With at least four local actors in front of camera and two comedy vets behind the scenes, shouldn’t it be ‘The Office Australasia’?
It’s The Office, with a twist. “We figured the world is ready for a loveable, flawed, lady boss”, said BBC Studios ANZ general manager Kylie Washington. Indeed, in The Office Australia, a woman will helm an international version of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s hit comedy series for the first time.
The role of Hannah Howard, who is tasked with trying to keep her packaging company Flinley Craddick open when head office tells everyone they need to work from home, is being played by the Australian actor Felicity Ward. “It is an honour to continue the international comedy legacy of The Office locally while introducing new, quintessentially Australian characters,” said Sarah Christie, Prime Video Australia’s senior development executive.
But exactly how Australian will The Office Australia be? Poring over press releases and scouring the internet reveals plenty of familiar New Zealand faces will be both in front of and behind the cameras when they begin rolling next week.
Here’s what we know so far…
Jesse Griffin is directing all eight episodes
Once known as the singing cowboy and stand-up comic Wilson Dixon, Jesse Griffin has since taken his talents behind the camera. Most notably, he’s known for directing Educators, TVNZ+’s cult comedy set in a school full of terrible teachers that’s racked up three impressive seasons.
On that show, there are no scripts, just loose outlines of scenes. Actors are expected to stay in character for long takes of improv that can last up to 40 minutes. “I know what we’re doing about 10 minutes before we start doing it,” Australian actor Rick Donald told us about Griffin’s style of filming. He loves it and uses it for some of his own shows. “When you watch it, you go, ‘You could never write that.’ There’s a looseness to it. It’s fresh.”
It’s a process that takes a toll on Griffin. “It’s like we’re workshopping a TV show that we also happen to be shooting,” he says. “I’m holding it all in my head. My brain is kind of a blur … it’s an exhausting process.” Now he’s started doing it that way, it seems like he can’t stop – expect The Office Australia to be shot in exactly the same way.
Jackie van Beek is involved too
Griffin’s partner in life and work is a bonafide local comedy veteran, with screen credits on What We Do in the Shadows, The Breaker Upperers and Nude Tuesday. She can do everything, with a long list of writing, directing, producing and acting credits to her name. While Prime Video lists van Beek as “lead set-up director”, it would be a massive surprise if Griffin didn’t rope her in for at a cameo at some point.
Josh Thomson is definitely in this
Not Australian actor Josh Thomas from Please Like Me. Thomson is a hugely funny man, able to spin laughs out of rambling monologues and horrifying real-life yarns. Even his awkward pauses are funny. He’s got a huge list of comedy credits, from 7 Days to The Project, Young Rock, Taskmaster NZ and Wellington Paranormal (his recent International Comedy Festival show, Horrible Man, was a Spinoff fave). “Proud to be joining this phenomenal cast!” Thomson confirmed on Facebook. The only question is, will he be The Office Australia’s version of Dwight?
Johnny Brugh is in it too
Jesse Griffin has been able to pack some of his favourite Educators for the trip. In that show, Johnny Brugh plays awkward, divorced principal Jarred Needham, but he’s also got a lengthy list of credits to his name, from Taika Waititi films What We Do in the Shadows and Thor: Love and Thunder, to Bressa Creeting Cake’s ‘Palm Singing’ music video. You could totally seem him as an Antipodean version of Creed from The Office US.
At least two more NZ actors are involved
Edith Poor has appeared in Educators, Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and Power of the Dog. She’s the first actor listed in Prime Video’s press release, so expect her to have a major role. Poor told Stuff she cries every time she laughs, so filming The Office Australia could be tough work. Lucy Schmidt, a Toi Whakaari graduate with a list of television and theatre credits dating back to 1993, is also in the cast list.
So what does Ricky Gervais think?
“I’m very excited about Australia remaking my little show from the turn of the century,” he said in a statement provided by Prime Video. “Office politics have changed a bit in 20 years, so can’t wait to see how they navigate a modern-day David Brent.”