like the show was way off its mark. I've seen every episode of the series, and that whole thing just felt...it was uncomfortable to watch. And I know— from reading other people's stuff online— that a lot of other people felt that way about that episode, too, and—
ON: That particular episode?
Yeah, that particular episode. But—
ON: Where did it lose you? Where in the episode did you go, "Oh, I don't know about this". It wasn't that moment, right?
Actually, no, I thought the whole subplot with Michael and Pam's mother was just weird, and—
ON: When they (the writers) did that, did you think, "Uh-oh!" Did you see something coming, when they were flirting? Were you like, "Oh, man, he's gonna ask her out!"
Y'know, I was surprised that that's where the writers took the show, but not that Michael— as a character— would do that. But I thought the whole Pam's Mom/Michael thing was just weird from the beginning, and I wasn't digging it, and then the whole thing just kinda culminated in that scene in the parking lot—
ON: Yeah, yeah...
—-with Pam slapping Michael. And when I saw that, I was just like, "What the hell is going on here?"
It felt like, "This isn't The Office". I think that— and I'd have to go back and watch those episodes to give better examples— but whatever was going on in the show around that time, it just felt like it was moving in a weird direction, and I think that a lot of people sensed that, too. But, hey, I couldn't write an Office script, so...
ON: Yeah, but what you're saying is valid. I get that. It wasn't the fact that Pam slapped him, it was the fact that you were uncomfortable that the show was going to this weird place— like, "Why bring her mom into it?"— and that's valid. I get that, they didn't have to do that to begin with. But they did, and so be it. But, yeah, I get that.
But overall, I really like the show. I've always been a fan— even in the beginning, when the show was announced, and we were all wary of another remake— and I've always rooted for it, even when there are particular episodes that I think are weaker than others. I just like this show, and this cast, so I'm still gonna root for it, even if I don't dig what I'm seeing.
ON: It's a tough road to hoe, because...look, the BBC says, "We're gonna do 12 episodes, they're gonna be great, and then that's it". But this is America, and we're gonna beat that horse until there's nothing left!
Which is a great lead-in to my next question, which is: Do you think that the show should go on without Steve Carell?
ON: I think that, yeah, it can, and it will. It's not like the BBC, and as long as the advertisers pay, it doesn't matter artistically what the show's doing, it'll keep going. There'll be a ninth season. In a perfect world, there'd be twelve episodes and that'd be it, but it's just not. I remember I got bent out of shape when the show started going outside the office. I was like, "It's a documentary about an office. My favorite episodes are the ones that take place in an office. Why are they going out there?" Really, we're going to a ranch or something? If you look at Modern Family, they're talking to the camera, but the cameras follow them around everywhere. But—
Well, the faux-documentary style is kind of a starting point and then...that's it. They don't ever deal with that on a technical level. Ostensibly, it's a documentary about an office, but actually it's—
ON: Yeah, I mean...it is what it is. It's its own art form now. But you're right.
I've always thought that one of the characters could get involved with someone from the documentary crew, romantically. It seems like a really obvious idea for a storyline that hasn't been explored yet. Has that idea ever been brought up?
ON: I'm sure they've talked about it, and then someone will say, "OK, well let's say one of the female characters gets involved with one of the documentary crew. Well, who's filming over here while they're having a meeting together?" But, yeah, actually that's a funny idea.
Well, look, I wish you the best. For the rest of this season and the forthcoming season, I'm rooting for you guys.
ON: Thanks, thanks, we'll talk again!
Absolutely. Thanks again for your time!
The Office airs Thursday nights on NBC. Check local listings.
Scott Wampler is a standup comic, humor writer, entertainment blogger, and man of constant sorrow from Austin, TX. When he's not mainlining vodka tonics, he's contributing articles to a variety of entertainment websites—Chud.com, Collider.com, Gawker.com—and operates primarily as the National Comedy Examiner for Examiner.com, where he specializes in a form of entertainment reporting that can best be described as "frequent jokes made at Jay Leno's expense". If you feel like contacting Scott about anything-advice, naming your child, learning who your favorite character on Arrested Development should be—feel free to contact him here.