Before Dunder Mifflin’s Stamford branch closed down it was run by a seemingly well put together, albeit severely opportunistic man named Josh Porter.
Porter, who was mentioned in the pilot of The Office and first seen in the “Valentine’s Day” episode of Season 2, was played by actor Charles Esten, who currently stars on Netflix’s Outer Banks. Though the Stamford manager only appeared in eight episodes of The Office, Esten still considers his role on the workplace comedy one of the most special roles of his career.
In Season 3, Episode 7, “Branch Closing,” Jan tells Michael that the Scranton branch will be closing and he’ll be losing his job. She explains that the decision was made because the board feels Porter has a bright future at the company. However, when Porter reveals that he leveraged his new promotion to get a Senior Manager position at Staples, the decision is reversed. Stamford gets the axe and Dunder Mifflin keeps Scranton up and running.
When speaking with Fischer and Kinsey, Esten talked about what it was like playing Porter, and shared some favorite memories from filming, his love for Rainn Wilson, and how he got hired on the show.
Meeting Rainn Wilson
“I was a British Office fan like so many from the very beginning so I recall very, very well watching it and loving it all,” Esten told Fischer and Kinsey. “I hear they were trying it in the United States and then a lot of people were like, ‘Uh oh, wow. OK.’ Then I heard about Steve and Rainn — that they had been cast — and I was like, ‘Hmm, that’s a heck of a good start. They might have a shot at this.'”
Though a lot of doubt was cast on the show in those early days, Esten trusted that Carell and Wilson’s talent would make it a success. While he was familiar with Carell from improv circles and occasional run-ins at a Sherman Oaks mall, Esten had worked with Wilson on a bizarre pilot back in the day.
“The way I knew Rainn is the interesting part that got me to [The Office,]” Esten explained. “Rainn and I, I’m going to say six or seven years [ago]… had been at an audition at NBC… and we were reading for this thing called The Expendables, and ‘the expendables’ were androids that solved crimes.”
Esten said that he and Wilson were paired as scene partners by chance, and they hit it off instantly. “I’ll never forget we went outside and said, ‘Let’s just have fun with this,’ and by the time we came back in, first of all I had fallen in love with the guy that is Rainn Wilson instantly. We just clicked like that. I was like, ‘What an incredible guy. What a mind,'” Esten said. “And so we went in there and basically improvised on top of the script and ended up getting the job.”
Though the two went on to do a table read and shoot the pilot, the show never got picked up. But Esten feels that his relationship with Wilson is what helped him land The Office role.
Casting an Office fan as Josh Porter
“I get to [The Office] audition and it’s going well. I’m doing well enough, I guess. But I think the separating factor was that one of them said, ‘So I hear you’re friends with Rainn,’ and I’m like, ‘Yes I am!’ And I said, ‘Did Rainn ever tell you how we met?’ And they’re like, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘I bet he didn’t. We met playing naked androids on a detective show.'”
“I said, on top of that, if you give me this job I’ll show up on day one with a DVD of that pilot,” Esten told Fischer and Kinsey. “I’m not even to my car and I’m like, ‘Hello?’ That’s the fastest I ever got a job.”
“It had nothing to do with my abilities acting or otherwise, it was purely that I had this on Rainn,” Esten laughed. “That’s my origin story and it’s kind of special to me… By that point I was already a fan. It was like winning a radio contest and being on a show that I already loved.”
“The funny thing that happened with this show is I can remember people would walk up to me and say, ‘I saw you on The Office, you’re very funny.’ And I knew that what it really was, was… I wasn’t the funny part of it. I was more of the situation than the comedy,” Esten went on. “Here I was, just in a room with Ed, and John, and Rashida trying not to laugh, or just watching Michael Scott when he says, ‘I love inside jokes. I’d like to be a part of one some day.’ That’s just as good a line as anybody can write, and all I had to do was stand there and just do the thing where you don’t laugh.”
The Office fame never dies
Though the show has been off the air since 2013, The Office continues to find new fans thanks to easy accessibility on Netflix. With all the present-day love for the show, Esten says he still gets recognized for playing Josh Porter.
“What it mostly is, is on social media. I was on other things since then, like when I was on Nashville. I played a character called Deacon, and people would watch it and it was a very dramatic — he was in [Alcoholics Anonymous,] and he was trying not to drink anymore, and he loved this woman, so it was always very dramatic, very heartfelt. [He] played music and did all these things,” Esten explained. “So inevitably I would see a tweet that would say, ‘Just realized that Deacon from Nashville is Josh from Stamford,’ and then it always had that hashtag, #mindblown.”
Esten said that even his own kids, who didn’t care much about The Office when he was filming it, are also obsessed with the show now and love that he was in it. “I could tell that it meant a lot [to them,] and it means a lot to me.
Be sure to listen to the full podcast episode to learn more behind-the-scenes stories from filming “Branch Closing.”
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