Jenna Fischer's beer-guzzling dental hygienist in A Little Help, the dark indie comedy opening Friday, is not the best example of how to get ahead. She works on the day of her husband's funeral.
But the character Fischer is best known for, Pam of the long-running NBC sitcom The Office, can teach us a lesson in a twisted sort of way, the actress said. Pam's conniving netted her a cushy promotion last season. "If you take some initiative and you're creative, you can create the kind of job that you'd like to be doing," Fischer told The Price of Fame.
Overall, the show is a good how-not-to guide in office behavior, Fischer pointed out, with perhaps one exception: "I think the character of Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell, who has left the show) was a wonderful manager because he was very invested in all of his employees in a personal way. I've worked in small offices and small work environments and it's actually nice when there's that kind of family environment."
Fischer, 37 and expecting her first child, toiled for eight years in Hollywood before winning the part in The Office. Turns out the producers were actually looking for an unknown, she said, after she lost out on several parts to better-known competition. Now she's the name when callbacks convene. Recognition and a steady series paycheck have given Fischer the freedom to choose plum parts in smaller films, including A Little Help and the upcoming The Giant Mechanical Man (written and directed by her husband, Lee Kirk), she said. She does not map out her career in a calculated way, choosing parts instead based on the story and character, she explained.
Since arriving in Los Angeles from her native St. Louis, she believes the price of fame has dipped. No longer do showbiz aspirants have to head to Hollywood, place head shots in every important mailbox, and comb the ads in Backstage West. They can work on their craft where they are and get noticed with a bit of Internet and a lot of ingenuity, according to the actress. How about assembling friends and shooting a film with an old Flip or smartphone camera?
"You can do it on a budget," Fischer said. "A lot of these things can be done for little or no money and a lot of them became a huge launching pad for people."
Fischer had a front-row seat to one such success story last year. The sitcom hired an actor who gained attention with his YouTube videos as a yo-yo expert stumbling through local newscast appearances. The Office writers were so impressed by prankster Mark Proksch they made a character for him, she said.
Investing $9.67 in a copy of The Artist's Way, a handbook for integrating creativity into our demanding everyday lives, isn't a bad idea either, she said. "I always say pick up that book because you can do that from anywhere. You don't have to be in L.A. or New York City."
Fischer said success in acting or any endeavor has a far better chance of happening if one uses life as a training ground. The mere act of gaining experiences -- on the job and off -- is practice. "That applies across the board," she said. "I think if you're going to be a CEO of a company, it's really good to learn all the different elements of your company. You're going to be a more effective leader."
Even if the Blades of Glory star is soon to become the boss of a new baby, she hesitated to to offer expertise on that front. Said Fisher: "I'm just trying to figure out where to put the diaper genie."