By Emily Hochberg
We’re only a day away from the season premiere of The Office – tomorrow – and Oscar Nominee Amy Ryan is back to reprise her role as new HR Director, Holly Flax. She recently sat down for a chat about the upcoming season and spills on just what it’s like to work at Dunder Mifflin Scranton and how she’s settling into cubicle life. So long Toby, Holly’s got your desk and is settling in to stay. For at least six episodes anyway.
What was the funniest human resource experience in your life?
Well probably back, you know, from grammar school when I was at one point a hall monitor
No proper interviews or corporate job before you got into acting?
No, no. But being a fan of The Office and watching Paul’s performance as Toby, I think that’s all the research anyone would need.
How did it work out that you got this part? Was it as simple as them reaching out to you and you wanting to do it?
I think there were a few things in play. One is I knew Paul Lieberstein many years ago from a television show we both worked on called The Naked Truth. And then most of the writers turned out to be fans of The Wire. And then I had briefly known Steve Carell when we shot the film Dan in Real Life. And then I got nominated for an Oscar and I asked my agent and manager – I said, you know, the one job I’d like that I don’t think I’d get if I weren’t nominated, I want to be on The Office. And some people laughed at me when I told them that story, but they said I shot too low. But I disagree. I think that’s one of the best shows on TV.
What can we expect this season in the relationships between Holly and Kevin, and Holly and Michael?
Well, Holly and Kevin is probably a little bit more a misunderstanding in that he’s mentioned a handicap that show its truth pretty soon. And with Michael and Holly, I think that it gives us all hope that there’s a lid for every pot or I like to say there’s a lid for every cracked pot out there. Everyone has a chance at some form of love.
Are there a fixed number of episodes that you’re going to be doing or is there the possibility that you might stay longer?
Well I’m back home in New York so I finished my initial agreement of six episodes. But I suppose, you know, never say never. But I don’t have any plans at this moment to head back.
Does Michael have a shot with the new girl?
Well, I don’t know if I should kiss and tell. But I will say, you know, he gets points for trying.
When you did the season finale, was this already intended to continue into this season?
I don’t think so.
Do you have most of your interaction in your episodes with just Michael and Kevin, or do you get to go out and intermingle with the rest of The Office staff?
I’ve completely moved into Toby’s desk, complete with personal photos. But yeah, I get to intermingle with everyone in the office.
What TV shows do you love? What are your favorite guilty pleasure TV shows?
Well I’m not just saying this but I love The Office and so that’s why I was kind of hoping that that worked out. But my guilty pleasure show – and I actually don’t even know if it’s still on the air, but I used to love that show Blind Date. That was my guilty pleasure show. Don’t judge me.
If Helene McCready (Her role in “Gone Baby Gone”) came to apply for a job at The Office, would she be able to get in through the front door?
Yeah, I don’t know if she’d be invited in but she certainly would come crashing through. That woman doesn’t let anyone keep her back.
Is Dwight going to continue trying to haze Holly or does that stop?
I think – it pretty much stopped.
You’ve done so much TV and film; do you prefer one to the other or do you see your career going in one direction? Or do you like to mix it up?
No, I mix it up but I’d say that the constant, what I strive towards, is just great writing. And I believe actors are really only as good as the writing that they’re given. That’s what led me to shows like The Office and The Wire, and so that’s where that formula comes from in my mind.
In the season finale, you get in the office and you immediately start getting hit on by Michael. Were any of those office Lotharios trying it on with you?
No, I’m proud to report that everyone there is just a great gentleman. So no, no one hit on me and I’m happily involved with someone else in the real world.
You said you got a chance to have your own desk. Did you get a chance to personalize your desk with any of your own personal effects, anything we can keep an eye out for while we watch the show?
No, but that’s kind of the magic of the prop department. One day during a scene I looked over and there was some photograph with me and some other woman that looks like we’re just two friends. But I don’t know who that woman is, so they photo shopped a couple of things together. It’s amazing what they find.
Were you able to keep anything as a memory?
Oh, I have many memories. I didn’t take any tokens, though. No, I didn’t take any tokens.
Can you speak a little bit about what it’s like coming into a cast that is as established as The Office?
Well on paper in the first day, it’s quite intimidating because when you enter a show that you’re a fan of and have great admiration for, you have to take a moment to allow yourself to join them. But it’s quite an extraordinary group and everyone was really supportive and very down to earth which is kind of staggering. You rarely see that when a group of actors has a great success. There’s usually one – there’s always one, you know, and I’m happy to report that everyone was so gracious and generous and that made the greatest welcome.
What would you say separates your experience on The Office so far apart from everything else you’ve done – all the TV and film, a little bit of Broadway? What would you say kind of separates it from the rest of your career?
Lipstick. No, it’s a wonderful departure to be in the world of comedy. Most of my career, I feel like has been mostly these really heavy dramas, rooting for the underdog on the lowest scale of the financial world. But showing up to work on a comedy where you’re guaranteed three fits of hysterical laughter a day, it feels really good. And not that dramas don’t have that because they can be satisfying in their own ways. But there’s something – it’s just being like a kid, more so like getting together with your friends and, you know, just playing – play acting. It was a nice split.
Has Holly figured out that Kevin might actually not be special?
Yeah, she finds out the hard way.
Is Holly as socially dysfunctional as Michael or is she just quirky and happened to catch Michael on a really good day?
Yeah, I think she is slightly odd, you know. But, you know, the nice way to say it is she’s just really playful and she finds him funny, and so that unleashes her sense of humor. It’s like they’re really kind of like children in that they’re playmates.
As someone who was a fan of The Office before coming and joining The Office, was the environment on the set while you were working what you expected? Was there anything that surprised you?
The first day when I walked on set it felt like almost walking into a museum. It’s something you’re very familiar with from the comfort of your own living room couch. I felt like a little kid walking around. But one of my good friends is Rashida Jones who was on the show, as you know, and so I would call her a lot and just ask for advice before I joined. And I knew some of the actors. I knew Rainn. We share mutual friends and I had a small part in a film of Steve’s a year before that. And of course, Paul and I knew each other many, many years ago on another TV show. So that all helps walking into a new environment.
Did you have a hard time getting through scenes without laughing?
Yes. It was one of my favorite things to see who’s going to go first. And the day that I went first I was mortified. I was like that’s just not done with the new kid. You can’t do that. But I laughed so hard at one point that it turned into just bawling tears. So I’m not sure where the laughter began and sorrow took over, but I had to reapply makeup. I’m trying to hide behind my hair and just my shoulders are convulsing. And Steve just carried on like, you know, no bother. I couldn’t believe it. But it feels really good to do that. But it’s like, you know, when you’re in school and you’re told to be quiet during a test and once someone goes you all do, and it becomes like dominoes.
Has the marketing of the show reached the point that there could be a Toby bobblehead?
NBC Publicist: There is going to bobbleheads of everyone.
Well now you can – well one day you’ll be able to play with yourself.
Oh my god, that’s what (she) said.
Looking at your resume, I know you mentioned The Naked Truth, but there’s not a ton of other comedy work on it, at least on camera. What was it like going back into that arena after having done so much serious stuff in the recent past anyway?
I was truthfully, you know, very nervous because it wasn’t just going back into comedy. It was going back into the best comedy. You know, and trying to stand up next to that cast is – it’s not an easy thing to do. But they certainly made it easier for me. As (they) said earlier, the writing is so stellar. And I was happy to see it was kind of a much more freeing experience than I had thought. But truth be told, the first day I showed up at the finale I was petrified.
Does it make it any easier that with the style of the show you don’t always have to sell a big joke and a punch line?
Well The Office is unlike some other comedies in the past where you did have to sell a joke. I feel like these are jokes that come out of human behavior and that’s what’s fun about it; it’s the darker side of human behavior. Now I know the writers wrote jokes along with the character situations, but the more I could see it as just a real life situation, and the joke is someone said something awkward, then that’s the way I kind of like skirted around the issue of being intimidated by it.