One of the most underrated interactions that Jim and Pam shared on The Office took place over the phone.
The two characters had dozens of meaningful in-person conversations during the first two seasons of the show, but once Jim transferred to the Stamford office, he and Pam temporarily fell out of touch. In Season 3, Episode 5, however, they connect again over the phone after Pam answers an after-hours call at Dunder Mifflin that Jim assumed would go to voicemail.
On the latest episode of the , Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey reminisced with former co-stars B.J. Novak and Rainn Wilson about the emotional phone call and what it was like to film the “Initiation” episode. And boy, did they have a lot to say.
To briefly recap, “Initiation,” was a huge episode for characters and fans alike. Pam was given the incredibly painful task of logging everything Michael did during the workday, the Stamford office fought over a squeaky chair, Dwight brought Ryan on his first sales call after a pit stop to Schrute Farms, and, oh yeah, did we mention it was also Pretzel Day?
The episode was jam-packed with hilarious scenes, but it ended on a somewhat serious note with an unexpected phone call between Jim and Pam. The call was shown on-screen for more than three minutes, and a lot of work went into making it happen.
“You and John — this scene wrecked me,” Kinsey told Fischer. “Your expression on your face when you realize it’s his voice, and the same with John. It’s so beautiful. Your conversation is so organic and earnest and, oh my god, it gave me all the feels.”
“It was mostly scripted, but there was also a lot of improvisation,” Fischer said. She went on to explain that the phone call scene was the first time she had done a scene with John in months. Though it was only the fifth episode of Season 3, the actors were also coming off of a long summer break, so she and Krasinski hadn’t filmed together since Season 2.
“When I was watching this scene, oh my gosh. All of this sense memory came back to me and I remember what it was like to shoot this. We spent hours shooting this scene,” Fischer said. She also explained that though real phone conversations rarely happened on the show, she was actually talking on the phone to Krasinski for this call.
“Randall Einhorn [director of the episode] requested that we be able to hear one another. But not just that, he wanted to shoot both sides of the conversation at the same time,” Fischer said. The task, which Einhorn now realizes was “a very bold, complicated request,” proved to be quite the challenge, because the Stamford set was in one building, the Scranton set was in another, and between them was a huge parking lot.
The NBC Universal IT squad actually had to come out to hook up the phone lines, set up “Video Village” (the tent with all the monitors) in the parking lot, and make sure that cables could run from each of the two sets to the tent. They also had to record audio on three different lines. There was a boom operator for both Jim and Pam, but the conversation on the phone line was recorded as well.
“It made all the difference for John and I to hear one another and to be able to really talk,” Fischer said.
After Wilson and Novak reminisced about the scenes that Dwight and Ryan shared at Schrute Farms, they went back to the phone call.
“Really, the heart and soul of this episode is Pam being told by Jan to spy on Michael, and then the exquisitely beautiful scene with Pam and Jim at the end. That is by far the longest scene,” Wilson said. “I mean it must have been a five-page scene and had so much heart in it and subtlety.”
Novak, who wrote the episode, went on to explain how the phone call came to be in the writer’s room. “That card was on the board for a long time — Jim and Pam’s phone call,” Novak said before sharing that he had wanted the scene to play out a bit differently. “[The phone call] was going to take the whole episode. I fought so hard. I wanted to keep coming back to it [so] they’re on the phone the whole episode.”
“In the DVD commentary, B.J., you mention that in your mind this conversation went on for like three hours,” Kinsey said. “Yeah, that sounds right. I wanted it to be threaded through the episode, and then I even wonder if I wanted it to be a whole episode at one point — their phone call,” Novak replied.
“But yeah, I remember that phone call and I remember writing the line… the one line I remember that I’m proud of is, ‘What time zone are you in? Same time zone. Oh, it felt far.'” Novak said. “Beautiful line,” Wilson replied.
“In watching this episode I was like, ‘Oh this is why this show has stood the test of time,'” Wilson said. “You have scenes that are outrageously over-the-top, and then all of a sudden it’s two people in love that hardly know they’re in love, having an almost unedited five-minute conversation… it’s almost like it’s in real-time. You have this moment of real heart underneath it that grounds that whole experience.”
Be sure to listen to the full recap of “Initiation” to learn more about Mose, improv on the show, working for Greg Daniels, and, of course, Pretzel Day.