PLAYBOY: Some fans of the original show are already crying foul, just as they did with The Office. At this point in your career how much do you worry about the expectations of others?
CARELL: Just before The Office came out most critics were dubious about our chances of succeeding. There was almost an animosity for the show because the BBC version was so beloved and Ricky Gervais was so brilliant. So in our minds, we realized there was no way to win that battle. There was nothing we could do as a cast or writers or producers to dispel people's preconceived notions. We just had to put it out of our mind and do the best job we could.
PLAYBOY: Is there a freedom in knowing everybody expects you to fail?
CARELL: There's a huge freedom. We knew if our version just didn't suck, people would be amazed.
PLAYBOY: After four seasons do you feel as if you've finally gotten out from under the shadow of the original?
CARELL: I never thought about it like that. There was never a point at which I thought, Finally! Now we're doing our own thing, and nobody will ever compare us to the BBC Office ever again. You can't go into a project thinking you're going to create a masterpiece or classic that will live forever. You just do your best and hope somebody else will find it funny or entertaining. You can't have thoughts like, What if we don't become part of the comedy canon? What if the entire world doesn't love and respect me? Because you can't control that.
PLAYBOY: Your dad has said it's difficult for him to watch The Office because Michael does such embarrassing things. Does he still feel that way?
CARELL: Not anymore. At first it was probably a little difficult for him to watch his son make such a complete ass out of himself week in and week out. But now he has come to accept that I am, in fact, an ass. He has come to terms with that, and now he fully accepts me and my assiness.
PLAYBOY: Sometimes the show can be difficult to watch. Michael does things that are just cringe-worthy.
CARELL: Yes, Michael is a man without an ounce of self-perception. He doesn't understand how others view him. He has an enormous emotional blind spot. I've heard the rule of thumb is, If you don't know a Michael Scott, then you are Michael Scott.
PLAYBOY: What's at the core of Michael's behavior? Does he crave the spotlight?
CARELL: Well, sure, but everyone wants a moment to shine. It's a very human quality. Even the most reserved and shy people love the spotlight every once in a while. You know what I liken it to? On the game show Deal or No Deal, when the contestants are given the choice of walking home with $300,000 or possibly getting $375,000, I believe part of the reason they stay is that they're the star. It's not about the money at that point. I was watching an episode a few weeks ago, and one contestant said something I thought was very telling. She was offered a pretty good deal, and she said, "I don't want to leave." She was the center of attention. It's the same for Michael. He is the focus of this documentary. Camera crews follow him around all day. He embraces it, and it gives him a sense of importance he would not otherwise have. It's kind of the best and worst thing that's ever happened to him.
PLAYBOY: Michael has an interesting relationship with Pam, the receptionist played by Jenna Fischer. He makes frequent references to Pam's boobs, from reminding her about the dangers of breast cancer to encouraging her to show more cleavage. Does he have a secret crush on Pam?
CARELL: Are you asking me about boobs just because this is Playboy?
PLAYBOY: Yes, we're contractually obligated to bring up breasts at least once an interview.
CARELL: Let me think. [long pause] Wow, this is embarrassing. I can't think of a single boob joke.
PLAYBOY: You do realize this interview may not make it into the magazine now.
CARELL: I know. I feel terrible. I'm sure Michael Scott knows a bunch of really luridly descriptive boob jokes, but they're all very bad, and I wouldn't want to repeat any of them here.