Q&A: Ed Helms on his ‘Office’ promotion, career path and how the show might end

Ed: "I think that the characters that I play are just sort of a heightened version of myself"

Ed Helms had no idea his character on The Office, Andy Bernard, would be promoted until a few weeks before shooting when he and Executive Producer/Writer Paul Liberstein – who also plays Toby on the show – sat down for lunch. “That’s where I learned of the news,” he said.

Steve Carell’s Michael Scott may be hard shoes to fill, but as Liberstein said, Andy is a great choice because “any little problem that anybody’s having, he would feel very deeply, which makes him very suited to be a comic lead in the show.”

I talked to both Ed and Paul in a conference call where they talked about Andy’s promotion, Helm’s career path and how The Office might end.

Follow Ed on Twitter!

The Office airs on Thursdays at 9/8c on NBC

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

How did the process go for you in terms of taking the new job? Did you know ahead of time?

Ed Helms: I knew about three or four weeks before we started shooting. That’s when it kind – the news sort of broke internally. And Paul and I had lunch actually and that’s where I learned of the news.

Were the actors vying internally for – or lobbying on behalf of their characters to get the managerial position and having your character getting it, was that a way to capitalize on your film career?

Ed Helms: Well I can only – I can speak to the first part. But the – I kind of felt like – I’ve always really trusted the creative judgment of the show creators, Greg Daniels and Paul Lieberstein and felt like they’ve gotten us so far. And there was a lot of internal sort of wondering and questioning what was next, who might be the next boss.

But I, you know, I think it’s a testament to this cast and the dignity of everyone involved that we all sort of took a little bit of a, I don’t know, just a back seat to the creative considerations upstairs. And what – and we’re sort of eager to support whatever decision came down.

Paul Lieberstein: I think in terms of vying, you know, I haven’t seen an actor want a specific role. I have – I think what an actor wants is in general is something interesting to play and to be challenged and stretched and, you know.

And we intend to do that with all the cast and so, you know, the – a movie can be about the lowliest guy on the street or the President of the United States and if it’s – it’s not so much who’s the manager, you know, you can find something interesting.

So no one really was pressing. They just want to be engaged and challenged. You know, and that’s what we wanted to show as well. 

Did you consider other scenarios and then somehow come around to promoting Andy?

Paul Lieberstein: Well, you know, we talked about it when that ever – I think really considering it wasn’t the big question was, you know, the natural question – a lot of what you guys were asking was, you know, should we continue after Steve Carell leaves.

And the answer was only clear when we said our cast is amazing. And, you know, we don’t need anybody else. People want to watch our cast. We still want to write for our cast. And so think that although maybe, you know, batted around different views at time, we were never really considering changing the focus on the show to anyone else but our people.

Ed, a lot of the time, you play regular guys who eventually triumph and clearly Andy’s done that now. I mean he struggled so much and all of a sudden he’s finally become the manager there.

Do you see yourself as that sometimes? I mean do you see yourself as kind of a regular guy who is kind of breaking loose?

Ed Helms: You know, I think that in some respect yeah, I think I’m a pretty normal guy and – but I do work very hard. And I’ve been focused on a lot of goals over time. And – but I think that the characters that I play are just sort of a heightened version of myself.

And – but – and I, you know, I relate to Andy. I’m not sure it’s about regular guy triumphing as much as it is sort of – Andy Bernard is in a lot of ways an opportunity for me to exercise some of my own demons of insecurity and social awkwardness. So he is a heightened version of those aspects that I think I have and that most of us have to some extent.

What was it about Andy Bernard’s character that you thought this is the guy that should have had Steve Carell’s mantle?

Paul Lieberstein: Well, there are a lot of aspects to the Andy Bernard character to make him extremely suited to manager. One, I think it’s that he cares about people more than he does about the product I guess; you might say that. It’s a little simplistic. I, you know, and of course he wants the place to run successfully.

But he can take the role of father and a family because he partly insecurity, partly through genuine affection and being kind of an adorable human being, you know, talking about Andy – is one who is really caring and interested in empathetic. And he – any little problem that anybody’s having, he would feel very deeply, which makes him very suited to be a comic lead in the show. And his stories (are a generator).

Ed, given how much hype there’s been about who was going to fill those shoes whether you had any trepidation about the change or not.

Ed Helms: Well there was a long period of uncertainty. You know, Steve announced that he was not going to be coming back to the show pretty early last year. And right away the question came up well, what’s going to happen next. And there just wasn’t an answer for a long, long time and that in some ways was a blessing. I think it gave us all time to just sort of zen out about it and come to terms with whatever it might be.

I would say I was anxious. I think we were all a little bit anxious to find out. But always confident that whatever the choice was it was going to be good creatively and that the writers were going to have – would have made the decision with the future of the show in mind.

Ed, you and Steve have had a very similar career path from the Daily Show through The Office and then film career. I wondered if you had any thoughts on that and if you had a chance to talk with Steve since the announcement and get any advice from him.

Ed Helms: Yes. Steve and I have – certainly have a few sort of signposts along our careers that match up. And I really credit Steve certainly going back to the Daily Show. When Steve did 40 Year Old Virgin, that really broke the mold for all of the correspondence on the Daily Show in a really wonderful way.

And it allowed the sort of – it allowed the general public as well as the entertainment industry to suddenly see the Daily Show correspondents as something more than just these sort of snarky news reporters. And that’s just something I’ll always sort of be grateful that Steve did.

And then, you know, as far as – as far as a more general – if I take a step back, I’ve known Steve for a long, long time and I’ve always really admired Steve both creatively and personally. And he’s one of a number of actors that I’ve looked up to and sort of taken cues from as I made choices in my career. And I’m really grateful for that example that he’s set.

And he’s always just been really supportive and even going into this new season remains so. And I even got a really lovely note from Ricky Gervais the day of the premier – the day after the premier. So that means an awful lot.

But the biggest lesson that Steve has taught me is more just about work ethic and preparation and execution and professionalism. And that’s something that I’ve address with him in a number of conversations together. But also I’ve just learned through his example and I’m really grateful for it.

Did you and Brian Baumgartner – I know you guys went to the same high school – did you guys know each other much back then? And what’s it like working with him now?

Ed Helms: We did know each other in high school. He’s a year older than me. And we were – we weren’t best buddies but we certainly overlapped and we were in a few plays together and our high school chorus and stuff like that. And it’s really – it’s just been this sort of fun ridiculous reconnection. We went off in different directions and then circled back 15 years later. We even have a writer on staff that went to our high school, Halsted Sullivan.

Will Andy and Toby get along and actually have a relationship unlike Michael and Toby?

Ed Helms: That’s a great question and I was wondering the same thing. I feel like – I feel like in some respects Gabe is Andy’s Toby but I don’t know – I don’t know quite what that – we saw a little hint of that on The List episode. But Gabe certainly has been Andy’s nemesis in love with Erin. But I don’t know that Andy has any specific beef with Toby. Paul, you want to elaborate.

Paul Lieberstein: Yeah. I’m not sure he does. It’s very hard to say, you know, why Michael hated him. But I think it’s had a lot to do with the way Michel saw the world was completely emotional, not rational. So we got to find something new for Toby.

Do you find yourself fitting in your role as you thought you would or is it a little bit complicated for you?

Ed Helms: Well, you know, Andy’s really taken shape over five seasons of The Office and so I have an awful lot to build on. And what’s really exciting about this season is that the writers are focusing a little more on Andy and exposing more of his background and where he came from and that of course is sort of fun and for the audience to see – to just learn more about Andy.

But also for me as an actor it’s incredibly helpful and exciting to learn more about this character. And I feel like it’s been – so far it’s been a really nice dovetail. It’s fit quite well. And I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun doing no small part to just overwhelming support of this whole cast and the whole – our amazing crew and writing staff.

Now that Steve is gone, do you feel that there’s like a pressure to live up to what the show was with him?

Paul Lieberstein: Well, you know, I always felt a pressure to make the show as best I could. And for every table read, I get nervous and that was with Steve or without Steve. I don’t know if the pressure I feel is bigger. Certainly there are a lot of eyes on the show right now. But I think that’s it. Yes. But I put pressure on everything. So of course I feel it.

In this season, will it be more ensemble based than it has been in the past or is it going to be more of Andy and Robert California filling up the extra time from Michael?

Paul Lieberstein: Well it’s a mix. You know, we have some very ensemble based shows and some that really focus in on Andy and his relationship with Robert. But, you know, our big Robert shows are generally big Andy shows too. And there’s quite a few stories that are focused on the ensemble.

What will the documentary be about at the end? The documentary crew that has been with The Office for so long.

Paul Lieberstein: Yeah. That’s a very interesting question and I’m not going to tell you because I think that’ll be a very fun reveal. But it might not be about what you think.

Ed Helms: It’d be a bit of surprise.

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