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.
  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

    Although I have only seen a couple of episodes of this series, I can surely understand why fans alike can respect the humor that flows from Steve Carell as whatever character he pleases! The author truly excels in paying tribute to Steve as the boss in The Office, mostly by acknowledging the rise of Steve’s career, along with the accolades earned from said show (Netflix’s most-streamed series). Along with acknowledging the dynamic that is Steve on his own, the author also beautifully describes the comical aura of Michael Scott not only through his role as a boss but also through the lens of romanticism (this is mentioned, due to the fact that the issue of Michael finding a permanent partner is a hassle).

  2. Avatar

    I really enjoy The Office and to learn a bit more of the show behind the scenes is really insightful and I didn’t know that it was filmed on one camera. Steve Carell is definitely an iconic character and it was also surprising to know that when he left the number of viewers dropped. Steve Carrell definitely made many great friendships in the show and their chemistry definitely shows really loved this article.

  3. Avatar

    I have watched “The Office” so many times, actually, I watch it every single night, and Michael Scott is my favorite character from the show. Just like you mentioned in the article, once Michael left the show, I was uninterested on the show. I am glad I stayed because the ending was beautiful. In order for the creators of the show to bring Michael back for the last episode was genius. Before I read your article, I believed that Steve Carell was part of creating the episode in general, as you stated in your article, many of us thought that the character, Michael, was created specifically for Carell just because he was wonderful in that show as that character. Even the thought of somebody else playing Michael Scott makes me uncomfortable. I liked reading more about Steve Carells journey to becoming Michael Scott.

  4. Avatar

    I have only watched a couple of episodes of The Office, so I’m not very familiarized with the history of this show, but definitely Steve Carell comes to my mind when I hear someone talking about The Office. I am a fan of this actor, I really like his way of acting, his sense of humor and emotions make me enjoy his performances. I also agree with the another of this article in the fact that when Steve Carell is acting, the audience can clearly see that he is a natural comedian.

  5. Jose Chaman

    Although I just started my journey watching The Office, I can really emphasize the genius of Steve Carell as an actor. Each chapter is palpable evidence of how Carell completely immerses himself in the character of Michael Scott. Thanks to this article I was able to discover Carell’s entire cinematographic trajectory and, little by little, he mastered his skills as an actor. A world without an actor like him is really unthinkable.

  6. Avatar

    I love watching “The Office” all the time. I would rewatch the classic episodes and laugh at the funny moments. I remember watching the film “40 Year OldVirgin” and didn’t know that it helped open doors for Steve. There was so much that I did not know about Carell such as how he met his wife. He is a great actor and this article showed the greatness in him.

  7. Avatar

    I have only watched the office only once to fall in love with it. It took a unique approach in filming the series, which at the time was uncommon but managed to be hilarious as its predecessors were. The series lead actor Steve Carell plays an iconic role in which we see him play a boss trying to be liked and fit in among his fellow employees, which we rarely see in our daily life. Carell is one of the most talented actors in the industry and never fails in managing to put a smile on everyone’s face.

  8. Avatar

    I haven only watched a few episodes of The Office but I definitely connect Steve Carell’s face to the office. This article was very interesting and I was not aware that he left during season 7! I know that many people are die-hard fans of the show and now I understand a bit more why. I thought that the show was just pure jokes but I am glad that you mentioned that is deeper than just jokes and that the characters show and embrace many emotions.

  9. Avatar

    I absolutely love “The Office,” and Steve Carell’s character Michael Scott! I was unaware the Carell uses method acting as a way to get into his character. Method acting its self is very difficult and has been used by various other actors to achieve memorable characters. Actors such as Robert Di Nero and Heath Ledger have also used method acting. Because Carell’s character is so ridiculously funny it is quite interesting to see method acting used in a comical fashion.

  10. Avatar

    As someone who has watched The Office several times, I found this article to be very true in explaining who Michael Scott is as “The World’s Best Boss.” I was able to reimagine how kindhearted Scott was to his employees, as seen in the interaction between him and Pam at the end of the article. It was also well evaluated that Scott was not just the dumb office manager trying to be buddy with his employees but an office manager who wanted to make sure that those who worked with him were taken care of. Ultimately Steve Carell was able to bring life to the Michael Scott character through his goofy, satirical personality and adaptability as an actor.

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