It’s safe to say The Office’s Ed Helms faced one of the most daunting acting challenges of the past TV season — succeeding Steve Carell as the manager of Dunder Mifflin’s Scranton branch. But while the show itself struggled a bit to find its creative footing in the post-Michael Scott era, the 38-year-old Helms — who has played the adorkably insecure Andy Bernard since Season 3 — never made his task look like work.
TVLINE | You were in the unenviable position of having to step in for Steve Carell. Did you feel the weight of that?
I never felt pressure to fill those shoes; I don’t think that’s possible for anyone to do. For me, it was just an exciting chance to take Andy to different places. The actual hierarchy of the office itself was altered by bringing in [James Spader]’s Robert California [as Andy’s boss], so there were enough differences that I didn’t feel like, ‘Here I am needing to fill a void.’ It was more like, ‘Here we go in a different direction — let’s see what happens!’ There were places [the story went] that I didn’t understand as well, but the work experience there is just so wonderful and rare. The Office is about the best work experience you could ever hope for.
TVLINE | Can you give me an example of maybe one or two things that you thought were particularly challenging to wrap your head around?
Andy was established very early on as a troubled character — somebody with some personality issues and anger issues. And someone who was ambitious to a fault, but also with a kind of a magnanimous heart that always kept him in check. And to me, that is a really fun character because he’s constantly in conflict with himself — his own ambitions are always fighting his inherent good nature. And I do think that as we sort of tried to find where and how those aspects of Andy fit into more of a leadership role, there was a little too much focus on the good-hearted nature of Andy, and I was kind of working hard to figure that out and understand it. I’m not a writer on the show so some things I don’t have as much control over, but where I started to kind of tap back into what I think is special, unique, and exciting about Andy is when we did start to uncover those insecurities.
TVLINE | Any episodes that you’re particularly proud of from the past season?
I really loved the Christmas episode. I don’t want to pat myself too hard on the back but I also directed that one. [Laughs] Mindy [Kaling] wrote it, and she was right there on the set with me the whole time. I love what Andy kind of went through in that episode with his girlfriend Jessica, while also really struggling with feelings for Erin. I think Ellie [Kemper] did fantastic work in that episode. And much later in the season, I really love the episode where Robert comes in and tells Andy not to hire his wife and then proceeds to just [attack] Andy for not hiring his wife. It’s fun to be in conflict with James Spader. He’s such an intimidating presence.
TVLINE | You’ve entered the lead actor category this year after several years in supporting. How involved were you in making that decision?
I was not involved at all, actually. I hadn’t thought much about it, to be honest. But when I [heard about that] I was like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool! [Laughs] I guess I’m in a different category this year!’
TVLINE | What do you make of the whole Emmy business?
Well, the ceremony is fun. It’s fun to just celebrate the people that we like and that make us laugh or move us on TV. But you can’t take it too seriously because it will start to mess with your head. And then, of course, when they pass on Steve Carell for best actor for like seven consecutive years then it’s sort of just absurd. I think Carell just was transcendent — and that’s not a knock on any of the winners in that category. But when you see that, it does sort of keep it in perspective that the Emmys are more about entertainment than any kind of legitimate metric of who is a good actor or who is better than who.
TVLINE | You recently signed on for another season. Why?
Well, I had a lot of fun this year and it just seemed like, let’s go around the block again! And there have been a lot of discussions internally about some storylines that I’m excited to explore and be a part of. And at the end of the day, as a working actor, you want to be a part of a process that you love and enjoy. And that’s actually a rare thing to be on a set just full of people that you admire and make you laugh all the time. It was a no-brainer.
This story first appeared in the pages of TVLine’s print sibling Awards|Line. The specialty Awards|Line editions canvass various facets of the Emmy and motion pictures awards season including deep coverage, analysis and interviews with the leading contenders and industry players.