One on One with Angela Kinsey
Angela Martin can be a bit uptight. She is the sort of judgmental buzzkill that we’ve all had to deal with in our workplace. But Angela Kinsey, who plays Martin on The Office, couldn’t be more different from her character. Upbeat and bubbly, this Texan was more than happy to sit down and chat with us.
Where are you originally from and what was your childhood like? Where do you live currently?
I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana and then when I was two we moved to Jakarta, Indonesia and I lived there until I was 14. My dad was a drilling engineer. We came back in the summers – my folks were from Texas. So when we moved back stateside, we moved to north Texas – a really small town, it’s called Archer City.
When I mean small, I mean there’s a four-way stop and a flashing light. There’s 1,600 people. I think my graduating class was like 34. We do have a claim to fame though, for such a small town. Larry McMurtry is from my hometown. It’s actually a cool town, I really enjoy it. Whenever I go home, it’s such a nice change of pace. Now, I live in West Hollywood.
What was it like spending your formative years in Indonesia?
I didn’t know any different. I sort of thought everyone grew up in Indonesia because I was two years old. One time there was a noise on our roof – I guess in the states, you would be like, “Oh, there’s a squirrel on the roof.” In Indonesia, we had two mongoose trapped up in the vent of our roof. Now, when I think back on it, yeah, kids in the states aren’t worried about the mongoose on the roof.
I speak the language. I so love it when I hear it. I was in Bloomingdale’s one time and there was this couple, this woman wanted a pair of shoes and she was worried if they were too expensive. They were speaking Indonesian and I understood the whole thing. I couldn’t help myself. I had to go up to them and in Indonesian, I said, “I like them.” I don’t get to do that very often.
It was a very interesting childhood. I didn’t have television. And we would go to the states in the summer to visit relatives and I would be a zombie in front of the TV. I mean, you had to physically pull me away from it. I actually read a lot more and I was always writing little skits and plays for my neighborhood friends and casting them and making them act them out. It’s probably kind of a cool thing considering the business I went into.
How exactly did you get into acting, and when did you decide this is what you wanted to do for a living?
My mom tells the story that when I was four years old, she was asking my sisters and I what we wanted to be when we grew up and I said I wanted to be Carol Burnett. My sister was like, “Truck driver.”
A couple years later, it was Halloween and I wanted to be Roseanne Rosanna Danna and my mom was like, “Who is that?” But I’d come back to the states in the summer and watched all of these Saturday Night Live episodes. So I bought this black wig that had this frizzy hair, and I had a little suit and I was Rosanna Danna – and no one knew who I was.
So there were signs early on that this was definitely for me and I have done theater my whole life, all through elementary and junior high and high school. After college, I got an internship on the Conan O’Brien show, it was part of this post graduate program I was going to do, and that just really sealed the deal for me.
I was taking acting classes in New York, then I moved to LA and comedy was always my thing. So I got involved in a couple of really well known comedy schools out here – The Groundlings, which, of course, a lot of people on Saturday Night Live have gone through, it’s just a great program for sketch and writing and sort of learning the characters that you can do. And also, Improv Olympic, because I’ve always done improv and really enjoyed it.
How tough is it to break into the business? How many auditions did you go to before you landed a role, and was there ever a point where you thought – I may have to do something else with my life?
I definitely put the years in. That’s one of the cool things about the cast of The Office – almost every single person has been doing this for years. Steve Carell sets the bar for us because he’s worked on so many shows and he says what we have is so rare. I think we all have such a deep appreciation for it. Rainn Wilson has been a working actor for a long time and Jenna Fisher was working as a secretary in corporate America just a couple of years ago. I was answering phones at 1-800-DENTIST. We were all trying to audition.
When I first got out here, I booked commercials very quickly, so I think that helped me stick it out. And I was doing a show at Improv Olympic, a one woman show that I had written with a bunch of characters that I do and a manager had come to the show to see a friend of mine who was in the show before me and she ended up signing me. I had booked a lot of commercials and was able to put together a reel of some of the funnier spots I had done and I just started auditioning one tiny job at a time. You would book a job and be like, “Oh, this is great, I’m set,” and then you wouldn’t book a job for months. It’s a very humbling experience.
I certainly read in magazines and stuff where these people get discovered who have been out here six months and they get on a show and the show goes, but I really think that’s rare.
You were the voice of a character named Angela on a few King of the Hill episodes. How did that come about and what was it like working on an animated show like that?
I knew one of the writers on that show sort of randomly. I’m from a small town in Texas and I would always tell him different things that happen there and he’d be jotting down notes. I told him about this father and son rifle competition that they were having in my hometown and he thought that was great and he was like, “That would be a great episode.” That’s all I told him, the whole rest of the episode was his idea.
They always had little small parts within the episode and he was like, “You should come in, there’s a part for a cashier at the Megalomart and there’s a part of like a school teacher.” I learned that they really like people with subtle accents. When you start reading the dialogue that’s written for a Texan, you can’t help but have your accent come out. They liked it and I got the part and I was able to do it just a few times. I had a lot of fun, I did a couple voices and I got in their loop group, the background voices and I was able to do that for a couple of years. It’s no one in particular; it’s just the voices that fill in the crowd.
One of the parts I got to do, I was excited about, was in the Megalomart, Hank was looking for a gun for Bobby and he was asking me and I was sort of like a burnout kid and I thought he was asking about water guns and I said, “We don’t sell Super Squirters no more on account of they’re dangerous.” That’s still one of my favorite lines of like anything I’ve said because it really did remind me of home.
You’ve also appeared on shows like Step by Step, All of Us and Run of the House with Joey Lawrence. Talk about those experiences and which show you enjoyed working on the most.
I got the Step by Step, that was my first TV audition and I got it. I was like, “Woo-hoo, this town is a breeze,” and then of course, I didn’t book anything for months. But that was the coolest experience. I was pretty new to town. A friend of mine’s agent sent me in for that part, he had seen me at Improv Olympic. They needed someone who looked like Suzanne Summers daughter and so I sort of looked the part. I went in and my scene was with Suzanne Summers, which just couldn’t be cool enough for me. I was like, “Oh … my … God, Suzanne Summers, thigh master.” She was really nice and she had the best hair. I was fascinated by her hair. My line, I had to sass off to her and she was supposed to come into the scene and whip me around and she just yanked me around and scared me half to death. I think the first time I did it, my line didn’t come out sassy at all – I was so intimidated by her. But it was a really cool experience. It was a live audience and people applauded and it was great.
In 2004, you appeared in the movie Career Suicide, which is about a woman who accidentally falls on a pair of scissors, and then finds herself trapped in a corporate purgatory. What can you tell us about your character Tammy and about the movie in general?
That was such a great experience and it’s actually up for a short film contest on Moviefone.com and I believe if you go online you can still vote on it and you get to see the film. My character Tammy, her backstory was she was a flight attendant in her life and now in purgatory, she’s the receptionist. And she’s just probably someone who would drive you crazy in your own office in that way that you couldn’t ever say that she was rude or anything like that, but she’s just like nails on a chalkboard.
She was just like, “Uh-huh, thank you for holding – yeah no, you’re not getting through. Okay. No, you’re not allowed. Okay, buh-bye.” So much energy in this really annoying way and I had so much fun playing her. She was just really upbeat, but just passive aggressively holding you down at the same time. The directors let me improvise some and that was a lot of fun for me. There’s a scene where I take the woman who fell on the scissors to processing, which is where you don’t want to get stuck in purgatory, it’s just basically filing for the rest of your life. As I left, I was like, “Okay, I gotta go, it’s kind of creepy down here. Okay, buh-bye.” I just improvised that line and the directors liked it and it stayed in. Alex and Dan, the two guys that directed it, are great and I actually hope to work with them again on some stuff during my hiatus.
And then, in March of 2005, you appeared on a little TV show called The Office, based on the award winning British TV series with the same name. How did you land the role of Angela Martin?
Actually, the first time I auditioned, I auditioned for Pam. I know that’s hard to believe because my character is so stern and frumpy and just the Puritan to end all Puritans. But I actually went in with my hair normal and I had a little pink top on and a little skirt and I got to audition for the producers as Pam. I remember them laughing.
There was this one line where Michael makes Pam cry because he’s told her she’s fired when she’s not. In the line, you supposed to look up and tell him he’s a jerk and I told him he’s a jerk and I hated him and they all laughed. Afterwards, I felt great, I felt like I did the best that I could have done for that audition. Afterwards, I got feedback that they really liked me, they thought that I could be in the world of the show, but I was maybe just a little too feisty for Pam. They just didn’t believe that I’d be as much of that innocent victim that Pam can be sometimes, that I would put up a fight, and they are probably right.
I thought it was over, then I got a call that there was this small part in the pilot and they didn’t really know anything about it or where it would go, but they wanted me to come in. It was one of the accountants and they told me to really, really dress down, that I was this really stuffy accountant. Pretty much, the only way they had to describe her at the time was she’s someone who would be like, “Well, I don’t like to talk about anyone, but …” The executive producer was brainstorming and overheard a woman say this in a coffee shop.
How would you describe you character’s personality? Are you anything like the Angela we see on the show? How are you two similar and how are you different?
How similar am I to Angela Martin? Well, we share the same name, but really, that’s about where it stops. She is sort of this judgmental, busybody and she loves animals and she tolerates people. She loves everything to be in it’s place and be in order, she is just the ultimate “Type A” person. She doesn’t like to goof around at work. It’s pretty simple; she just goes to work to work. She doesn’t appreciate the pranks and stuff that Jim and Pam do. I think in the office, she has a lot in common with Stanley because Stanley is just clocking in and clocking out. Except, she takes great pride in doing her job and doing it well. She’s also the office lady that’s the cat lady/grump. I think everyone has that person in their office.
I’d say the one thing we have in common other than the name is I think sometimes I can be a little bossy, but only with people I care a lot about, which is probably horrible.
How much of the show is scripted and how much is improvised? Do the writers encourage you to improv in your scenes?
The show is 100 percent scripted. It is written down to the last detail and our writers are great about that. Every once in a while, if the scene permits, if it’s obviously nothing that’s going to change the story, there might be room to add a line or two at the end. And usually at the end, so that way if it doesn’t work, it can be edited out.
When the show first started did you have any idea it would turn into such a big hit? When did you first get the sense that this show could really take off?
I was so hopeful, we all were. We are all so respectful of the BBC show. I was a huge fan of the British version. We were a little nervous. I remember in our first season, it was the “Diversity Day” and we were all in the conference room with those crazy postcards on our forehead and mine said “Jamaica” and I’m looking around at this group of people and we spent the better part of a day together in that conference room and we were just laughing and having so much fun. It really felt special. We just so enjoy each other and I think as a result, you can see that.
During the six episodes of season one it seemed like the show focused solely on the five main characters (Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski, B.J. Novak and Rainn Wilson). How tough is it to go an entire episode without actually having any lines?
I was just hopeful. This was my first steady paycheck and I was just happy to be patient. A really good friend of mine, Neil Flynn, he plays the janitor on Scrubs, and we’ve performed improv together at Improv Olympic for years. I saw him one night at Improv Olympic and asked me how it was going and I said, “It’s good. Sometimes I get a line and that’s real exciting and I’m just hopeful.”
He told me, “Angela, just be patient. On Scrubs, I didn’t really know what my character was going to be about, but I knew that I would have my moment and I just held out for it. Don’t worry, you’re going to have your moment. Just be patient. And when you do, they’re going to see how funny you are and maybe you’ll get a chance to improvise and they’ll see that you have that tool.” He was so right. They were such great words of wisdom for me and everything completely played out the way he said.
What is your favorite episode so far, and why do you like that one so much?
I loved “The Secret” because I’ve just been in an office when some chatty information has gotten out and how quickly it has spread through and of course Michael wouldn’t be able to keep that secret. And the “Booze Cruise,” that was just a great episode. It was a great Jim/Pam episode and it was so cool because we shot it out on this boat. I think it’s hard for me to pick a favorite because a lot of times, I remember what we were doing that week and how much fun it was to do. I recently though just loved this latest Valentine’s episode and I loved the Christmas episode because I got to go ballistic and smash ornaments. See, I can’t pick one. Can I do a top five?
I loved Diversity Day, Health Care, The Secret, The Christmas Episode and I guess I’m going to have to say the Valentine’s episode. And there’s an episode coming up that’s great, but I can’t give it away. And I want to put Booze Cruise in there too, so it would be a top six. And now I’m done.
This may be the most important question of the entire interview – do you get custom-made bobbleheads for all of your men?
This is truly an important question. Let’s not talk about peace in the middle east. No, I don’t. Just Dwight because he’s a person that could truly appreciate a bobblehead, don’t you think? But no, I loved that, I thought that was awesome and I think they are going to try to have those available so that you can have your very own Dwight bobblehead.
We know you don’t want to give anything away, but are there big things in store for the Dwangela love story?
I think that there’s going to be some interesting turns in the Dwangela love story. How’s that? There’s going to be some things that you’re like, “Na uh, no they didn’t.” I know the younger generation won’t know this, but we’ve been compared to Hot Lips Hoolahan and Frank on M.A.S.H. and I think that’s pretty perfect as far as that creepy guilty pleasure.
How excited were you to hear that The Office has been picked up for a third season?
Oh my gosh, I spazzed out. I like jumped up and down and yelled by myself in my apartment. And of course, no one was home. I couldn’t get a hold of anyone. I had to have my whole spaz attack on my own. And then, I called Jenna, she’s my partner in crime, and we just geeked out. We just yelled, got excited and talked about how we’re going to get matching sweatsuits that say season three. It was so great to find out early on and not have to sweat it through all of spring.
You’re also set to appear in a movie called Tripping Forward this year. What can you tell us about the movie and your character Jennifer?
I play an agent, but I’m a sweetheart. I’m not like a shark or anything. My client gets himself into quite a bit of trouble and I bail him out. It’s a small part, but it was really fun to shoot. A lot of people who worked on that in the crew also worked on Career Suicide. And my nephew was visiting from Archer City, Texas, I flew him out as his graduation gift and the day he got there, I was shooting and my husband brought him down to the set and we were shooting in a precinct and they let him walk in the background as an extra and be an FBI agent. So he thought that was pretty cool – gets off the plane from Archer City, Texas and is in the background of a movie. That was a lot of fun for me, to have that and share it with him in a little way.
Which do you enjoy more – working on a television show or on movies? How do the two differ?
I just can’t imagine working on anything as great as The Office, so if this is what work on a TV show can be like, then sign me up. It’s just such an amazing experience. It’s by far, the coolest, most amazing job I’ve ever had in my life. If I can be on TV for years doing it, I’m great with that. Doing movies is a lot of fun and I hope to do more film and I hope that I can be a character actress for a long time.
How often do you get recognized in public? Can you and your husband go out to eat without being bombarded with people wanting your autograph and to have their photo taken with you?
At lunch, me and Jenna and Steve usually eat together, because Brian, John and Rainn play Madden football on the Sony Playstation in their trailers. So we were talking about getting recognized and Steve is really starting to get recognized like crazy. For the rest of us, it happens every once in a while, but it’s getting way more frequent. I was telling him it’s just so hard for me to wrap my head around it, maybe because I’ve done these little theatre shows, these improv clubs.
One of the coolest places I got recognized was my husband and I got tickets to U2. I’m walking onto the floor where our seats were and these two young guys like in their twenties, they yell “Angela,” and I turn around – they’re in the section above me – and I’m like “hi,” thinking, “How do I know them?” And they were like, “We love you on The Office.” Then they quoted lines at me, they said, “We’d take the DaVinci Code because we’d burn the DaVinci Code.”
Then, I get recognized at like the most random places, like at Starbucks, at the grocery store, I was test driving cars at the Ford dealership and the salesman recognized me – this group of men in their forties. It’s kind of fun and also freaky at the same time.
What goals do you have set for yourself? Where would you like to see your career go, and who in Hollywood would you like to work with some day?
I think one of the goals I’ve had for a long time is to write and create my own show, just because I do perform, I do write and create and I do improv and stand up and all of that. So I think someday down the road it would be really fun to see some of my ideas come to fruition.
Tell us something not many people know about you.
I’m so chatty. I never meet a stranger, so a lot of people know all my secrets. Well, I’m a great rollerskater. I used to get in trouble when I was a kid because I wouldn’t take my rollerskates off at the dinner table and our house in Indonesia was all tile and I would just whiz all through it. I just lived with them on my feet. Recently, a friend of mine had a birthday party at a rollerskating rink and I own rollerskates still, like I never got into the rollerblade thing, I stayed true to my rollerskating roots. So I was at this birthday party and I put on a pair of rollerskates and I was doing all these things and people were like, “Okay, who’s the dork whose really good?”
We’ve got one last thing for you here. We’re going to do a word association. We’ll just throw out a name and you tell us the first thing that comes to your mind.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy, February 2006. The Office is on NBC Thursday nights at 9:30 PM. You can find out more information about Angela Kinsey by reading her MySpace blog. To hear audio highlights from this interview, listen to Hobo Radio.