Interview date: 10/30/2008
Run date: 11/12/2008
Anyone who says accountants can’t be funny clearly isn’t a regular viewer of NBC’s “The Office.” Oscar Nunez plays the not-too-dissimilarly-named Oscar Martinez, a number cruncher at Dunder Mifflin who was unexpectedly taken out of the closet by his boss, Michael Scott (Steve Carell). But his most notable trait is the look of disdain he has not only for Michael but also for many of his barely competent co-workers. Bullz-Eye caught up with Nunez to discuss his work on “The Office,” but our conversation took place slightly later than anticipated, due to an unexpected scheduling conflict on his end.
Oscar Nunez: Oh, hi. Will Harris, please.
BE: This is he.
ON: Will, this is Oscar Nunez, from “The Office.”
BE: Hey, how are you doing, man?
ON: I’m good. How are you?
BE: Not bad. I actually just got an e-mail a second ago, telling me that you were having a cell phone malfunction.
ON: I was at the dentist; I had no idea what was going on. I just got a message from Jen, and she’s like, “You have a thing,” and I’m, like, “Alright, let me make this call.”
BE: Well, I appreciate it.
ON: Am I late? What time was the thing supposed to be?
BE: At 3 p.m. Well, noon your time. But it’s no big deal. I work at home, I have stuff to keep me occupied, so you’re safe.
ON: Cool, because I just walked out of the dentist’s office.
BE: Honestly, it’s not a problem. In fact, I’d already told her that we could reschedule for tomorrow if needed. Well, look, I don’t know if she told you or not, but the reason we wanted to do an interview is that we’re doing our TV Power Rankings for Bullz-Eye, and “The Office” is our #2 show.
ON: Fantastic. What’s number one?
BE: “Mad Men.”
ON: Yeah, “Mad Men” is awesome. That’s a great show.
BE: It is, indeed. So, y’know, I gotta tell ya that “The Office” gave us so much good stuff right when the writer’s strike hit that it was painful to lose it for as long as we did.
ON: Yeah, and, boy, we felt it man. And the strike went on for too long. It was awful. This year, you know, we hit the ground running; we’ve got so many good scripts. The writers really are doing such a great job.
BE: It’s been fantastic thus far.
ON: Yeah, it’s been really cool, yeah.
BE: Was it damaging for the group when you had to cut it off because of the strike? I mean, you were really on a roll at the time.
ON: It was damaging financially. There are people in the stratosphere, there are huge stars, and then it goes all the way down to P.A.s and there’s everyone in between, so it hits everyone differently. A strike is a horrible thing, and I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we definitely do not want to have another one, I know that.
BE: This season…I guess you’re not really in the background, per se, but you haven’t really had a predominant story line thus far. Is it just because there’s so much stuff going on with so many other characters?
ON: Yeah, but, you know, there’s a couple coming up. There’s a couple coming up where I’m doing more stuff. They just haven’t aired yet.
BE: Excellent. Do you mind taking the back seat, given how many talented people are on the show?
ON: Nah, you know they’ll go in. We play the bench. It’s a great team, but we’re on the bench, and it’s a long season, so when you’re needed, you step up. But definitely the show is Steve and Rainn and John and Jenna, and then everyone else is, you know, kind of supporting.
BE: With the character of Oscar, has there ever been a point where they were, like, “Okay, well, so we know he’s gay. Now what do we do with him?”
ON: Uh (Hesitates) Can you hold for just a second?
BE: Yeah, absolutely.
ON: Cool, thanks.
(The line goes dead. Seconds later, the phone rings again. It’s Oscar.)
BE: I swear I held.
ON: Sorry. You know, I had to take it because it said Idaho, and my ex in-laws and stuff live there, so I’m, like, “I better take this.” And it’s a freaking recording on voting or something.
BE: Oh, my God. I’m so tired of those.
ON: It’s the first one I’ve gotten; have you gotten many?
BE: I’m in Virginia, so I’m in a swing state. Every other time I pick up the damned phone…
ON: Oh, you’re a swing state? Wow, that is wicked, because we don’t get that here in California, because we’re a done deal. We’re Democratic; we’re a done deal. No one bothers with us. But that’s right, you guys are a swing state. How many electoral votes do you guys have?
BE: Oh, geez, you know, I should know that off the top of my head, but I don’t. But as far as the popular vote, it’s the first time in decades that Virginia is even potentially going to swing Democratic.
ON: Yeah, yeah, I think it’s enough electoral votes that it matters. I think, I don’t know, but I want to say it’s six or seven. I don’t know; it might be more.
BE: It’s a notable amount, I know. We’re not a throwaway state, by any means.
ON: How interesting, how interesting. Well, we’ll see what happens!
(Editor’s Note: Virginia has 13 electoral votes and all went to Barack Obama.)
BE: So, anyway, what I was asking you…with the character of Oscar, has there ever been a point where they were, like, “Okay, well, so we know he’s gay. Now what do we do with him?”
ON: No, because they made him gay. He was just a guy the first season or second season. I don’t know when they approached me, but they were, like, “We’re going to make your character gay,” and I’m, like, “Go for it!” At first, there was a rumor going around that they were going to do it, and I’m, like, “Oh, it’s just a rumor.” People were talking to me about how they’re going to make Oscar gay, and I’m, like, “Oh, it’s just a joke.” But then the writers were, like, “We’re going to make Oscar gay.” And, again, I’m, like, “Oh, whatever.” And then, lo and behold, there was a script, and it was called “Gay Witch Hunt,” and I’m, like, “What?” And Greg Daniels came up to me, he took me aside, and he’s real serious. He’s, like, “Oscar, do you mind if we make your character gay?” And I’m, like, “What are you talking about? I saw the script! Why are you asking me when you already wrote the script? What if I was nuts and just went, ‘No, no way?” But I’m, like, “I don’t give a shit, go ahead and make him gay.” But I thought it was funny how he was all, like, “Do you mind?” “What do you mean, ‘Do I mind?’ The script’s written already, Greg!” But, yeah, they made him gay, and I try not to let it affect my performance, because I was already playing him, so…now it’s hard. I’m, like, do I play him gay? No, I can’t play him gay, he was gay already, as far as everyone is concerned. So, you know, I don’t think it has that much effect. It just gives him more funny things to make him say or whatever. To have that P.O.V.
BE: So you don’t get script directions like, “Oscar gays it up,” or anything?
ON: No, because he was already a character, you know. If anything, I have to be careful not to gay it up so much.
BE: So how did G.L.A.D.D. react to the character when he first became designated gay?
ON: What’s that? The gay and lesbian alliance or whatever?
BE: Yeah, exactly.
ON: How did they react to the character being gay?
ON: I don’t know. I think they’re happy with it. I don’t think that they put out a memo the very day that he became gay. I think they’re happy at the portrayal. I think he’s not your regular gay character. He happens to be gay, but he’s pretty boring Log Cabin Republican who does his job, you know. A boring kind of guy.
BE: The show has been really good about incorporating new actors into the series, like Ed Helms and Amy Ryan.
ON: Well, they can’t be too well known, because the whole premise of the show is that we can’t be too recognizable. Amy…you know, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of the crazy mom in “Gone Baby Gone,” but she wasn’t, like, a household name. And they say she was on “The Wire,” which is another critically acclaimed show which I haven’t seen yet, but I want to get the DVDs. I hear “The Wire” is like awesome.
BE: Hey, the complete series is getting ready to come out for the holidays.
ON: Yeah, a buddy of mine is, like, “It’s the best thing on TV,” but I have yet to see it. But, anyway, she was on that, I think, and she’s a great actress, and we’re so lucky to get her. She’s a wonderful person to boot, so we miss her terribly. I think she’s back in New York.
BE: On the flip side, though, you’ve got guest directors who are pretty big names.
ON: Yeah, Paul Simons, J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, Paul Feig is directing an episode right now. Yeah, Ken Kwapis, Ken Whittingham. It’s great. And, oh, my god, Harold Ramis. Were you just about to say that?
BE: Yeah, exactly.
ON: Yeah, he’s been on twice. How about that? Uncle Harold?
BE: Do you all just circle around him and start asking him about “Stripes” and “Animal House” and everything?
ON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. About “Meatballs,” and all that stuff. Yeah, “Stripes” was awesome. He’s great and…I think he’s done two episodes. And, oh, my God, Jason Reitman, he’s done a couple, too. It’s great; we’re living the dream. We’re very lucky.
BE: Oscar’s been relatively tolerant of Michael’s ridiculousness this season…well, comparatively so, anyway. Do you think he’s reached a point where he’s just resigned to it?
ON: Yeah, he pretty much goes to work and he knows the lay of the land. You know, “This is your boss, he signs the paycheck, and this is who he is,” and it’s just water off a duck’s back. I think a lot of people do that. They go to work and they’re, like, “Well, here we go.” You roll your eyes and you roll up your sleeves.
BE: Exactly. So who’s your favorite character to be teamed with for scenes?
ON: To do stuff with?
ON: It’s got to be Steve Carell. It’s got to be Steve Carell; it’s so much fun. It’s so much fun because I get to play persnickety and whatever. It’s just fun because his character is ridiculous. And it’s Steve Carell, so you can’t beat that.
BE: Do you find you’re closer since that kiss, or are there a lot more awkward silences these days?
ON: If there are people around, we’re okay, but if we’re alone in the elevator together, it’s just awkward. We’re just silent; we just perspire. No, it’s great, it’s all good. By the way, that kiss wasn’t supposed to happen. That was just him improvising.
BE: How did you deal with that? Did you just decide to roll with it?
ON: Well, I was wondering, because we kept hugging, and then this particular take he was like getting closer and closer. He’s six inches away, and I’m, like, “He’s awfully close.” And then he’s four inches away and I’m, like, “Where is he going?” And then I’m like, “Oh, here we go; I see what’s happening.” And then I can hear these idiots laughing and giggling, and I’m, like, “Oh, I hope the cameras just stay on us, so that we can use this take.” And lo and behold, it was a really cool moment…and pretty funny, so it was all good.
BE: I know “The Office” for the most part is entirely scripted, but obviously there is a little bit of wiggle room for improv.
ON: Yeah, it’s funny you should say that. Most people…I had interviews today from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., and one of the people said, “Well, so ‘The Office’ is improvised and you guys have a little bit of writing in it?” No, it’s just the opposite. It’s scripted, and we get to improvise a little bit.
BE: I know your background is improv because you were with The Groundlings.
ON: Yes, and before that I was in an improv troupe in New York City called The Shock of the Funny for…I don’t know, four years or something like that.
BE: And I know you’ve gotten to exercise the improv on “Reno 911.”
ON: Yeah “Reno” was fun; that’s improvised. So is the Larry David show, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and I was on there.
BE: How did you get into the “Reno 911” circle? Because I know you’ve been in several episodes, and you’re in the movie, also.
ON: Yeah, I got cut out of the movie, they had too much funny. I got cut out. But the show, I just auditioned like everyone else. And the audition for “Reno” is really fun. You go in there and they are, like, “Do you want to play a hero, a victim or a villain?” And they let you just go in there and be in character and talk stuff and just kind of play around. I did some stuff and they liked it, and they were, like, “Yeah, let’s do this, man, let’s make this a character.” And then they thought, “Well, what if we have him, like, some guy from Homeland Security?” And I’m, like, “Dude, let’s go with it; let’s run with it.” So that was the episode. And there was supposed to be one episode, and they had so much stuff they were, like, “Oscar, we’re going to make it two.” I was so happy. I was, like, “You guys are awesome.” They’re, like, “No, you’re awesome.” And I’m, like, “Alright.” (Laughs) So it was a great experience.
BE: How did you feel “Halfway Home” turned out? I know you went in extremely optimistic, but how did you feel it went in the long run?
ON: I feel good about it. I didn’t feel great about it; it wasn’t my first choice. I pitched a bunch of stuff to them, and that’s the one that they went with, and that’s fine. It was a good experience. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible. I’m glad I did it, and it was a good experience. I will probably try and do something like that again in the future. But I learned a couple of things from it, so it’s all good.
BE: Were you surprised that “The Office: The Accountants” got as much attention as it did, given that Web series, for the most, part tend to only be noticed by diehard fans more so than the mainstream?
ON: No, I’m not. The show was well written. It’s a well-written show, and the concept is fantastic that Ricky Gervais thought of, so the template is perfect. I mean, it’s great. A work scenario, and the boss is an idiot and thinks highly of himself, and yet the people can’t say anything because he signs their paychecks. And that’s wonderful. And then you have Greg Daniels and these writers, and then you have Angela, who I have known for years, who I did improv with, and Brian Baumgartner, who’s a lifetime actor; he’s done tons of theater, he’s a great character actor, he’s funny. And so the combination of us three, I’m, like, “I have total confidence in us.” And, plus, with the writing, it was ours to mess up. I thought, “At the very least, this could be entertaining. Maybe better than that, maybe it could be good, or really good, but at the very least it will be entertaining.”
BE: Was there a particular point when you knew that “The Office” had survived the “it’s not as good as the British version” battle that everyone was trying to force it through?
ON: You know, I don’t know about the comparison, and I don’t say we’re better; it’s just different. But, yeah, it was nice to get the order for…I think they ordered seven episodes, and then they ordered a whole season, and that’s when we were, like, “Okay, this is cool.” When we got picked up for a second season, we were, “Phew, finally, they gave us a chance to breathe and for an audience to find us.” But I fell in love with the original, with the BBC version. And “Extras” is one of the funniest things on television.
BE: Is there any word on Stephen Merchant returning? Because didn’t he and Ricky Gervais do an episode?
ON: Stephen, he directed an episode already, and he may do more. Ricky…you know, we see him once in awhile. He did standup down here in Hollywood at the Kodak Theater; we went to see that. I don’t know if Ricky is going to direct an episode, but Stephen already has.
BE: Has Craig Robinson started to get a swelled head yet because of the praise he’s getting for “Zack and Miri?”
ON: Nah, he’s cool. He’s a very talented guy, man, he’s everywhere. He does standup around town. If he’s ever in Virginia and he’s doing standup or performing somewhere in town, go see him, because this guy is funny. He plays piano, and he does standup. He’s a very, very talented guy.
BE: Yeah, he’s awesome on the show. And like I said, the clips I’ve seen from “Zack and Miri” have been hilarious too.
ON: I haven’t seen it. I was going to go to the premiere, and we worked late; I couldn’t get to see it.
BE: You were nominated for an ALMA award.
ON: Yes, I believe I was.
BE: Are you the kind of guy who actively flaunts his Cuban heritage, or were you just pleased with the recognition but, y’know, that’s just who you are?
ON: It’s all good. Look, I love being Cuban, it’s great. If I was Mandarin Chinese, I would love being Mandarin Chinese. My philosophy is, we are human beings first, and then you are whatever gender you are; you’re a man or a woman, second. And then you are whatever race, and then comes culture, and then ethnicity somewhere along the line. But I am very happy to be Cuban, but I don’t…how do I put this? Look, I’m an American citizen. We left Cuba when I was two years old, and we came to this country, which is flawed. We’re in a terrible state, and I hope the election changes a lot of things, and blah, blah, blah and I’m going to vote for Obama. But my parents came to this country because of one reason: because it’s the best place in the world. And so I love being Cuban, but I’m an American citizen, and I love being here.
BE: How crazy was the “Office” convention?
ON: It was insane. You would have thought the Beatles and the pope landed at the same time at the airport. It was absolutely crazy. Scranton is just a great little town which isn’t so little anymore, and people came from all over the United States. It was insane. And there was a couple from Ireland that went there for their honeymoon. And, of course, they were going to stay in the States, they didn’t go specifically for us, but that’s where they started their trip: in Scranton, because of “The Office.” It was three days, and we were police escorted everywhere. You would have thought the Beatles were in town; it was absolutely insane.
BE: When you’re playing Oscar…well, basically, what I want to know is, how many hours did you have to practice before you got that look of disdain just right?
ON: (Laughs) Not much; it’s what I do. I’ve been doing it all my life. It’s pretty much…look, you’ve got all these tools, and you have them, and you’re just sitting around and you’re, like, “Oh, I’ve got these tools, and I’ve had them for 20 years. When am I going to get to use them?” And finally someone comes and says, “Hey, let’s build a house!” And you’re, like, “Yes! Let’s do it! Yeah!” So that’s what we do.
BE: Now that Greg is working on his not-an-“Office”-spinoff show, is he going to be ruling mostly in absentia and coasting on his past efforts?
ON: Nah, he’s like Carell; they love their jobs. I was going to say they are workaholics, but…I guess that’s fair to say. Greg works his butt off, and he’s at the other show, but he pops in once in awhile. Paul Feig is there kind of overseeing things while he is gone. But Greg’s there once in awhile, he comes in, and he comes and he’s got ideas, and he makes us do stuff, and he always has his hands in it.
BE: But when he comes in now, is he wearing, like, a velvet smoking jacket?
ON: Yeah, he has a person fanning him. It’s so off-putting.
ON: A Nubian with a big feather thing. We’re, like, “That’s so politically wrong; that is so horrible.”
BE: Oh, man, that’s got pull quote written all over it. Here’s a predictable question, but do you have a favorite episode?
ON: Well, of course, mine is going to be “Gay Witch Hunt,” where he dragged me out of the closet, because I got to play with Steve. That’s my favorite.
BE: When it comes to the various characters and where their character arcs are going to go, does Greg, like, take people aside and say, “This is what we’re looking at for you,” or does everyone find out at the same time?
ON: No, there’s no time for that. There’s absolutely no time to take people aside and discuss things. It’s just they write the episode…we get the episode, we’re shooting a show right from Monday to Friday, and on Wednesday or Thursday we will read the episode that is coming up next, and then they will be rewriting it or taking notes or whatever they do, the writers, and then we start shooting the show. So we’re just one episode ahead, and they’re writing the other shows as we speak. They’re not done…like, there’s not five shows waiting for us to do; they are actually writing the shows as we’re shooting, so it’s a very fast process.
BE: Okay, I have to ask: did you enjoy working on “Beethoven's Big Break?”
ON: (Laughs) Yeah, I loved it. I loved it. I went to Orlando; I was never there before, and I stayed there. My girlfriend came out to visit, and it was just great. How can you not like that? I stayed in a hotel, and it’s just great; I can’t complain.
BE: How was it working with Beethoven?
ON: It was great. There were a couple of different ones. I actually worked with a Bichon Frise more than the St. Bernard.
BE: Are they less demanding than St. Bernards?
ON: Oh, yeah, they’re little lap dogs.
BE: Okay, well, I guess that’s it. Is there anything else that you wanted to mention? I know you’re going to be in a new movie with Sandra Bullock.
ON: There you go! It’s called “The Proposal,” and I’ve got a small part, but it’s a funny part. It actually takes place in Sarah Palin land; it takes place in Alaska, and it comes out June 9 or the 12th. And I want to wish all voters luck in Virginia, go out and vote. No matter who you’re voting for, get out there and vote, and let’s see what happens.
BE: Awesome. All right man, I appreciate it. Thanks for getting back with me.ON: Cool. Thanks!