LOS ANGELES — Over the next two months, Jenna Fischer will be playing moms in two very different projects.
First up is the Clint Eastwood film, “The 15:17 to Paris,” where she plays the mother of Army National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos, one of the three Americans who stop a terrorist plot aboard a train in France. The production, based on the true events that happened in 2015, features the three men who stop the attack playing themselves in the movie.
In March, Fischer stars in the new ABC comedy, “Splitting Up Together,” where she and her husband (Oliver Hudson) decide to divorce but will live in the same home (one in a converted garage) so they can trade off taking care of their three young children on a weekly basis. The comedy is based on a Danish series of the same name.
Fischer, who talks about both projects at an ABC party, describes working with Eastwood as being everything she expected. The Oscar-winning director is known for how quickly he works, the confidence he’s willing to show in his cast and the care he has for the crew.
“Every story you have heard about working for Clint Eastwood is absolutely true,” Fischer says. She’s seated at a small table in the middle of the ballroom where the event is being held. Fischer’s slipped off her shoes — and placed them on the table — to rest her feet as she’s being doing interviews the entire day.
“He’s prepared. He’s efficient. He’s inspirational. He gives great acting notes. It’s crazy that his crew has been working with him so long they have a shorthand so the day goes by very quickly.”
Fischer points out that on an average film set, the crew will generally arrive at 7 a.m. with the actors getting to work two hours before that to go through the hair, makeup and wardrobe process. That starts a work day that can be 12-15 hours. The crew on an Eastwood movie arrives at 10 a.m. and the day is done by 4-5 p.m.
The key Fischer learned early is when you work for Eastwood, you show up prepared because there isn’t a lot of time to deal with mistakes or miscues.
Technically, Fischer could play the mother of a young soldier, but she would have had to have given birth at a young age. Her casting fits because much of the movie shows the early years of the three friends and what helped instill in them the qualities they needed to be able to risk their lives to stop the threat. She calls the movie inspirational.
It’s easier to image Fischer as the mom of three young children as in the case of “Splitting Up Together.” Part of that comes from her being the mother of two how are under the age of 8. Working on a television series gives her a chance to be at home more than when on location with a movie, plus it’s the format where she feels the most comfortable.
“I think there is something about the single-camera, being able to get intimate with you that works a little better with what I do,” Fischer says.
She showed her ability with a single-camera for eight seasons playing Pam Beesley on NBC’s “The Office.” She picked up an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a comedy series. Since the series ended, Fischer starred in the off-Broadway production of Neil LaBute’s play “Reasons to Be Happy” with Josh Hamilton, Leslie Bibb and Fred Weller, plus wrote “The Actor’s Life,” a book about her experiences in becoming an actor.
Fischer’s additional film credits include “The Giant Mechanical Man,” “A Little Help,” “Hall Pass,” “Solitary Man,” “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” and “Blades of Glory.” On TV, she was seen in “The Mysteries of Laura” and “You, Me and the Apocalypse.”
None of that work has earned her as much attention as her days on “The Office.” That was one reason Fischer worked on movies and did a variety of smaller roles on TV shows before committing to starring in another series.
“I wanted to get some distance from ‘The Office’ before taking on another big job. And then there was just something about this script that spoke to me. That’s kind of what I look for in a project: Do I see myself in this person that I have the possibility to play?” Fischer says. “I’m a wife and a mother now, and I feel like I’m going to get to express this whole other part of my personality, the part of my personality that likes to make lists and anticipate things a week in advance.
“These are all aspects of the character that I related to and that I was excited to kind of dig into. And the other thing that I really loved about the show is that while it’s a show about two people who are divorced, I don’t think you have to be divorced, or to have experienced divorce, in order to relate to the show.”
Fischer loves the new series but isn’t completely connected on a personal level with the concept. She’s having trouble believing anyone would find happiness in giving up their children every other week. The one thing Fischer loves more than acting is being a parent and considers it her true pleasure in life. The most she will concede is everybody can use a little break now and then.
How much her character gets a break is to be seen. In “Splitting Up Together,” Fischer’s part of the couple is the one who is more dependable, and a lot of the storylines will come out of how she deals with her soon to be ex-husband.
“She has a hard time letting go,” Fischer says. “She claims that she wants him to help out around the house but as soon as he tries to help out she takes over and does it for him. She wants it her ways so she is going to do it.
“When she is forced to let him to deal with the kids, it really turns out to be a good thing.”