Stories from the set of The Office are famously upbeat and lighthearted, but in their new book The Office BFFs: Tales of The Office from Two Best Friends Who Were There, Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey chatted about one dreadful, disastrous, downright dangerous day on set.
In Chapter 12, titled “Death Bus,” the former co-stars and current co-hosts of Stitcher’s Office Ladies podcast shared that the cast almost died (twice!) while filming the Season 9 episode, “Work Bus,” which was directed by Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston.
“We want you to know that we see the irony that Bryan Cranston, aka Walter White Sr. or ‘Heisenberg’ as he was known in crystal methamphetamine circles, was an accessory to almost murdering the entire cast of The Office,” Kinsey wrote. “I assure you this is pure coincidence.”
“The plot went this way: In the hopes of getting some free vacation days, Jim tricks Dwight — who now owns the building that houses Dunder Mifflin — into thinking that the office is unsafe and in need of repairs,” Fischer explained. “Dwight agrees, but instead of sending everyone home, he calls Jim’s bluff and presents the employees with a ‘mobile office’ to use while the repairs are being made. The majority of the episode occurs on the bus that Dwight has transformed into a mobile workplace. Of course, this is a very Dwight move.”
Fischer said the “small airport shuttle” was loaded with 14 actors, four crew members, several desks, chairs, lamps, printers, a watercooler, a microwave, a giant-screen TV, and a coffeemaker. Cozy! Not at all cramped! Sounds safe!
“What could go wrong? Who could have predicted that Ellie Kemper would pee her pants, or that the entire cast would almost be killed — twice?” she wrote. (Note: The Ellie Kemper story, while amazing, is for another time. We’re here to get the near-death details right now.)
The BFFs recalled that filming started off fine, but things took a real turn (literally) when the bus left the Dunder Mifflin parking lot and rolled out onto the open road.
“In the story, Jim convinces Andy that since they are stuck on this work bus, he should take everyone to get pie at the best place in town, Laverne’s Pies Tires Fixed Also. Andy agrees, and so it was time to roll,” Kinsey explained. The producers wanted to film some scenes on the moving bus, which may have sounded simple, but a few major (literally life-threatening) hiccups got in the way.
“It was a very hot day and whenever we started filming, the air-conditioning on the bus had to be turned off because it was too noisy. We were basically in a moving hot tin can with no air. I thought Brian [Baumgartner] and Creed [Bratton] were going to melt. Oscar [Nunez] looked dead inside. Plus, it was a very curvy road. Jenna was getting a little carsick even though she had a forward-facing chair,” Kinsey wrote. “At that point, the heat and the nausea seemed like our worst obstacles.”
Spoiler alert: They weren’t.
When it came time to capture a scene that “involved Dwight driving like a maniac” things went from bad to worse. The bus was hooked up to a rig and the actors initially pretended to fall to each side of the vehicle while Dwight fake swerved, but the scenes didn’t look authentic enough. The bus was then “detached from the rig and a stunt driver climbed on board,” Fischer wrote. “There were no stunt actors, however. We stayed on and were told to keep doing what we’d been doing. And off we went.”
“We were all bouncing down the road, blissfully unaware of what was about to happen. We were saying our lines and everything was going smoothly when all of a sudden, we heard the assistant director yell, ‘Swerve!'” Kinsey explained. “The stunt driver swerved HARD. I mean he cranked that wheel like Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder. As a result, the entire cast and contents of the bus went flying into the side of the party bus! What no one had considered when they told this stunt driver to swerve as hard as he could without flipping the bus over was that none of our office furniture, props, or set decorations were securely tied down.”
Fishcer recalled that she was was pinned against the side of the bus with Leslie David Baker (Stanley) on top of her. “Creed, John, lamps, laptops, chairs were all on top of Phyllis [Smith],” she continued.
“We were all smushed up against the side of the bus. Ellie’s chair crashed into Jake [Lacy]’s. Jake’s crashed into mine, and I was shoved against the glass window. Papers were everywhere. I caught our desk lamp as it slid into my lap. A few people fell on the bus floor, and we could barely see them because so many things had fallen on top of them,” Kinsey explained.
The cast thankfully survived the stunt, and they took a much-needed lunch break before getting back on the bus. Unfortunately, the “Death Bus” struck again.
“They had somehow gotten a portable air-conditioning unit! ‘We can pull it behind the bus with a hose that goes through the sunroof. It’s totally quiet. So this afternoon, the bus won’t be so hot.’ We were thrilled, and as we loaded back onto the cool, reorganized bus, everyone relaxed and decided to put the morning behind us,” Fischer wrote.
“Off we went. No more laughing fits. No more peeing. We were nailing our shots. That’s when I noticed a funny smell,” Fischer said. She continued to raise the concern but was repeatedly dismissed, until others started to agree. “We began debating whether the bus smelled funny. Then our camera operator spoke up. She didn’t feel well. She stumbled and set down her camera.”
“Guess what?” Fischer wrote. “The portable air-conditioning unit’s INTAKE hose was right next to the EXHAUST pipe on the bus. So that hose was sucking in exhaust and blowing it straight into the sunroof of the bus. We were all being slowly poisoned. Or not so slowly, actually.”
Some might say that Fischer’s nose saved more than a dozen lives AND a beloved show that day. And those people would be correct as far as I’m concerned. Thankfully, the cast finally got to eat some pie.
Credit: Chris Haston / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal via Getty Images
What an episode to have (barely) lived through. And what an episode to have directed — literally one for the books.
“Poor Bryan Cranston. I gave him a big hug,” Kinsey wrote later in the chapter. “He was so calm and kind even as the wheels were literally coming off the Dunder Mifflin bus.”