Jenna Fischer credits her success to a combination of talent and luck

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It’s good to be Jenna Fischer.

After years of struggling to find work as an actress, the fresh-faced St. Louis native landed a role on TV’s “The Office,” where her sweet, long-suffering Pam has become an audience favorite.

From there she has been branching off into movie
work. Most recently, she stars as the daughter of a womanizing,
manipulative car dealer played by Michael Douglas in “Solitary Man.”

Fischer knows she’s got it good.

“I spent so many years struggling that it’s just in
my nature to feel I’m still struggling,” the 36-year-old actress said
in a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles.

“But sometimes I sit back and say to myself, ‘Wait
… I have a regular job as an actor — which is every actor’s dream —
and I get to go off and do movies with other actors I’ve watched my
entire life. I get to sit at a table with Susan Sarandon and Michael Douglas … and they treat me like a peer.’

“Being a successful actor is an unpredictable mix of talent and luck. And I feel extremely fortunate.”

One way in which she has been lucky, Fischer said, was that she didn’t have to deal with overnight stardom.

“‘The Office’ has built slowly in popularity. It
amazes me that after six years we’re still gaining viewers. So we
haven’t had the hassles of an overnight success.

“I can’t imagine being one of those ‘Twilight’ kids
where you go from a day job to being in one of the most popular shows
ever. We never had to experience that sort of shock to the system.”

Even today, Fischer said, she can move about in public without drawing much attention.

“Here’s one trick: Wear lots of baseball hats.
They’re a great answer to a day when you don’t want to wash your hair.
They also help me move around unnoticed. But then I don’t generally
have a hard time. I can take my mom to the top of Empire State without being recognized.”

She describes her character in “Solitary Man” as a
woman who so desperately wants a connection with her irresponsible
father that she has been willing to overlook his many faults.

“She has listened to him talk about his lovers, she
tolerates his indiscretions, she sticks with him when he’s thrown in
prison, she swallows her pride.

“But when she sees how this man is affecting her own
young son, she becomes a mother bear. She roars. She lays down the law.
And when she recognizes the hurt in her son’s eyes, she starts to get
in touch with her own hurt.”

The dramatic role allows Fischer to shift from
passive to willful, but she said she has no agenda when it comes to
picking parts.

“If it’s a quiet role like Pam, fine. I’m not struggling to go against type. I just like to find people who interest me.”

That includes not only characters but the actors
with whom she shares her scenes. Such as Sarandon, who portrays her
mother in “Solitary Man.”

“Susan was so interesting because she would take her
lines and deliver them like I never imagined they could be read. I
couldn’t do it … maybe I’m too literal-minded. But having seen her do
that, I now stop and reconsider when I’m reading scripts. I ask myself,
‘How would Susan Sarandon approach this line?’

“It opens up other possibilities.”

As for Douglas, Fischer said the actor’s innate charm infused his character.

“Michael was born to play lovable scoundrels. I
found myself being charmed by both the actor and his character. And
that’s really important for this movie, because this character does
some awful things. It only works if the audience still roots for him.

“At first you find yourself getting angry. ‘Why are
all these people letting this jerk get away with this behavior?’ And
then you find yourself rooting for him, too.”

Up to now Fischer has been mostly a supporting
player. That will change in an upcoming indie comedy, “A Little Help,”
in which she stars as a woman who constructs an ever-more-outrageous
house of lies in order to provide for her young son.

That’s a whole new ball game, she said.

“It’s funny … I love watching ‘The Office,’ and I
usually watch my movies, but up to now I’ve been in just a few scenes
here and there. There will be 20-minute stretches where I don’t have to
look at myself.

“But I had a hard time watching ‘A Little Help,’
because it was a much more stressful situation. I wasn’t just helping
out … it was all on my shoulders.

“Doing that movie, I gained a real appreciation for Steve Carell and all he has to do to keep ‘The Office’ running. He’s in every scene,
after all. But you never hear him say, ‘Oh, my God, I’m so tired.’ He’s
always there, always up.”

Fischer’s next role: Wife. She and writer-actor Lee Kirk will be married this summer.

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