I have been slowly poring through Andy Greene’s very enjoyable book on The Office over the last few weeks. While I have enjoyed it immensely, the first 80 percent of the book mostly amounts to the cast and crew repeatedly praising each other, the amazing environment they worked in, and how lucky they all were to spend years together as a family. It’s immensely complimentary, and it left me with the impression that everyone from Greg Daniels to Steve Carell to Jenna Fischer to John Krasinski are incredibly good, kind, gracious, and loving people.
And then came season 8.
In Greene’s book, the lead-up to the chapter on season 8 is about James Spader’s initial motivation for taking the role. While everyone else on the show was mostly just grateful to land the gig when they were hired, Spader was in a different place in his career. “When all this started, I didn’t have much money left from Boston Legal,” he said. “I had done a big renovation on my house, and then I had done a big David Mamet play … I was hemorrhaging cash doing the play. Then, all of a sudden, I got the call from The Office.” Spader, meanwhile, was also offered a role in Spielberg’s Lincoln biopic but was reluctant to take it because “everyone was cutting their fees. And I was broke. Really, I was broke. I only had enough to last me for a year.” He basically leveraged The Office producers into letting him star on the series for a year, but only if they allowed him a couple of months off to go do Lincoln. In other words, Spader was there simply for the money.
That’s the first impression we get of Spader in the book. Then came season 8 and, and oh boy. It’s not that anyone in the book — which includes accounts from the writers, the crew, and the cast (but mostly writers) — is outright dismissive or mean, but the tone shifts noticeably from, “I can’t believe I got to work with Steve Carell every day. I am so lucky!” to James Spader was, uh, interesting.
Here’s a sampling of quotes from the cast and staff on the series: “It felt like a different show.” “Everything was different.” “When Steve Carell left, the heart of the show left with him. “I thought that Ed [Helms] could pull it off, but …” “It was a very different dynamic with James Spader.” “I don’t want to speak ill of anyone, but Steve Carell just set the bar so high.” “I thought there were moments where the focus drifted.” “It was funny enough, but it was a different show. When Steve left, that was the end of the show, and we did two seasons without him, which was a different thing.”
Melora Hardin, who played Jan Levinson, gave perhaps the harshest assessment. “I don’t know if I can get into it,” she said. “But it didn’t have a great feeling when I came back for guest spots after Steve left. I was happy that I wasn’t around all the time. I was like, ‘Wow. I don’t mind being here today, but I’m glad I’m not here every day.’”
Much of the trouble with season eight seemed to emanate from Spader, a dramatic actor who apparently didn’t understand how to do comedy (notwithstanding his role in Mannequin!). He had no desire to “find the character” as other actors had, only to play the part as written on the page.
It began in the seventh season, when Spader had come in among a series of other stars in the season finale for an interview to replace Michael Scott. He delivered strange eccentric lines that fans loved, and he quickly became the fan favorite to replace Scott.
In season eight, however, he wasn’t able to reproduce that magic. “We needed a brilliant comedian,” exec producer Ben Silverman said. “And James Spader isn’t funny.”
That was one of the kinder assessments of Spader. Her are some others, which again come from writers and actors who previously had never shared anything but the kindest words for anyone else.
“James Spader is a very unique dude. He is very out there.” “James had a real hard time with it. He definitely had some trouble with some cast members later in the season.” “Every discussion with James was a long one.” “He wasn’t happy with what they were writing for him.” “It was interesting because I don’t think of him as a comedy person. It was just odd.”
Spader never clicked, and we get the sense in the book from everyone from Creed Bratton to Kate Flannery that Spader just wasn’t working out, either on the show or on the set.
“Once Steve’s gone. That’s sort of the end of it for me,” longtime director and consultant on the show Paul Feig said.
“I actually thought it was over when Steve left,” Ricky Gervais added
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