Steve Carell Nearly Didn't Play Michael Scott on 'The Office'

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·3-min read
Steve Carell Nearly Didn't Play Michael Scott on 'The Office'
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In an alternate universe, The Office’s Michael Scott might have been played by Bob Odenkirk. Or Paul Giamatti. Or Philip Seymour Hoffman. Or Patton Oswalt. Or Adam Scott. Or Louis C.K. Any of them!

Can you imagine the World’s Best Boss in the big time thespian hands of Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman? If Adam Scott had played the character, would Michael Scott have been more of a lovable Ben Wyatt-type? In Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Ultimate Oral History of The Office, a new book by Brian Baumgartner (who played Kevin Malone) and Ben Silverman (the show’s executive producer), the authors go behind the scenes of the casting process, revealing the who’s who of comedy stars who came this close to playing Michael Scott.

When The Office started casting for its lead role, Steve Carell was a rising star who had impressed network executives with his unforgettable, tongue-twisting news report scene in Bruce Almighty. NBC was eager to audition him, but first, they tried out Rainn Wilson, who would later go on to play Dwight. Wilson auditioned for both Michael and Dwight, and failed to impress as Michael.

Photo credit: NBC - Getty Images
Photo credit: NBC - Getty Images

“He went back and looked at his tape, and he was so embarrassed and horrified at his Michael Scott because he realised he was essentially doing an imitation of Ricky Gervais,” Silverman writes.

As for Giamatti and Hoffman, it’s important to remember that the early 2000s were different—now, movie stars heading up television shows is de rigeur for Oscar-winning performers, but back then, big screen stars would never slum it on network TV. As such, Giamatti and Hoffman declined to audition, meaning that the search kept going.

“We rejected a lot of great people,” Silverman said. “I mean, Adam Scott right off the bat. Greg and I really liked Patton Oswalt for Michael Scott. He gave, of course, a fantastic reading and was a stand-up at the time. Louis C.K. wasn’t available and he had a deal at CBS.”

Ultimately, the short list came down to Odenkirk and Carell, who brought different energies to the iconic part.

“We still had Bob as somebody we were in love with as a comedic performer,” Silverman said. “But Steve, even though he’s from the Northeast, had such a Midwestern-accessible, lovable comedic energy, like the great primetime sitcom stars of the fifties and sixties. He had that thing. There was something about us that wanted to soften the character. Bob has hard edges, like he has angularity to him. He’s brilliant, but he literally has angularity.”

Casting director Allison Jones described Carell’s Michael Scott as “sweet and simple,” as opposed to Odenkirk’s more “cerebral” take. Carell emerged as the frontrunner, though he was almost talked out of taking the part by none other than Paul Rudd, his Anchorman co-star.

“I remember, before I auditioned, I was talking to Paul Rudd,” Carell said. “I’d never seen the original one and he asked what I was up to. This was right after Anchorman. I told him I was going to audition for the American version of The Office and he said, ‘Ugh, don’t do it. Bad, bad move. I mean, it’s never going to be as good.’ Like what everybody was saying.” Just think: Paul Rudd almost ruined your favourite Netflix binge.

In the end, Carell took the part, and the rest is history. Michael Scott isn’t the only part that could’ve gone to a different actor, though—Pam Beesley could have been played by Kristen Wiig, who was “terrific,” according to Jones, but didn’t get a callback.

Aren’t you glad we’re living in this timeline?

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