Jenna Fischer absolutely loves her new movie, “The Giant Mechanical Man.”
“It’s a very charming, very sweet, uplifting love story,” the actress, best known as Pam Beesly on “The Office,” told me during a recent interview. “If you’re looking to be depressed, you should watch something else. If you’re looking to be cynical, you should watch something else. I think it’s a very hopeful film, and I have to say, I think that those are rare these days.”
The film, which premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival and is now available for home viewing on XFINITY On Demand, is the story of a woman named Janice (Fischer), who is trying to find her place in the world, and the paint-covered street performer (Chris Messina, “Damages“) who just might show her the way there.
That’s simplifying it, of course. Malin Akerman (“Watchmen“) and Rich Sommer (“Mad Men”) play Janice’s sister and brother-in-law, whom she begrudgingly moves in with, while Topher Grace (“That ’70s Show”) plays the eccentric self-help guru Doug Duncan, whom the couple attempts to set her up with. Fischer, who earned her first producing credit for the film (and absolutely loves it), told me how first-time director Lee Kirk sold her his idea for “The Giant Mechanical Man.”
“He said, ‘I’ve always been very intrigued by those people who paint themselves silver and work as kind of a living statue, and I’ve always wanted to get inside their head and find out what makes them do that,’” she recalled. “And I thought that was such an interesting thing to be interested in. And I said, ‘Well, you know, I’d love to know what kind of woman falls in love with that man. What is that like? How do you go home to your parents and explain what your boyfriend does? That’s interesting to me. Let’s make that movie!’”
And they did. And she absolutely loves it. And, as fate would have it, she loves him too. Amid the arduous process of independent filmmaking, Fischer and Kirk (pictured below) got much more than the quirky girl-meets-robot story they set out to make.
“I was working with Lee and I was developing feelings for him, [but] I kept them a secret because I didn’t wanna be unprofessional,” Fischer said. “But, soon, I could tell that those feelings were reciprocated because we were doing things like – this is the big one that I always remember – there was a movie out, and Lee and I were on the phone and I said, ‘You know, we should maybe go see that film as research.’ And he said, ‘I think that’s a great idea. Maybe afterwards we should get some dinner and talk about it.’ And we went on a total date. It was a date. We went to dinner and the movies, but all under the guise of work.”
She continued, “And that turned into more dinner and movies, and more dinners, and then just drinks, and then, ‘Why don’t I come to your place and we’ll talk about it?’ All that happened over several months and then it became clear that we were falling for one another.”
Jenna and Lee married in July 2010, which surely came as a relief to the actress, who worried that any drama in their personal life might mar a project that means so much to her. Because she absolutely loves this film – right down to its most subtle moments.
For instance, “[When] you see Topher for the first time, there’s a way that Topher brushes his hair back from his forehead, and he does it over and over again in the film and I love that little choice in his performance.”
And then, “There’s a scene where Malin Akerman and Rich Sommer give me the book that Topher’s character has written and I love the turn she makes from being so excited to being so ****ed at me when I’m not excited about the book.”
Also, “There’s a moment when my character comes home from the zoo and she’s forgotten she has to go on a date with Doug Duncan. So she walks in the front door and in the living room are Doug Duncan and her brother-in-law, and Doug Duncan looks at her and goes, ‘Hey, are you ready to go?’ … Doug Duncan is sitting on the coffee table and he’s facing my brother-in-law, who’s sitting on the couch. Can you imagine if you had someone over to your house and one guy was sitting on the coffee table facing a guy who’s sitting on the couch?”
And then there’s the scene “when Pauline [Lucy Punch] tells Tim, the Mechanical Man, she’s breaking up with him. Her brother, played by Bob Odenkirk, is in the background. Watch the film once, but then watch it a second time and just watch everything Bob Odenkirk is doing in the background. It’s hilarious.”
Yes, Jenna Fischer absolutely loves “The Giant Mechanical Man.” But she’s not the only one. Early reviews shed a positive light on the film as well and praise its wistfulness and imagination, as well as Kirk’s thoughtful direction.
For her part in the film, Fischer brings the same honesty and vulnerability to the role of Janice that she’s brought to the Pam Beesly character for the last 7 years. And it’s no coincidence. Jenna says there are elements of her life and personality written into both characters, including Janice’s feelings of solitude and uselessness and early Pam’s overtly reserved demeanor.
“Before I went to high school, I was very, very shy. Painfully shy,” Fischer revealed. “And then I went to an all-girls school for high school and it really brought me out of my shell and I completely changed. And when I went to college, I was one of the kids who sat in the front and raised my hand a lot. I was excited to be in school, I was excited to participate. I liked to be the leader in the group. But I didn’t start out that way.”
“I think we all kind of carry around – that middle school version of ourselves,” she continued. “That lives inside me even today. Even now, even though I speak up and even though I’m fairly ambitious and all of those things, my first response to a situation is that little middle school girl feeling of doubt and fear. I’ve just trained myself into acting differently. And I enjoy playing those characters who haven’t quite made that leap yet.”
And we absolutely love that she does.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.