Brian Baumgartner on Kevin's Chili Scene, an 'Office' Reboot, Wild Fan Theories and More (Exclusive)
By Desiree Murphy
Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Image
Brian Baumgartner is taking a trip down memory lane, and going allllll the way back to the early days of The Office!
The actor, who portrayed dim-witted Dunder Mifflin accountant Kevin Malone on the mockumentary sitcom from 2005-2013, has teamed up with Spotify for a limited series podcast. Titled An Oral History of The Office, the series provides fans with firsthand knowledge into the making of the show, and why it's still so popular today, from the people who there from the beginning. Steve Carell ("Michael Scott"), Jenna Fischer ("Pam Beasley"), John Krasinski ("Jim Halpert"), Rainn Wilson ("Dwight Schrute") and Angela Kinsey ("Angela Martin") are just a few of the stars who make guest appearances over the course of 12 episodes.
"It came out of an idea for us to tell our story," Baumgartner exclusively tells ET over the phone. "The Office was the biggest TV show on NBC for a number of the years that we were on. Yet, seven years since we wrapped, it feels like the show is even bigger now than it was back then, and specifically, with newer, younger fans."
"So, this was me wanting to explore why that is," he continues. "I wanted to go back and do an active search, to figure out what happened in those early years when we were getting ready to shoot our first show, to today."
Yes, we're talking full-on history of the legendary series, with insider deets that will surely have you winning your next Office trivia match. And if you've already been tuning into the Office Ladies podcast, hosted by Fischer and Kinsey, don't feel like you have to pick one over the other; Baumgartner says his is much different, and there's so much more that will be unpacked!
"We started working on each of these podcasts around the same time, last summer. I started interviewing people in November of last year after a bunch of pre-production work and research," he explains. "We're both truly so supportive of each other."
"They're looking back and giving behind-the-scenes on each individual episode, while Oral History is a collage; a journey through nine seasons of shooting and going all the way through to today," he adds. "This podcast starts even before the American version of The Office, and tells the story of how Ben Silverman brought it here from [Britain] from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant."
One of the things Baumgartner touches on, for example, is how -- out of all the cities across the U.S. -- Scranton, Pennsylvania, became the one The Office would focus on, with branches in surrounding New York areas like Utica, Albany and Nashua.
"For Greg Daniels, who created the show, there was something about the cold climate, the sort of potentially more difficult living," Baumgartner tells ET. "One of the things he talks about is that Scranton is a really funny word. Like, there's a lot of consonants, it's kind of difficult to say. And then as he talked to people there ... he fell in love with it, and felt like it was the right town."
Something that was also so right (that fans can't seem to get enough of) was Kevin's famous chili scene from season 5's "Casual Friday." It's become one of the most-used gifs on the internet in recent years, which Baumgartner finds mind-blowing.
"To me, it's crazy. It's also really weird that that scene was such a departure from anything we really did on the show," Baumgartner recalls. "The fact that it caught on, I thought it was funny, I thought it was really cool. One of the things about Kevin that makes him special is, he is trying his best to succeed. There's a small thing in another episode where he wins back a parking spot and says, 'It just feels good to win one.' I feel like there's a lot of that in a lot of us."
"But that chili scene, how huge it is now, it's almost like every Monday I get sent something about, 'Going into a Monday like this!' I can't post anything on social media about anything," he jokes. "It could be, like, me golfing, and someone will say, 'Hold still, the chili.' And I'm like, 'That doesn't work! That is not applicable to what I just wrote.' Yeah, people love it."
Baumgartner remembers doing only one take for that scene, something he says he's still "tremendously proud of."
Ever since Netflix acquired The Office, it quickly became the most-watched series on the platform, introducing itself to a whole new set of viewers. Baumgartner jokes about some of the wildest theories he's heard from this new, younger generation of fans.
"I think, truly, every time you watch it there are new things that come up. But the two craziest things that people seem obsessed about -- and I don't know if it was borne on Reddit, or what -- but one is that Kevin is actually a genius. He's been fooling everyone the whole time and embezzling money. That is not true," he confirms, laughing. "That, I just... I do not know where that came from!"
"The other really crazy one is, the mad obsession with who the Scranton Strangler is," he continues, adding that he's talked about how "bizarre" it is to many people on the show. "When I do a Q&A, every single time, someone will bring up the Scranton Strangler and who the Scranton Strangler is, and it takes everything to just not say, 'I do not care.'"
Baumgartner says he's "sorry to disappoint" the fans with that one, but it was all just an excuse to get HR rep Toby Flenderson (played by Paul Lieberstein) away, so that Amy Ryan's character, Holly Flax, could come back. "That's it, and it's turned into obsession," he says.
Someone who could be behind that first theory, however, is Will Ferrell, who had a short-lived role as Deangelo Jeremitrius Vickers, Michael Scott's temporary branch manager replacement in season 7. Baumgartner says that out of all the guest stars they've had on the show, Ferrell is someone that he'll remember working with forever.
"Just because I got to do a lot of fun stuff with him," he recalls. "During those episodes, [his character] actually thought Kevin was the smartest one and brought him into his inner circle."
"I think Jenna says it in the podcast, but in a competition between who are the nicest guys to work with in Hollywood, we were incredibly lucky," he adds. "I mean, we went from Steve Carell to Will, and he wasn't there that long, but him coming in and transitioning out Michael Scott was just so nice. I really enjoyed him. And Kathy Bates, who is just a freakin' legend."
Since so many people have been binge-watching the show at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, we also asked Baumgartner to share where he thinks The Office characters would be in 2020, and how they'd be handling quarantine.
"I would hope that Kevin still has his bar, and is happy with his bar, but he's probably sad that he can't go to his bar right now because it's closed," Baumgartner imagines. "Other than that, I don't know that him not being able to go out of his house is that disappointing to him."
"Pam and Jim, they're down in Austin, Texas, now, so they probably aren't in quarantine, right? Nobody in Texas has to be in quarantine," he jokes, referencing recent statistics that Texas, Florida and California make up about one-fifth of the nation's new coronavirus cases. "But Angela and Dwight, they're probably wearing masks, even around their house."
Baumgartner believes that Kate Flannery's Meredith Palmer is likely "trying to break quarantine every day, because she thinks that it's jail," and imagines that she "perhaps even moved down to Florida where they can do whatever they want."
As for Michael, he's probably still enjoying his post-Dunder Mifflin lifestyle. "I think that early Michael would be very neurotic and upset about the pandemic," Baumgartner says. "But I think now, Michael would just be happy to be at home with his family."
Baumgartner doesn't think the same could be said about Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak'sKelly Kapoor and Ryan Howard, however. "They're probably just fighting way more, because they're together more," he jokes.
Obviously, we couldn't let Baumgartner go without asking him the most burning question of all from fans -- if he'd be down for an Office reboot. Krasinski, Flannery and Ed Helms ("Andy Bernard") have all previously shared their opinions on this topic in their own ET interviews over the years.
"So, I wouldn't say that fans should let that dream go, but I think it's complicated," he explains. "Because I think what people think that they want are more episodes of The Office. Like, more episodes with Michael in his office, Dwight and Jim sitting outside, Pam maybe at the reception desk. Part of what I think is complicated about that is the story moved beyond that."
"Michael Scott lives in Colorado now, Stanley [played by Leslie David Baker] is in Florida, and Kevin was fired and owns a bar, while Jim and Pam are in Austin," he continues. "Because of all those things that happened, is it a prequel? That, for me, is where it becomes difficult ... but anything is possible. All I can say is, with the genius of Greg Daniels, if he came up with an idea that made sense, then sure, I'd be in."
In another interview with ET, filmed via Zoom last week, Baumgartner also addressed reboot rumors. "All I can tell you is, NBC has not sent me a contract to review yet about a reboot for the show," he shared.
The first three episodes of An Oral History are now streaming on Spotify, with nine more dropping weekly on Tuesdays. Listen below: