Melora Hardin, <EM>The Office</EM> Melora Hardin, The Office

Sure, the second-season finale of NBC's The Office (Thursdays at 8:30 pm/ET) gave us the Pam-Jim kiss and an "I love you," but just as significant on the romantic front, boss-man Michael (Steve Carell) found himself sandwiched between two women: his own supervisor, Jan, and real-estate agent Carol. Since poor Jan wound up the odd woman out, tried to console her portrayer, Melora Hardin, with a festive Q&A. As you approach this role as an actress, in your mind, why does Jan put up with Michael? I mean, why doesnt she just fire this guy already?
Melora Hardin: Right, exactly! [Laughs] I think that Jan is a pretty complex character in the sense that she has all these defense mechanisms that she has put up; she is very corporate, and she's really learned how to survive in a man's world, so she's got this very tough exterior. But inside, I describe her as having a "soft caramel center." [Laughs] Ultimately, I think that Michael is one of the very few people in her life who sees all those walls and doesnt get scared and intimated and backs off. Instead, he comes barreling in like a bull in a china shop. And there's something for Jan thats compelling about that. Who doesnt want to be wanted? Even though he's inappropriate and rude and obnoxious and not at all at her level and not right for her in any way, there's something [there] thats kind of unbearably, chemically attractive to her. She gives him a lot of slack because of that, even though she seems like she's not giving him a lot of slack. I think she sees herself in him a little bit.
Hardin: Yeah, I think there is some kind of kindred spirit there waaay deep down. [Laughs] Jan is a very flawed character, as are all the characters on The Office. Thats why they're so appealing, because people can really see themselves in each character in different ways. You get to see that Jan carries this perfect executive facade around with her, but she's really not perfect. You get glimmers of that woundedness. Since Steve Carell's real-life wife (Nancy Walls) plays Carol, do you ever feel like the deck is stacked against Jan?
Hardin: No, I don't. [Laughs] I think Jan is really not at all pleased that he chose Carol over her, but Jan is a valuable character because she drives the machine of The Office in a different way than any other character does. She's a necessary piece of that puzzle. If you were in the corporate world and not acting, would you be a boss, like Jan?
Hardin: Yeah, probably.... I've always been the boss. When I was a little kid, I used to put on shows in my neighborhood, and I would boss the kids around. I even tried once to get the boys to wear tights because I was playing ballerina. That didnt work out very well. I was going to say, you may be responsible for thousands of dollars' worth of therapy bills.
Hardin: [Laughs] I did get them to lift me, though! I spoke to John Krasinski about this and he, too, noticed that weird moment in the last season finale between Jim and Jan. Did you sense it also?
Hardin: Yeah, I did. We had lots of people saying to us, "Oh, my god, are Jim and Jan going to hook up? What's happening?!" It would have been a neat twist, and really thrown everybody for a loop.
Hardin: Absolutely. I havent ever talked to Greg Daniels, our creator, about whether that was an intentional thing, or whether that was something that John and I just brought to it. I'm not really sure. It could have just been because you were looking all edgy, in a leather coat, dragging hard on a cigarette....
Hardin: Yeah, and Jim was kind of looking at me like, "Oh my god, what am I doing...." John and I like each other a lot, so probably some of the warmth came through. Sometimes that exudes on the screen. How much of you do we see in the next two episodes, "Grief Counseling" (in which Michael's predecessor kicks the bucket), and "The Initiation" (Dwight takes B.J. out on a sales call)?
Hardin: Let's see.... I definitely am in "Grief Counseling" to let Michael know what's happened, and he takes it very hard. So first I relay the news to him, and then I check in on him. And "The Initiation," thats a funny episode.... In that one, I am micromanaging Michael's life kind of out of the jealousy and hurt of him choosing Carol over Jan. I can't believe Jan is so hurt!
Hardin: I know! But she doesn't seem hurt. You wouldnt know that unless I said that. She's all no-nonsense, business as usual as she tells him, "Now you have to give me an hourly log of everything you're doing. You're not going to mess around anymore." She wants a minute-by-minute scroll-down of his day. Oh, my goodness. Now, those are some interesting pics of you at
Hardin: Oh, thank you very much! Thats for my music I'm a singer-songwriter and my music is very much like those pictures.... Retro?
Hardin: Yeah, retro, all original stuff I've written with a little Doris Day/Julie London kind of vibe. It's cheeky and fun and romantic. I didnt know this interesting bit of trivia: You were the original girlfriend in Back to the Future?
Hardin: Yes, I was, I was.... But I was too tall to play opposite Michael J. Fox [after Eric Stoltz was replaced as the lead]. Thats OK.  She got replaced in the sequel anyway.
Hardin: Yeah, with Elisabeth Shue. But when I did it, it was a two-picture deal, so.... Who on the set of The Office makes you laugh the most?
Kate Flannery, who plays Meredith, is really funny. I love how she plays Meredith as so disgusted all the time with herself and with life.... It's hilarious, the faces she makes bowl me over. But I would have to say that the person who makes me laugh the most is Steve [Carell]. I'm a pretty intense straight man and sometimes I just can't hold it together. There are some good bloopers on the Season 2 DVD. Having seen you and Jenna Fischer and the other ladies glammed up for the Emmys and such, I wonder: Do you ever lobby for an episode where your characters can get dolled up as well?
Hardin: I think "Casino Night" was pretty much the dolled-up version of Scranton. [Laughs] I dont think that would be appropriate for the show. It's important, as the show gets more and more successful, that we all remain just a little bit wrong. In the first season, I wore my hair stick straight, and then we decided to do this little bit of a bad curl, where its just a little too curled. Otherwise we turn into Desperate Housewives, and that is so not our gig. We're trying to make this mockumentary, so it needs to feel real. Speaking of that documentary being shot at Dunder-Mifflin... when it airs on PBS or wherever, just how long is it going to be?!
Hardin: [Laughs] I'll keep my fingers crossed that it's a five-to seven-year-long documentary!

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