Phyllis Smith stars alongside Cameron Diaz in the hilarious comedy Bad Teacher, in stores October 18th
Coming to Blu-ray and DVD October 18th is director Jake Kasdan's hilarious summer comedy Bad Teacher, which stars Cameron Diaz as Elizabeth, a drunk and disorderly educator hoping to land the sugar daddy of her dreams. Appearing alongside Cameron Diaz is The Office's lovely Phyllis Smith, who plays an earnest, kindhearted fellow high school instructor that gets seduced by the wicked ways of the Bad Teacher.
We recently caught up with Phyllis to chat about her role in the movie, the fact that she has not yet seen the unrated director's cut, and her continuing role on Season 8 of The Office. She also let us in on her road to stardom as a comedic actress. Check out our conversation below.
When Bad Teacher hit theatrically, a lot of people felt Cameron Diaz's character didn't quite redeem herself by the end of the movie. They felt she was still an unlikable person that doesn't really change her bad ways. What is your take on that?
Phyllis Smith: I never saw her as unlikable. I saw her as pushing the bar. I think she kind of redeemed herself. It wasn't as overt as some people wished it could be. She did make some amends. Maybe she didn't do it in a conventional way. But she did make some attempt at being nicer to people. Like, when she gave her bra to that kid on the field trip. I think her character was having a show of caring about other people's feelings. It wasn't all about Elizabeth.
I thought the resolution was, maybe, a little more realistic than what we usually see in a comedy of this nature. I got the sense that's why people had a problem with the end of the movie...
Phyllis Smith: Yeah. They wanted it to have a more fairytale like ending, I believe. That would have been too much of a change for this particular character. To go all the way from one end of the spectrum to the other. She had to hit that somewhere in-between.
Have you seen the newly extended cut that is on Blu-ray?
Phyllis Smith: No. I haven't seen anything on there. I'm excited to see that. What's on it?
I'm not sure, yet. I only saw the theatrical version. I haven't sat down to watch this new extended cut yet. Do you know if there are any new scenes featuring your character?
Phyllis Smith: About half of my scenes made it into the movie. I had about fourteen scenes. Seven or eight of those made it into the final cut. Hopefully the stuff they cut out will make it into the uncensored version. Or at least onto the deleted scenes section of the DVD. There was one scene that I didn't have much verbally to do with. It was between Lucy Punch's character and Cameron Diaz. Elizabeth comes in completely drunk from the night before, and Ms. Squirrel is trying to give her some advice. Elizabeth literally threw up all over her. It sounds disgusting, but it was quite funny. I hope that makes it into the deleted scenes. They put a lot of work into that scene, and poor Lucy had to be regurgitated on about fifty times. Maybe we'll get to see that. It is quite funny. There is another one with Elizabeth and I. She is trying to sell my Grandmother's jewelry, so that se can get some money from me. Those should both be in the deleted scenes.
There are quite a few deleted scenes on the disc, so I am sure we'll see some of that. I'm betting there's more of you. I hope, because you are so hilarious in this movie...
Phyllis Smith: Thank you. It was a hoot to make. I can't tell you how much I loved having this opportunity to work with this cast. Our director, Jake Kasdan, was unbelievable. The writers were always on the set. The way we worked, was, we would put the scene down as scripted. Then they would start throwing lines at us from behind the monitors, where they were watching us on playback. They would literally throw lines at us, and Cameron Diaz and I would look at each other and go, "Okay!" The whole process of this was so much fun to me.
Jake Kasdan is such an interesting director to me, because he hasn't made the same type of movie twice. He jumps comedy genres, and his films thus far all have a seemingly different tone, yet they keep his personal stamp on them...
Phyllis Smith: He has his vision. He is quite open. I met with him after I auditioned for him. Cameron Diaz and I sat down with him, and we read our scenes together. If we had questions, he would walk us through the process. He would give us his vision for it. But on the day, he was open to anything we wanted to do with it. He'd let us ad lib, or give us a fun run. He is just a great director. He has a new show on TV right now. I haven't seen it. The Zooey Deschanel one.
New Girl. I've been enjoying that...
Phyllis Smith: I didn't know he was doing it. I had an interview, and someone asked, "Who is your favorite comedian?" I said, "Zooey Deschanel." Unknowing that he had hired her for his show. I swear. I didn't even know he had a show at that point. It is kind of weird. Jake, he did Freaks and Geeks. He has, like you said, jumped around in genres. He approaches it in a real kind of way.
Zero Effect is so good, yet it is so different from Dewey Cox, and then again, here, Bad Teacher is a complete 360 from both of those movies. They are all comedies. But they are all very different types of comedies.
Phyllis Smith: Oh, yeah. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story? That is a completely different kind of comedy from what we are doing here. (Laughs) He knows what he is doing, I guess. When you have someone that knows what they are doing, and they do it in a nice, normal, uncrazy way, it makes the process easy and fun. We had females that were bringing the funny. In the past, it has been men that are generally carrying the comedies. With Bad Teacher, and Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, and I, we had three females that were caring the movie. Jason Segel and Justin Timberlake were funny, too. But they were the straights, almost. Do you agree or disagree with that?
I totally agree with that. I saw Bridesmaids this summer, and I saw this, and what Hollywood has a hard time understanding is that guys want to see funny women on screen. It's not something we all shy away from...
Phyllis Smith: I like the sound of that. (Laughs)
It's the genre or the story that's not appealing to men as a whole. Not the ladies. If we like the story, we definitely want to see funny women. There are some great comediennes right now that will knock any guy off the screen...
Phyllis Smith: I haven't seen Bridesmaids, yet. I do plan to download it or get it on DVD. I said to someone recently, "I know what everyone is getting for Christmas! They are getting the Bad Teacher DVD.
Does that come up on the set of The Office? Do you let Ellie Kemper know that you haven't seen her movie? Does she tell you that she's seen Bad Teacher? Was there a rivalry between the two films?
Phyllis Smith: What happened with Bad Teacher is that it came out while we were on hiatus. It opened in New York. We generally go to the different premieres and projects of each other's when we are working. We get invited, and we go support each other. But with Bad Teacher, it did come out while we were on hiatus from The Office. Then, it took place in New York. My buddy Leslie David Baker, who plays Stanley...He climbed on a plane and was with my for the New York premiere of Bad Teacher. As far as Ellie Kemper is concerned, I think she did see Bad Teacher. I haven't told her that I haven't seen Bridesmaids yet. I will see it. I loved Oscar Nuñez in The Proposal. He is so funny in that. He has another movie coming up in a couple of weeks. We've all been invited to his premiere. Oscar is always interesting to watch. That's for sure.
I'm not too familiar with your own background. I know you started out as a dancer and a cheerleader. Then you worked in a casting office. How did acting enter your line of sight? Was that something you'd always wanted to do? Or did that come out of your casting jobs?
Phyllis Smith: Oddly enough, not. When I was young, I always wanted to be a dancer. When I got too old to compete with the 18 year olds, and I had to have knee surgery...Now they have the surgery where you can get back on the skis, or whatever, but when I had my knee injury, it ended my career. As it turns out, through a number of jobs trying to keep my head above water and pay the bills, I wound up in casting. I was trying, when I first came out to Los Angeles, not only to be a dancer, but to also get into commercials. I had taken a commercial class here or there. A friend of mine worked in the casting office of one of the court shows. He said, "Phyllis, they are looking for a mousey woman, and she works for the superior court." I said, "Oh, man. I only have an hour lunch. It's in Hollywood, I work in the valley." He says, "Just get in the car and go." In the process of going to that audition, because it was a huge corporate office that I worked in, I ripped a big hole in my nylons. I wore nylons back then. It wasn't something I could hide. My entire knee was out. So I walked into that audition, and I lifted my dress. I said, "Excuse me, are you looking for mousey? Or are you looking for tacky?" I showed them that huge hole. I didn't get the job. But a year later, through the course of that conversation we had, I said, "I might be good at casting." I had a hunch. A year later, she had an opening in her office to start in casting. Then, I did that for 19 years, working for various really good casting directors. When we got to working on The Office, we were in the second day of the screen tests for the five leads. For Jim, Pam, Dwight, Bryan, and Steve Carell's character...What is his name? How soon you forget, right? (Laughs) So, it was the second day of testing. I was trying to get the session going. The director says, "Phyllis, I want you to read the character of Pam today." I thought it was odd, but I said, "Eh, okay." We were at that point where we were pairing the males and females up to see if they had any chemistry together, and to see how they looked together. Blah, blah, blah...I though it was odd. I thought maybe one of the girls was late, maybe she had gotten stuck in traffic. But it turned out he was auditioning me. I didn't know it. No one ever approached me about that. No one ever said, "Hey, would you like to be in this TV show?" It was about a week later that the wardrobe called me. They said, "We understand that you are playing the character Phyllis." I said, "Yes I am." That's how Phyllis wound up on set. It doesn't normally happen that way. I remember my casting cam-padres, when they found out I was in a show, all said, "Really?" Because the odds of this were few and far between. Oddly enough, 19 years prior to this, I had done an industrial in Saint Louise, and I had gotten my SAG card. I paid my SAG dues for 19 years. I really thought that ship had sailed. Of all the projects that I worked on, I was always happiest in casting. I was never sitting there, going, under my breath, "Oh, I wonder if there is a role for me." I always thought this part of my life had dissipated. The ship did sail, but it came back and picked me up. Now I have a new career in my latter years.
It's taking off, too. Aren't you in the new movie, Butter?
Phyllis Smith: Yes, with Jennifer Garner. I am in that. I haven't seen anything of that. I really don't know how it is. I am starting to hear good things about it. I will be interested to see it. The little girl in it is just incredible. She is only ten years old.
We're actually starting to hear some Oscar buzz for that movie. We just received a clip from Butter, and it looks really funny.
Phyllis Smith: It was a great movie to work on.
Before you go, I have to ask. How have you been handling the changes on the set of the office, with James Spader coming in, and Andy taking over for Michael Scott?
Phyllis Smith: It's been great. It's different. James Spader brings a different kind of energy to the set. He is lovely. Really nice. The process is different than it was with Steve Carell, I believe. His approach to things is different. He is really interesting to work with. I am enjoying watching his character develop and grow. Getting to watch the writers decide which direction all of the characters will go. They have a real challenge ahead of them.
Can you give us a hint as to where your character is headed this season?
Phyllis Smith: So far, she hasn't had to do much. She isn't going too far. She is still at her desk. I'm looking for my first big scene with James Spader, one-on-one. I am hoping and wanting that to happen. Because I'd love to have that opportunity. I have been a fan of his for so many years. I just think he is interesting. I like to watch him. Hopefully, somewhere along the line, I will be hooked up with him. Who knows? Maybe we will make Bob Vance a little jealous.
I like what is happening with Ed Helms' character, Andy, in the bosses seat. He seems to be pulling you all together, rather than pushing you all apart.
Phyllis Smith: That is always interesting, too. Each of us had a different relationship with Andy, when he was at a clump, at the desks, with Stanley and I. We had a different dynamic going on. We are still, now, just trying to figure out these characters, with Andy being the manager. You don't talk to your manager the same way you talk to your desk clump person. I think we are still feeling that out. So are the writers. We will figure it all out.
Desk clump. Is that what you guys call it? I've never heard that term before.
Phyllis Smith: We have a clump there. A trio, or triangle, three...It's a clump.
That sounds like a growth on a tree...
Phyllis Smith: It is kind of a growth. Yeah. Its funny. We take ownership of that little space. That becomes our little chair. Oddly, in real life, we go, "Um, would you mind...Getting out of that chair..." Because every chair has its own feel to it. I have become very territorial about my space there. But, we are having a good time. We have our table reads midweek, Wednesdays or Thursdays. That's when we read the next script. That is when we find out what the writers have in mind. Not only for the show, but also for our characters. Its at the table that you find out you are having an affair with someone, or that you are getting married. Whatever the situation is. We'll see how it goes. We'll see how it envelops, here. We are only in the middle of out tenth episode. And we are doing twenty-two this year. I feel like we have just started. But hopefully we can pull another couple of seasons out of the bag. You know?