World’s Best Boss: Steve Carell and His Journey to Becoming Michael Scott

Steve Carell at the 82nd Academy Awards in 2010 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Steve Carell at the 82nd Academy Awards in 2010 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve ever watched NBC’s hit television show and one of Netflix’s most-streamed series, The Office, then you are no stranger to the unique, lovable, and often inappropriate character of Michael Scott. Despite being the manager of Dunder Mifflin, the fictional paper company that the show is about, Scott doesn’t behave as such throughout the series. Instead, he goes out of his way to make sure that his employees are having fun at work, often to the point where he annoys them. He always talks about how his employees are his family, and constantly finds himself in hilarious situations trying to fit in with them, like when he spread rumors about each one of his employees to take part in the office’s gossip because he felt out of the loop. One can say that he tries to be their friend more than their boss, which is true, to a certain extent. Despite his constant need for love and approval from his employees and offensive “That’s what she said” jokes, Michael Scott truly cares about his employees and has a good heart. Michael’s generosity and love towards his employees are captured throughout the series by a camera crew that follows the Dunder Mifflin employees around, which is characterized by a specific style of filming that sets The Office apart from other comedic television shows.


The Office (2005-2013) was filmed in a mockumentary style, meaning that it took the form of a serious documentary in order to create satire.1 The whole show was filmed with a single camera that the characters were aware of and often spoke to in interviews. The characters also looked at the camera directly in times of shock, irony, or hilarity, such as when Jim (a salesman in the show) gave a smirk and looked into the camera whenever he played a prank on Dwight (another salesman in the show). The Office was different than the average sitcom since it had no laugh track, and, although it was scripted, many of the characters improvised scenes.2 Throughout the series, The Office won five Emmy Awards for Outstanding Comedy Series (2006), Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series and Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series (2007), Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series (2009), and Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series (2013).3


Movie Poster for The 40-Year-Old Virgin – the movie that helped Carell rise to stardom | Courtesy of Flickr

It can be hard to imagine one of The Office‘s most-beloved characters being played by someone else other than Steve Carell, but if it weren’t for his huge success in the movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin, he might’ve never had the chance to play one of America’s most iconic and humorous television characters. When the premiere of the movie was being promoted in 2005, Carell couldn’t believe that his face was being plastered on billboards across America. Carell said that it was “a little jarring seeing it everywhere,” and he always thought ‘God, is that what I really look like? I’m an idiot.'”4 Even while rising to stardom, Carell jokingly poked fun at himself, allowing the world to see that he is a natural and talented comedian. In the movie, Carell played Andy Stitzer, a socially awkward but likable man who had given up on dating. When his coworkers at the electronic store hear about his situation, they decide to help him get a girlfriend. The movie was a huge success, becoming the number-one box office draw in August 2005 and bringing in $20.6 million during its first weekend after premiering. Entertainment Weekly writer Owen Gleiberman even commented that “Andy may be a light caricature of a clueless, repressed loser… but Carell plays him in the funniest and most surprising way possible: as a credible human being.”5 Gleiberman’s positive words opened many doors for Carell and his acting career, one of the most significant ones being his role in The Office. When Carell auditioned for Michael Scott, the producers were blown away and knew that he was the right one for the job since he was able to improvise and he made them laugh a lot. Some may say that Carell was made to play Michael Scott as he acts similarly to his character in real life.


Michael Scott merchandise being sold in an NBC store in New York | Courtesy of Flickr

With his humorous personality, light-hearted attitude, and generous spirit, it was easy for Carell to excel at Method acting, which is a technique of acting in which an actor aspires to identify emotionally with a part. One of the most important criteria of Method acting that Carell met was to advocate an expression of genuine emotions.6 Throughout The Office series, Carell captivates the audience with his emotional acting. After the employees return to the office from the last Dundie Award ceremony, they surprise Michael with a song called “9,986,000 Minutes” to thank him for all the time he’s spent working at the office and everything else he’s done for them. In this scene, Carell acts very surprised and touched with tears welling in his eyes. This is a fan-favorite part of the episode because the audience is able to feel what Michael is feeling. Carell’s talent for emotional acting is one of the biggest things that made The Office so bittersweet to watch. Not only does Carell make the audience emotional with his different expressions of emotions, he fully embodies his character and allows the audience to feel sympathy towards Michael. One of Michael’s most-recognized qualities is his desire to be liked. In one episode, Michael states, “Would I rather be feared or loved? That’s easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”7 Although Michael is always trying to make other people like him, it never really seems to work. He pushes people away by accidentally being offensive or annoying when, in reality, he just wants to have friends. There are many instances in the show where Michael gets rejected by his employees, potential love interests, etc. Michael’s expression of loneliness is something that everyone in the audience can sympathize with. Carell makes the audience root for Michael because he embodies him perfectly through his expression of emotions.


Steve and his wife, Nancy, who played Michael’s real estate agent and former girlfriend in “The Office,” at the 2010 Academy Awards | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Although Michael Scott wasn’t the most professional or sophisticated boss in The Office, he showed the world what the most important relationship in the workplace is – caring for one’s employees and feeling proud of them in everything that they accomplish. In season three of the series, Pam (the receptionist of the office and an aspiring artist) shared that her art will be shown at a local gallery and invited everyone in the office to go. The only coworker that showed up was Oscar, an accountant, with his boyfriend. They talked badly about her art without realizing that she was standing right behind them. Pam’s boyfriend, Roy, also attended the event, but he seemed very disinterested in her work. He even asked her, “It’s cool if I go, right? I mean I looked at all of them.”8 Pam appears to be very discouraged and heartbroken. She starts to remove her paintings from the walls when Michael appears and gravitates towards her painting of the building of Dunder Mifflin, where they work. He asks her how much she would charge him for it and says that they have to have it for the office. He also tells her that he is very proud of her. With tears in her eyes, Pam hugs Michael with a quiet “thank you.” The relationship between boss and worker is modeled at an abstract level while Michael models it on a personal level because he isn’t just his employees’ boss; he is also their friend and their support system in times of need. He truly loves them.9

Also, despite Michael Scott’s bad luck with finding a romantic partner in The Office, Carell’s real-life wife played Carol, Michael’s real estate agent in the show. When Carell was an improv teacher in Chicago, Nancy was one of his students, and they were both extremely shy around each other. Carell thought it was because Nancy had hated him, but it turns out that she was just as nervous as he was to talk to him. Carell said that he “beat around the bush [before asking her out] and said something stupid like, ‘Well, you know, if I were to ever ask someone out, it would be someone like you,'” and followed up with “It’s so stupid, but it was all self-protection. She was the same way: ‘If somebody like you were to ask me out, I would definitely go out with him. If there was a person like you.'”10

The rest was history, and they are still happily married today. Steve Carell’s journey of becoming Michael Scott wasn’t easy; he had to face many failed shows before achieving great success with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and using that success to help him land a role in The Office. When he left the show in season seven, views dropped drastically, which highlights the audience’s love for Carell and Michael Scott.11 Whether you love or hate The Office, there’s no denying Carell’s talent. If it weren’t for him, The Office may not be as enjoyable, memorable, and quotable as it is today.

  1. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 2013, s.v. “Carell, Steve (1962-),” by Janet Mullane.
  2. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 2013, s.v. “The Office,” by Jeff Merro.
  3. Marty Gitlin, The Greatest Sitcoms of All Time (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2014), 190.
  4. Carol Brennan, Steve Carell (Detroit: Gale, 2007), 66-67.
  5. Carol Brennan, Steve Carell (Detroit: Gale, 2007), 66-67.
  6. Nina Bandelj, “How Method Actors Create Character Roles.” Sociological Forum 18, no. 3 (2003): 340.
  7. The Office. “The Fight.” Directed by Ken Kwapis. Written by Greg Daniels. NBC, November 1, 2005.
  8. The Office. “Business School.” Directed by Josh Whedon. Written by Greg Daniels. NBC, February 15, 2017.
  9. Edward P. Lazear, Kathryn L. Shaw, Christopher T. Stanton, “The Value of Bosses,” Journal of Labor Economics 33, no. 4 (2015): 823.
  10. “Steve Carell Shares Adorable Story About Asking His Wife Out,” HuffPost, March 11, 2013. Accessed December 1, 2019. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/steve-carell-wife_n_2856124.
  11. St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 2013, s..v. “The Office,” by Jeff Merro.

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This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I grew up watching the office and loving Michael Scotts character, but I never really paid much attention to the actual actor playing him. I loved reading about how diverse he is as an actor and the love that this show got and still gets. I truly didn’t know that it won five Emmys before reading this article. I still think that what made and makes this show so funny is how great and funny the actors behind it were, really iconic in every aspect.

  2. Avatar

    I think “the Office” is a very popular series and a huge part of that is due to Steve Carell and the success hes had in playing Michael Scott. I never knew or heard of any of his work prior to “the Office” and after reading this article I can see how his work landed him the role as Michael Scott. I believe more people know him as Michael Scott rather than his actual name.

  3. Avatar

    Can I just start by saying you had me at “the world’s best boss” because that is the first things Michael says in the first episode of this series. Embarrassingly enough I have watched all nine seasons of The Office about eight times now and it never gets boring to me! It breaks my heart when he is no longer the manager but it is good seeing his return at the end for Dwight’s wedding. By the way because of this show I have named my adopted cat “Dwight”.

  4. Avatar

    I LOVE Michael Scott, The Office, I love it all! I hate to be one of those, but I’ve seen the entire series more than like 15 times. Seriously, I would love to watch the show with someone who is also obsessed. I’m tired of reciting the lines all alone. I’ve always wondered how comedians feel about dating each other. In their line of work, they must be really bold and I wonder if the other person in the relationship ever feels uncomfortable. For example, Michael kisses so many people in The Office. What immediately pops into my head is the PDA episode with him and Holly, or the Gay Witch Hunt episode with Oscar. Being a comedian seems like such a hard job to do because you have to fully immerse yourself in it 100%, but Steve Carrell makes it seem like the easiest, most fun job ever.

  5. Avatar

    i have only watched one episode of The Office and I have to admit that it was amazing. I did not know about Carell’s perfection for the role, and neither about all the features that his character had that made him so lovable by the audience. It seems to me that shows that do not depend on laugh tracks are true challenges for the industry, and their success, a true motive for pride. I wonder why such a show gained so much attention in whole America.

  6. Avatar

    First, I love “The Office” I’ve seen every episode of the series several times. I think this was a really cool article to read, I think it was really interesting to read and learn the backstory of one of my favorite TV characters. I this was a really unique article to read and I think the author did an amazing job of letting the audience learn something new and keeping it entertaining.

  7. Avatar

    It’s not surprising that The Office won five Emmy awards during its time on air. Most of those were probably due to the outstanding job that Steve Carrell playing Michael Scott. I never realized that The Forty Year Old Virgin played such a large part in Steve Carrell getting the role. I couldn’t imagine anyone other than him being ‘Michael Scott’.

  8. Avatar

    Cristianna does a great job describing what so many of us love about The Office. I started streaming the show about two years ago. While I appreciate the humor of the show, I had not stopped to think about the types of acting that is described in the article. I was not familiar with the terms of method or emotional acting. I see how the scripts were enhanced by the talented actors particularly Steve Carrel in his role of Michael Scott. I agree the quality of the show changed after Carrel left; but I still enjoyed watching the series. I would have been open to at least one more season.

  9. Avatar

    As a huge fan of The Office myself, I can surely say that all the characters seemed to fit together, and that they were all encapsulated by Steve Carell as the regional manager in the series. I think sometimes we forget that actors often need a big break in order to get more opportunities and luckily Carell got his before being cast for The Office. Based on how many people that have seen the series and experienced the laughs, who knows how different society would be if certain shows aired with different actors/actresses.

  10. Avatar

    I think “the Office” is one of the best series I’ve ever seen and especially when you mention “that’s what she said”, I could actually hear his voice. Although I know the story of the office, I didn’t know his background story which was the movie that allowed him to act in “the office”. I’ll probably go watch the ” 40 year old virgin” cause of this!

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